By Ken Tucker
Updated September 10, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
The Voice
Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

The third season of The Voice began on Monday night, the first of three nights in a row, the last one added on Wednesday to make Simon Cowell and Britney Spears cry during the first hour of The X Factor‘s premiere. The Voice’s opening two hours consisted of a slightly smaller amount of the mock-sniping between the four coaches — Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green, and Blake Shelton — that has become tiresome, with occasional flutters of talent on the stage.

The chair-swiveling audition episodes have always been the most entertaining part of this series, before the teams are picked and the show becomes a more American Idol-y competition series with an increased level of faux-sniping between the coaches. This time around, only Shelton really mustered the energy to do his job as both a salesman for his own abilities to win over contestants, and to add some humor to the proceedings. At the other extreme is Aguilera, who on Monday night achieved a new level of fatuous self-absorption while occasionally rousing herself from her chair to give a don’t-really-touch-me semi-hug to any singer foolish enough to choose her. However, I give Xtina bonus points for wearing what looked like black rubber hot-pants (slabs of auto tires?) while still expecting anyone to take her unctuous compliments (“You gave me crazy chills”) semi-seriously.

The talent? I enjoyed De’Borah, her churchy back-story, her doubtless hard-won “Boom, I’m gay” proclamation, and her intriguing straying-from-the-beat phrasing. I really liked Gracia Harrison, who cleared the studio audience’s sinuses with her powerfully sharp country voice, and I was so glad the coaches had punched their buttons before she got to what had been set up as her gimmick — that she yodels. Instead, She proved that the yodel is just one of the tools in her arsenal. And I thought closer Trevin Hunte had a lovely croon. Bryan Keith, the vocalist all the coaches adored most quickly, seemed overwrought to me.

But the over-arching problem with The Voice is that its mix of taped personal stories, coach banter, and contestants covering mostly tired oldies is no longer enlivened by its once-novel format. The upcoming new wrinkle in the game, in which a coach will be able to poach another’s singer, just seems designed to increase the trumped-up bickering at which only Shelton excels.

Twitter: @kentucker

Episode Recaps

The Voice - Season 14

The Voice

A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.

  • TV Show
  • 15
  • 388
  • NBC