I’ve sailed through the eleventh season of American Idol and the second season of The Voice like a damn trooper. I’ve skewered them both for your entertainment. But now the time has come to pick the better show, and I’m using seven categories of criteria to reach a verdict. Idol is better in some regards while The Voice wins in others, but the overall results are in! Dim the lights and let’s crown one singing competition king. We’ll start the showdown with my favorite category: hosting.
1. Hosting: Carson Daly vs. Ryan Seacrest
Is there a reason why the hosts on talent competitions aren’t discussed more? Frankly, they’re the most critical element of the proceedings. Both The Voice and American Idol are uncontrolled blitzes of power ballads, lighting cues, and talky interludes, and it takes the finesse of a killer emcee to rein it all in. And if we’re being honest, the winner in this category is a no-brainer: While Carson Daly brings a straightforward, sympathetic air to The Voice‘s megawatt presentation, Ryan Seacrest manages the freakish glare of Idol with the precision and care of a true Dick Clark scion. Remember just last week when Carson Daly couldn’t get his panel of judges to settle down following Cee-Lo‘s fit of flatulence? All I can say is Ryan Seacrest would’ve never let that happen. He’s too commanding in his TV-ready authority, too superhuman in his clean articulation, and too altogether mystifying. You need a topaz-colored wunderkind to handle a beast like Idol, and Seacrest makes it look damn easy. Even if I don’t always love his snide asides to the judges and contestants, I can’t deny he is a one-of-a-kind presence and the lynchpin of Idol‘s continued success.
Winner: American Idol
2. Judging: Adam, Cee-Lo, Christina, and Blake vs. Steven, J-Lo, and Randy
Confession: This is sort of a toss-up! Conventional wisdom says that the Idol panel is a trio of clapping, nodding non-Cowells who never say anything of value to the contestants while The Voice‘s judges’ criticisms seem more direct and specific. But the honest truth is both Idol and The Voice have their great and nauseating judging moments. Steven Tyler can be downright damning, Jennifer Lopez can be incisive, and even Randy Jackson can pinpoint a song choice issue pretty well — though all three can yammer meaninglessly at other times. The Voice‘s feel-good vibe can be cloying and stupid too, though I think Cee-Lo and (wait for it!) Christina Aguilera are often dead-on. I’ll give the edge to The Voice for the judges’ personal involvement with the contestants, but this victory isn’t a landslide.
Winner: The Voice
3. Early Round Format: The Voice‘s Battle Rounds vs. American Idol‘s Group Rounds
Prepare yourself for American Idol‘s second gigantic victory in this grudge match, because I’m dumbstruck by the weirdness of The Voice‘s battle rounds. Not only does the concept of pitting two singers against one another (in a boxing ring!) as they sing the same song seem bizarre, it’s also an ineffective way of finding the best contestants. When The Voice‘s Erin Willett barely beat out Gwen Sebastian for Blake Shelton’s approval following their rendition of “We Belong,” I was angry — not because Erin wasn’t great, but because the competition needed both contestants. Yet only one could advance, and the tender, quirky Gwen was sent packing. Meanwhile, American Idol‘s semifinal group rounds provide the same thrill — fun duets and trios — but with the assurance that every great performance be rewarded. Imagine if Jennifer Lopez had to choose between DeAndre Brackensick and Jessica Sanchez on their collaboration on “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” in Las Vegas. I’d cry, of course, and one of two very deserving Top 10 finalists would be vanquished. Perish the thought!
Winner: American Idol