The Voice returned to NBC for its 17th season. And while Adam Levine has declined to sit in the spinning seat this time around, my favorite parts of the singing competition are present: surprising voices, updated renditions of classic songs, and cuts to close-ups of happy, weeping fathers backstage.
Yes, I know. The Voice is a “reality show” which means there’s little reality: Contestants are seriously vetted by producers to provide an ideal mix of genres, backstories, and talent before they appear on stage. The “Oh wow, this schlub can really sing!” moments are carefully crafted by a team of producers. So too is the banter between judges. And yeah, it’s all pretty cheesy.
But I don’t care. I choose to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I enthusiastically enjoy the show. I love hearing people sing and enjoy the unique way the show is crafted — pointing the judges towards the audience instead of the singer so that they can choose an artist based solely on the sound of their voice. I dig Kelly Clarkson’s fun mom energy. I wish I had one of those big, comfy red chairs in my office in which I could sit and only talk to someone if I deemed them worthy enough. The power!
I don’t have to suspend my disbelief for one of the show’s most enduring elements: the cuts to backstage when a contestant in singing. Waiting in the wings with host Carson Daly is a group of supporters. Sometimes it’s just a few friends; sometimes it’s a spouse and kids. But most of the time a pair of nervous parents watching their child perform. It’s wholly charming to see how genuine their reactions are when a judge mashes their big red button and their chair spins towards the stage.
The most affecting moments come when the camera cuts to fathers. They jump up and down. They whoop. They shudder with joy. And, often, they weep. These are men seeing their child’s dream realized, gaining recognition for what they believed — or had trouble believing: that their offspring is indeed talented enough to get a chair turn from a famous musician. I especially love when the down-home plaid-shirt-and-jeans wearing fathers of country musicians are shown tearing up. These are tough guy from small towns who try to keep it together but just can’t. They explode with emotion.
And how could they not? These parents have, for all we know, watched their child perform countless times during their life. They heard them sing when they were small and wanted to encourage them. They watched them perform in school plays and talent shows. They have paid for lessons and suffered migraines as they listened to the same song over and over again. Maybe some didn’t encourage their kids as much and wanted them to pursue something a bit more grounded. Maybe music was something they forced their kids into because they knew they’d love it.
Is The Voice manufactured for these emotions? Of course. The camera crews are glued to families to capture just these moments. But it’s great footage because they can’t script these reactions. It’s decades of parenthood distilled into one moment of realization: their kid has talent and bravery and they played some part in getting them here. Hell, I’d watch a show just of these reactions. It’s good TV.