The Voice Season 7: It just keeps getting better

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After new coach Usher took The Voice crown last year with soul artist Josh Kaufman, I was really excited to see what Season 7 had in store. Unfortunately, Usher is on tour this year and Shakira is pregnant with another baby boy. So two new superstars had to step in to take the vacant seats left behind by original coaches Christina Aguilera and Ceelo Green.

When I heard that Gwen Stefani and Pharell took the gig, I was psyched. I was really interested to see how these two would gel with coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, who have dominated the competition with a total of five wins in the show’s six seasons. Pharell intrigued me because he seemed reserved, unlike Usher who wore his swagger like a cape. And Gwen, well, I grew up with No Doubt music so I know what she brings to the table. I was really surprised how the first two episodes turned out because the two new coaches had no problem blending in. And the banter, oh the banter was super fun to watch. It was hilarious, and leaves no doubt that everybody brought their A game. Everybody wants to win.

Adam has grown really competitive this season and viewers can see the passion that he has for finding artists whom he can groom to be the next big thing. Its funny to see him beg contestants to pick him while Blake pokes fun at his pleas. Blake, in turn, has a goldmine of quips and the newbies were not spared from his quick wit and jokes. Of course, his favorite target is still Adam and I love to see these two go at each other’s throats. Gwen is such a big surprise. She is super badass on stage but I never would have guessed that she was so frickin nice as a person. She’s really down to earth, very earnest, and I love to see her guilt Blake into giving her a hug when he gets mean or laughs at her. Plus, she gives away t-shirts to her team members, which is very cool. Pharell, on the other hand, is cool as cucumber but very sincere. People can see his passion for his music and his genuine artistry with his words, and whether or not he gets the contestant, his speech strikes home. Oh, and did I mention how awesome this year’s pool of auditioners are?

So far, I’ve only seen two episodes but I couldn’t wait for more. I can’t wait to see whom the coaches will enlist as celebrity mentors. And just like that, I’m addicted to this show again. It happens every year.

While waiting for the next episode, here’s a spoof of The Voice done by Sesame Street to tide you over. Puppet Blake is totally spot on. :D

Surviving the Apocalypse: A Doomsday Preppers Review

National Geographic recently premiered a new show (Okay, the poster says February but we got it a bit late in Asia). Doomsday Preppers features different people in America preparing for economic collapse, chemical attacks, hyperinflation and other reasons why the world as we know it will be no more. Its a compelling show, one that takes a survival show to a different level and leaves viewers to question how they themselves will fare against apocalypse when it arrives in this lifetime.

I found this show quite interesting mainly because of the unbelievable extent that these people go to — the amount of money and time that they spend hoarding food, learning survival techniques, preparing their bug out gear (In case you were wondering what to get, click here)– which is both admirable and shocking at the same time. At the end of the segment, experts give their assessment on the preparations made by the featured person/family and they are given advice on how to improve on their current state. NatGeo checks in with them after several weeks to see how they have integrated the experts’ advice to their preparations.

I kind of like this show mainly because I pick up some tips on how to extend food’s shelf life, as well as some tips to survive the end of the world should it happen tomorrow. It has also prompted me to assess my home for exactly how long we would survive apocalypse staying indoors. I would have to say — a week, tops, until we need to forage for food and other essentials to get by. And no, I am not killing my cats for food should any of these events happen. It would break my heart.

Anyways, while I am awed by the sheer amount of effort that these people put to ensure their survival during disasters and am in no way judging them for their point of view, I still think that the amount of food that some of them hoard is over the top. One of the featured families has a container van full of food that will last 22 people an entire year. I think that its quite excessive especially since there are a lot of people in the world who cannot afford to have a single meal at present. If it were up to me, I would much rather share a portion than risk having some of the food spoil in the long run.

The show is kind of bleak in this sense. It would seem that these people, in preparing for the worst, have allowed themselves not to live in the present but in a future as depressing as those depicted in the movies. For me, my strategy would much rather be prepare enough only for a regular disaster (because food is mostly perishable anyway) and store food that has a long shelf life. If and when the time comes, I would much rather spend the last days foraging for food so long as my family stays together and try to survive as a decent human being. I know this is an idealistic view, and I would probably die in less than a week outside unlike these preppers, but that is what I would try to do as long as I can afford to. Sue me. Again, I will not kill my cats. So hopefully, apocalypse does not come at all.

Why I’m switching to The Voice

I’ve been a fan of American Idol ever since it started airing on local TV on its third season. I have yet to pick a winner since I rooted for Fantasia but I have religiously supported the show because of its great dynamics and mix of honesty and drama. With Simon, I know that I would get a truthful critique with his superior British flair, even if it meant people hating him. Randy was also great back then. He wasn’t too mean but he wasn’t a pansy either. Paula kept the balance by being the one that contestants could count on with a kind thing to say.

However, the show has been on a decline ever since the trio broke up. When Paula was replaced, even if her comments were really not that substantial, it was if an integral part of the show was gone and dynamics simply gave out. There was open hostility between Simon and Kara and the tension was palpalable and not even Ellen Degeneres could diffuse it. So when Simon finally left, it was totally expected. Powerhouse Jennifer Lopez and rock legend Steven Tyler agreed to fill the vacant seats and for the 10th season, they did well enough. Randy was a meanie throughout this season and put it upon himself to be the bad guy henceforth.

But this season, things seemed to take a turn for the worse. The judges, perhaps in feeling as if they did such a great job last season, began to pluck repeat contestants from the auditions and heaped the roster of golden ticket holders with praise. Even when they were horrible, the judges tried to keep up their spirits with words of comfort. Peggi Blu, the vocal coach from hell, was actually more of a help to the contestants than the judges. This year’s Idol is filled with drama alright, and it seemed as if the contenders did not have a backstory, they would get left in the dust.

I feel that despite the pool of talented kids that the show has right now, it is still a singing competition and the judges should call it as it is. I love Jen and Steven but I’m getting tired of hearing “That’s beautiful,” after each performance when it clearly was not. This is the reason I am beginning to appreciate The Voice more and more in its second season.

I love how many of the contestants were invited into the blind auditions so we don’t really get nuisance performers. When viewers want entertainment, they get it with good music and raw talent.

The Blind Auditions are a nice touch to gauge talent as the judges are not able to see the complete package and pick their team with only their instinct and the voice that they hear. It’s awesome to see nerdy looking guys, bakers, sandwich makers, sorority girls and regular people just coast through the auditions with the more seasoned veterans not getting picked at all after their 90 second performance.

The interaction among the judges, especially between Blake Shelton and Adam Levine totally rocks. These dudes are so witty and so competitive that they try to psych each other out even during the selection process. It is also very cool how they lob snarky comments at each other and no one gets offended. Blake was the one coach I was most unfamiliar with at the beginning of the show but he’s turning out to be my favorite, especially with the maverick way he picks people. Cee Lo is the cool kingpin type who is the most relaxed of the group and Christina Aguilera is the most technical in choosing vocalists for her team given her experience. I like how they justify their picks and give advice to their team members in order to develop their potentials. Each mentor is a relevant artist and truly knows how to make stars out of their amateurs. An additional strength of the show is Carson Daly, who is a pro at hosting entertainment and reality shows like this one and would give Ryan Seacrest a run for his money. This is probably what the X-Factor US is lacking, a compelling host that could charm viewers into switching. But that’s another story for another day.

The Voice is a balanced show that does not veer from its main objective of developing stars through the guidance of the mentors so aside from the contestants, the competition among the mentors is also something to watch out for. Their styles are so different in grooming their team and its really great that they have brought in advisers to help them mold these young artists into stars. Another thing of note, even when battlers are not picked by the coaches, contestants from The Voice have shown a tremendous amount of breeding and sportsmanship unlike sore losers from Idol who swear at the judges like there’s no tomorrow. This stark contrast truly makes for good television that could even serve as a good example for younger viewers. The show doesn’t have to be a circus to be great.

I don’t think I’ll be dropping Idol yet because there is some life left in the show, and because I’m still rooting for some (Colton, Philip, Jessica) but as for The Voice, I’m all in. I am certifiably addicted to this show. I love it. Quality wise, in my honest opinion, The Voice is a superior show and has the potential to grab the number one spot in the ratings. It’s already on its way. Even Meatloaf says so.

The Glee Project

When I first heard that there was going to be a reality show in search of the next cast member on Glee,  the first thought that popped into my head was the genius behind the idea. Producers of the show found a ploy to get more money out of the highly successful franchise all the while sustaining momentum for the show in its off season. And since they are auditioning people to join the cast before each season anyway, why not film the entire process, endear the cast member to the audience and get them excited about said cast member’s 7 episode character arc in the series (the main prize), thereby ensuring a stronger following for McKinley’s New Directions (possibly their last) in their third try for the nationals crown? Not that they need it, but still, its genius. And for the next 12 weeks, the Top 12 battle it out in a series of challenges that seek to develop them and test their skills in a variety of categories to make sure that they are Glee material.

I was at first skeptical about the show, to be quite honest. I saw it as Ryan Murphy’s attempt to pull the strings of the audience once again, make these auditioners go through hoops, make them cry and profess how much the  chance to star in Glee means to them. But Ryan didn’t appear until the last chance sing off and casting director Robert Ulrich pretty much took charge of the project. So, I guess I may be wrong about my initial suspicions.

So, the process started with the show opening an invitation on their myspace account to send audition pieces. After screening over 40,000 hopefuls, Ulrich and his posse narrows down the search to over 200 auditioners who camped out of the venue (even one flying from Singapore) to wait for their chance to perform for Robert and Darren Criss (who plays Blaine on the show). What I liked about the audition process was that it was so different from other auditions. Regular people, and even those who are a bit different, felt comfortable auditioning in front of Robert because he always had that encouraging smile on his face, and even before showtime, Darren  even took the time to give a pep talk to the hopefuls saying that the team is on “their” (auditioners) side. There was a general air of positivity, even from those who were cut and the audience could sense from them that each and every one was grateful for the chance to genuinely be considered for the part despite being relatively ordinary. Sometimes, people just forget what a great motivation it is to be encouraging and nice as opposed to mean and surly and its a refreshing to see so many smiling faces during an audition process for a change.

Like Glee, the show inspires confidence among regular folk with extraordinary talents to just let it all hang loose and go for it. And I think that this is where the strength of the show lies. Even when the contestants screw up, the Glee team doesn’t make a big deal out of it, don’t make fun of the offender but are still able to emphasize the importance of setting one’s heart to the task that one needs to accomplish. During the first episode, a lot of great people were cut whom I thought had great potential. But the Top 12 that the producers chose to get through to the show proper was quite alright.

The atmosphere changes slightly in the second episode when the Top 12 are selected. While they are still friends, viewers could almost see the wheels turning the contestants’ heads. You immediately see who has his eye on the prize and who is just coasting along. The show is about personality and the contestants have them by the bucketful. Some are charming, some are angsty, some are just plain annoying  but putting them in one house and training them at the same time admittedly makes for good television. How will they get ahead? How will they outshine the other? Because in the end, only one of them will land the role. It is a competition after all. Through it all, Glee choreographer Zach Woodlee, and the show’s musical directors do their best to guide them through the process and push them to their limits. At the end of the challenge, three of the weakest performers  perform for creator Ryan Murphy, who ultimately decides who gets the boot.

On the weaker side, I could tell that the contestants are, this early,  trying too hard to establish what character they think they can play on the show, and I think that some are too consumed by the common cliches of the show to realize that they need to step out of the box and show their versatility instead of feeding the stereotype. They try to fit into the mold of Lauren, Kurt, Artie, and the existing cast that they are adding nothing new to their characters. First and foremost, they must bear in mind that they are auditioning to be actors. If they continue with their one track approach, they might be packing their bags soon in my opinion.

The show is off to a great start I already have several favorites but I will not name them now for I have a great tendency to jinx my bets. And its still early yet and I think I’ll check out what will happen in the following weeks.

 

 

True Beauty

True Beauty is a reality show/social experiment wherein 10 “beautiful” people are asked to stay in the same house and participate in different challenges throughout the season in order to determine who will become America’s Most Beautiful. However, the catch is that they are not only being judged based on their outer beauty but rather their inner beauty as well. Unbeknownst to the contestants, they are being monitored 24/7 by the judges on their interaction with fellow contestants and are being tested in various trap exercises which determine their personality and how they react to difficult situations.

True Beauty is truly entertaining mainly because of the obvious vanity of the contestants. Ego clashes against ego and the ensuing conflicts appeal to the funny bones of us regular people who think that most arguments in the house are lame and shallow. It is more funny in the sense that we all know that they are failing big time in the secret tests and yet they are still clueless as to why they are being eliminated. The viewers will also feel a bit sorry for some of the contenders for being totally out of touch with the virtue of humility and the concept of being nice to others who they perceive to be not as “beautiful” as they are, those who try to be cool all the time and are insensitive to the feelings of others, and those who truly believe that they can coast through life simply because of their looks.

During the final episode of the first season, where Julie, Billy and Joel were shown clips of their secret tests, I could just imagine the humiliation they felt in viewing their reactions to different scenarios, especially in those that do not show them in a positive light. But still, there was a lesson learned at the end. The experiment seemed to be a wake up call to the contestants in their dealings with others, and perhaps that dose of humiliation might have been the best medicine to open their eyes to reality and what is considered true beauty.

The experiment might have been easy to mount in the first season but I doubt if they can get the same results for the next one, since more people will be aware of the show, a bit like the Joe Schmo experiment :-) Generally, True Beauty is a good show. A lot better than most of the reality crap airing on television right now (with the exception of some).