Culture Clash: “The Voice” vs. “The X Factor”

Culture+Clash%3A+%22The+Voice%22+vs.+%22The+X+Factor%22

Britney Spears' facial expressions are one of the most entertaining parts of "The X Factor." But are they enough?

Bill Thomas and Sarah Mitrotz, A&E Editor and Correspondent

Defending the pop culture you love. Trashing the pop culture you hate.

This week, A&E Editor Bill Thomas and Correspondent Sarah Mitrotz are debating…

“The Voice” vs. “The X Factor”

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In Favor of “The Voice” (by Sarah Mitrotz)

As the fall television season begins, so too does the mindless parade of reality competition shows, particularly those involving some type of talent search. While most of these programs are ridiculous “American Idol” rip-offs with their own sassy panel of judges and exaggerated promises of fame and fortune, one show stands out: NBC’s “The Voice”.

“The Voice” is superior to other singing competitions like “The X Factor: simply because it serves as just that: a singing competition. Judges are blind to each vocalist’s appearance, providing true artists the rare chance to succeed in making good music no matter what age, race, gender or attractiveness rating they’re saddled with.

The talented judges also make “The Voice” a standout. The cool genius of Adam Levine, the eccentric innovativeness of Cee-Lo Green, the classic candor – and, might I add, super hotness – of Blake Shelton, along with the incomparable vocal divalisciousness of Christina Aguilera provides awesome entertainment each week; Easy entertainment that “The X-Factor,” now in its second season, is still struggling to find.

Actually, this is not the second season of “The X Factor.” Really, “The X Factor: has been on American airwaves for 10 years. Because “The X Factor” is American Idol; Same basic format, same basic goal, same basic reality-show judge stereotypes, same network. No Ryan Seacrest, though. Yawn.

At the judges table, forgettable Kara Diguardi has transformed into the equally forgettable Demi Lovato, Randy “A li’l pitchy, dawg” Jackson is represented by real big-time record executive L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell is, well, Simon Cowell.

Then, there is Britney Spears. Which leads to the follow-up question, why is Britney Spears there?

It would probably be safe to assume that the woman hasn’t sung a live note in 10 years. These days, Spears’ “live” performances consist of her forgetting to lip-synch while walking – stumbling – back and forth across a stage as background dancers gyrate their pelvises behind her.

Appointing Britney Spears as a judge for a live singing competition is basically like hiring Stephen Hawking for next season’s “Dancing with the Stars”.

Y’know, she might never have been the greatest vocalist in the universe, but at least she could bust a move or two back in the day. Now, as she sits uncomfortably at the judge’s table, Spears appears to be just a shadow of her former self, the one-time Queen of Bubblegum Babylon dethroned by the boisterous Ke$ha’s and Lady Gaga’s of the day. She’s the Norma Desmond character from “Sunset Boulevard,” sitting alone in her empty, dusty  mansion watching her old ‘90s-era music videos, waiting for a phone call from Jay-Z or Diddy that will never come.

Okay, so obviously her situation isn’t that bad, but her presence on a lackluster primetime reality show puts a giant, depressing, white elephant in the room that makes “The X Factor” awkward to watch.

What is Spears’ purpose? Perhaps her existence just strengthens the whole point of “The Voice,” which is to prevent artists who are all image no substance, like Britney, from ever electronically brutalizing our eardrums again. Essentially, by undoing what MTV has done to music for the past thirty some years.

Thank you “The Voice.” Thank You.

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In Favor of “The X Factor” (by Bill Thomas)

First off, let’s address the most important thing staring us all in the face. Namely, the fact that singing competition shows suck. If it weren’t for the hilariously heartbreaking audition episodes every new season starts off with, I dare say they’d be neigh unwatchable.

That, dear friends, is why Fox’s “The X Factor” might be your best bet if you’re looking to fill the gap in your soul where once dwelled the powerful primetime juggernaut “American Idol,” now reduced to a pitiful, limping husk. Some people – I won’t name names but you know who they are – would alternately suggest that NBC’s “The Voice” is superior. Those people would be insane.

Those people, you see, would be overlooking a key factor: We don’t watch these shows for the singing. We watch them to indulge our secret sense of schadenfreude.

See, that’s where “The Voice” goes horribly, tragically awry. Somehow, NBC executives got it in their heads that we wanted a singing competition that focused on, uh, singing rather than spectacle. Hence their utilization of powerhouse songbird Christina Aguilera as a judge, and let’s not forget the whole ludicrous “blind judgment” gimmick, wherein contestants pour their hearts out to the back of chairs

Of course, these are the same people behind the whole Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien fiasco, so what do you expect?

Duh! The real stars of these shows aren’t the contestants. It’s the judges. Sure, the ones on “The Voice” are admittedly more qualified to, well, pass judgement. But are they entertaining? No. For all her appeal as a vocalist /sexpot, Aguilera is also breezy, self-assured and relatable. In other words, boring.

Meanwhile, on “The X Factor,” we have judges that are full-blown characters. Foremost is Simon Cowell, king of kings, the man who started this whole musical reality show mega-trend to begin with. He’s also one of the most gleefully cruel judges to ever ham it up for the camera.

Cowell relishes the exaggeration of his over-the-top sarcasm to cartoonish heights. Watching him do his thing is like watching a slasher-movie maniac at work. It’s a vicious delight to witness him tearing bland wanna-be celebrities limb from limb in front of our very eyes.

More importantly, “The X Factor” has one thing “The Voice” does not. It has a larger-than-life character even more spectacular, even more scandalous, even more entertaining  than Cowell himself.

Simply put, it’s Britney, bitch.

No, not just Britney Spears. More than that: America’s sweetheart-turned-wacko, fame-overdosed renegade. Watching her act as judge on “The X Factor” is a riot. All ridiculous facial expressions, self-involved cluelessness, shallow affectation and thin-lipped sadism, she’s not so much a human being as a living embodiment of contemporary culture in all its preening, hot-pink glory. She’s a nail-bomb full of glitter, or a revved up Formula 1 racecar with her own face painted on the front, primed to crash at full speed right into an unbowing brick-wall.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you watch “The X Factor” or “The Voice.” Both shows are reprehensible, treating art as a commodity to be standardized, sterilized and neatly packaged for mindless mass consumption. Neither are rally about discovering hidden gems. What they’re about is mercilessly molding promising raw material into weapons of cultural homogenization.

In the process, centuries-old ideals of self-actualization and personal achievement are replaced with a systemized fame machine. No one has to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to make it in music anymore. They don’t have to tough it out in rinky-dink bars, traveling the country in perpetually broken-down vans, putting their souls onto the page in an attempt to discover their own visions and then bring said visions to life.

All they have to do is win a contest. A lottery. A game of chance. All they have to do is let someone else think for them, tell them how to look, speak, act and, yes, sing.

Of course, if the winners of these things were really the most talented and deserving people, as we’re led to believe, then how do you explain Adam Lambert?

Taking all that into account, it’s really hard to see any reason why anyone should watch a show like “The X Factor” to begin with, to say nothing of “The Voice.”

Actually, scratch that. There is a reason to watch “The X Factor.” Just one reason.

It’s Britney, bitch.