'The Voice' airs first at-home show to both positive and negative feedback

Following American Idol making TV history as the first major talent show to switch to at-home production during the pandemic, this Monday it was rival show The Voice’s turn to go remote, with the top 17 semifinalists performing for the public’s votes for the first time this season. Comparisons were inevitable, and in some ways The Voice didn’t measure up to the surprisingly high production standards already established by the home version of Idol. But in the end it still overall felt like The Voice, and true to the series’ talent-trumps-all agenda since Season 1.

After soothing remote acoustic performance by Season 18 Mega-Mentor James Taylor and the contestants, the show got underway with host Carson Daly standing on a scaled-down soundstage in front of the coaches’ vacant red chairs -- but newbie coach Nick Jonas, who surely never expected to be experiencing his very first Live Playoffs (or, in this case, live-to-tape Playoffs) in lockdown, managed to bring a bit of the Voice set into his Los Angeles room by ingeniously creating his own DIY chair. Kelly Clarkson, sheltering in place on her Montana ranch, got in the spirit by donning one of her signature Team Kelly satin jackets, while Blake Shelton, in Oklahoma, showed off his girlfriend Gwen Stefani’s hair-and-makeup skills (and rapidly regrowing mullet) while freely admitting that he was happy to be working from home. Meanwhile, the urbane John Legend, also in L.A., fantasized about wanting to get out of house and take his wife to an Italian restaurant for date night. So yeah, all of the coaches were pretty much on-brand this Monday.

Unfortunately, though, it seemed like all of the show’s production budget went towards making the coaches look good – so, also on brand with The Voice, come to think of it, the contestants got short shrift. Though the top 17 had supposedly been sent “state-of-the-art” video equipment to shoot their performances at home, their footage looked cheap and fuzzy – somewhere in that Venn-diagram center spot between ‘80s condo porn footage, green-screen Zoom background, make-your-own-music-video mall kiosk, public access cable TV, and bad Snapchat filter. Everything was so gauzy and grainy – were ring lights not include in those “state-of-the-art” video kits? – that it created a weird disconnect for me. American Idol definitely did a better job and making contestants’ performances feel intimate and direct.

That being said, it was nice to see The Voice soldier on under such crazy circumstances. “As you know, the entire world changed dramatically since we taped the Knockouts. But just because we are all separated, it doesn't mean we can't come together from across the nation and celebrate and hear some great music,” said Carson.