Blind auditions latest in reality shows

Posted May 2, 2013


Since reality television became increasingly popular in the 1990s with shows like MTV’s “The Real World” and CBS’s “Big Brother,” networks have fought to increase ratings. Competition reality shows such as “American Idol” emerged from the reality television genre and have continued to garner interest from American TV viewers.

The “reality” aspect of these shows appeals to audiences since there is no script and theoretically anything could happen. The human drama and unpredictability of these shows keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. Viewers of competition reality shows often times have a favorite contestant that they like and continue watching week after week to see if their performer qualifies for each round. Not only are these show entertaining because they feature popular music and talent. Each week viewers can expect to hear music, watch contestants react to challenges and root for their favorites.

With the numerous competition and talent shows currently on the air, it’s no wonder that some of them attempt to differentiate themselves. One trend that has become increasingly popular in the past two years is the blind audition format. Unlike “American Idol” which features a panel of judges who watch the contestant as they perform, shows like “The Voice” have opted for the blind audition where the judges hear the contestant, but cannot see them. Two other shows that have followed the blind audition concept are “The Taste” on ABC and FOX’s “The Choice.”

When “The Voice” premiered in the fall of 2011, it emphasized the importance of the blind audition. It showed viewers that the contestants’ talent was the central focus rather than their appearances. As far as “The Taste,” which premiered in January of this year, judges make their decisions on which contestant’s food tastes best without them knowing whether he or she is a professional chef. And as for “The Choice,” which premiered in June of 2012, each bachelor chooses each a female contestant based on what she tells him about herself during a short blind interview.

“The Voice,” currently in its fourth season, features four popular artists as judges: Adam Levine from the band Maroon 5, Latin crossover sensation Shakira, R&B singer Usher and country singer Blake Shelton.

Each season of “The Voice” has four stages, the first of which is the blind audition where the judges, or “coaches” as they are referred to on the show, hear the singer perform for about one minute without seeing them. Each coach is seated in a large rotating chair that looks like something out of a science fiction movie. They all have their backs turned while the contestant performs.

It is important to note that the judges can see the audience react to the singer. No one on the show explains whether this influences the judges decisions, maybe because most of the time the judges try and look down at the ground while listening to the singer, or because the bright, moving lights on the set prevent them from seeing the audience clearly.

If a coach likes the singer’s voice, he or she will push a button attached to the chair to select the artist for his or her team. Then the chair will swivel and the judge will finally sees what the contestant looks like. If more than one coach pushes his or her button, the contestant then chooses which coach they want to work with. If none of the coaches push their buttons, the contestant is eliminated.

After the blind auditions, the remaining contestants go through a “battle” round, then more elimination rounds and eventually one singer will win at the end of each season based on television audience voting and will receive a recording contract as his or her grand prize.

The rotating chairs during the blind audition act as a visual gimmick on “The Voice.” Along with the chairs are large LED screens that light up on stage with the words, “I WANT YOU” when a judge chooses a contestant for his or her team. The dramatic spotlights, camera angles and large stage help create suspense and excitement for viewers watching at home.

Although “The Taste” on ABC has a similar blind judging method, there are some differences when compared to “The Voice.” Most obvious is the fact that the show is about food and features 16 competitors, some of which are professional chefs while others are regular home cooks.

Each episode shows the groups of competitors being challenged to cook a certain type of dish. At the end of each episode, the judges taste the competitors’ dishes without knowing whose it is or how it was prepared. Judges for the first season of “The Taste” were expert chef, author and TV host Anthony Bourdain, British food star Nigella Lawson, expert chef and author Ludo Lefebvre and restaurateur Brian Malarkey.

The judges are never aware of whose dishes they are eating during each episode. Another interesting characteristic about the show is that the competitors are required to serve their food on a single spoon rather than on a traditional plate, bowl or saucer. This is the producers’ way of emphasizing the importance of the quality of the food while separating “The Taste” from other food competitions where an entire plate it served.

“The Taste” can appeal to audiences for the same fundamental reasons as “The Voice.” Viewers like the idea that an individual’s skill and craft are more important than their looks and in this case, professional experience.

However, “The Taste” doesn’t feature a large stage or sophisticated swiveling chairs. The contestants have one hour to prepare their food and arrange it onto a spoon for the judges to taste. The judges sit together at a table and sample the creations while the contestants stand behind a wall and listen to the judges’ comments.

Like “The Voice,” “The Taste” has judges choose whom he or she wants on their team and if more than one judge wants the same competitor, the competitor can then choose whose team they want to join. Each judge will eventually have four competitors on their team to mentor, but only one hopeful will win the grand prize of $100,000 and a Toyota Prius.

The dating show “The Choice” features elements more similar to “The Voice” because it utilizes the rotating chair concept for its judges as well as a large stage.

Each episode of “The Choice” features three different celebrity bachelors, including members of the Jersey Shore cast, Paul DelVecchio, also known as DJ Pauly D, and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino.

During the blind audition, four bachelors sit in the special swivel chairs facing away from the female contestants. Then the women describe themselves for about 30 seconds and if the bachelor likes what he hears, he presses a button to spin his chair around to face the stage. Also like “The Voice,” the judges, or in this case the bachelors, must select candidates to be part of their “team.”

The rest of the show consists of a speed dating round and other elimination rounds until one female contestant wins a date with one of the celebrity bachelors.

However, the stage props, swivel chairs and lighting make the show feel tacky and desperate. The lighting is too bright and at times blinding and the gimmicky rotating chairs look bulky and cheap and not as sophisticated as the ones on “The Voice.”

Another element of the show that makes it feel tacky and shallow is when the female contestants describe themselves during the blind audition. Instead of speaking like normal people, all of them yell like they’re at bar and talk about their physical appearance.

During the blind audition one female contestant screamed, “I’m the ultimate California girl! I got blond hair, blue eyes, tan skin, killer legs and a killer smile!”

This raises the question: is there really even a point to “The Choice” having a blind audition if every contestant talks about her looks?

Ultimately, “The Voice” is the only show out of the three that effectively uses the blind audition process. The manner in which it is produced, along with sophisticated looking rotating chairs and controlled camera shots, “The Voice” succeeds in using the blind audition to its full advantage. It allows the viewer to focus on the voice and talent of the contestant rather than superficial things like looks on “The Choice.” It also succeeds in creating a sense of excitement and suspense for the viewer, which is something that “The Taste” fails to do effectively.

All of these shows are trying to attract audiences with the blind audition format. These shows appeal to viewers because they add another dimension to the television experience. The concept of allowing the viewer to see both sides: the contestant and the judges’ reactions to them, is what makes these programs appealing.

The appeal could also be due to the fact that the competitors on these reality shows are presented as normal Americans seeking to achieve a goal, whether it’s winning a nationwide singing competition, a cooking contest, or the love of an attractive bachelor. This overnight stardom concept appeals to average American and makes them believe that anything is possible if they go after their dreams.

The Voice

  • NBC
  • Mon. and Tues. at 8 p.m. EST
  • First Episode: April 26, 2011
  • Format: Interactive singing competition
  • Executive Producers: John de Mol, Mark Burnett

The Taste

The Choice

  • FOX
  • First Episode: June 7, 2012
  • Not currently on the air
  • Format: Reality game show, dating competition
  • Executive Producers: Arthur Smith, Kent Weed and Scott St. John