06 June 2011

I'll buy you anything, I'll buy you any ring

Currently pushing: Stereomood. Paula put me onto this, an emotional Internet radio site. Select a mood and away you go. I started off with "just woke up" and moved to "lost in thought" and "busy bee." The selections are varied and interesting and culled from these music blogs. I'm finding some magic songs using this and it's been replacing Shuffler.fm for me recently.

I spent my day eating hot deli sandwiches and watching a The Voice marathon with my friend. Later, as I flipped between the basketball game and the twentieth fifth Les Mis anniversary concert on KPBS, I decided I better queue up Platinum Hit while I was at it. I've been slacking on my TV watching recently because there just isn't enough time for all that when you sleep thirteen hours a day. I'm not sick or anything, I just require lots of charging.

In life, I live by a few key tenets, one of those is that anything becomes better/funner by adding teams and competition. That's why I watch MTV RW/RR Challenge, because it's the best competition show ever. But I digress. Singing shows has given us plenty of competition over the years but they were missing the teams portion. Let's be real, American Idol sucks. I personally gave up on it after the Season Five Taylor Hicks - Katharine McPhee debacle. I've realized that I kind of hate shows that leaves the decision up to America. I don't want the masses deciding anything talent related; I'd prefer professional opinions. (Hey Beat Freaks, I'm still hurting for you. You too Fanny Pak.)

Based on a Dutch show, The Voice is everything Idol isn't. After watching one episode I was hooked as I realized that it was essentially judge versus judge. Cee Lo, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton filled out their teams by sitting with their backs to the singers and then turning around if they liked what they heard. No judging on looks, personality, soppy backgrounds, etc. Pure singing. The cast reflects what happens when you take out some of that bias. It's diverse and interesting. If more than one judge turned around, the power shifts to the contestant and they get to choose which celebrity's team they want to be on. Genius! Here is a video of the judges doing "Crazy."

After assembling an initial team of eight contestants each, the judges then paired off their picks to battle against each other for only four spots in the live shows. By dueting on one song and physically performing in a ring together, the contestants are in a vocal duel to the elimination! I don't know what happens once the live shows start but I hope it works like Pokemon where each judge gets to throw out one of their team members to compete against another judge.

Imagine if the challenge is to sing a song like "Lately." Cee Lo might decide to send in Nakia to do battle versus Christina's Beverly and then so on down the line. There would be a lot of strategy in picking which contestants would battle each other and the judges would be really incentivized to work with and coach their artists. I'm pretty sure this isn't how it'll work but I can't wait to find out.

Another great thing about The Voice is that the the talent is way better than Idol, where 80% of the performances are straight terrible. My friend pointed out it's because the contestants tended to be a little more experienced and polished whereas the Idol folk tend to be younger and terrible. The Voice may not produce mega-superstars -- because of the image factor -- but it's less mournful on the ears. Also of note: Carson Daly is the host of The Voice. He's apparently ageless. I've missed you Carson, I just never knew it. You are the face of nostalgia.

Now to gush about Platinum Hit. I thought the show was going to be totally stupid but wanted to watch it because of Jewel's involvement. I thought I'd catch a few episodes to support her and then tune out. Turns out Platinum Hit is a legitimately good show.

The setup is that teams of songwriters work together to produce a potential hit and then the judges select who gets kicked off the losing team each week. Former Idol judge, Kara DioGuardi, is the spicy to Jewel's sweet, and in the first episode they brought up a great point: Who's to blame more for a failure? The leader or the follower who doesn't speak up if things are starting to get off track? I loved watching team members throwing each other under a bus and pointing fingers.

Aside from the teams and competition, the best part of Platinum Hit is that you get to see how hard the songwriting process is. The first episode featured songs about Los Angeles and many of the songwriters are already flummoxed. "Love it or hate it / If you're here you know you made it..." Terrible. Still, next time you hear a track that has the stupidest lyrics ever, maybe you'll pause a moment to appreciate the work of even the simplest hook. Okay, fine, maybe not quite, but the insight into the complexities of songwriting is appreciated and the real hook of the show. PHit's website posts the lyrics too, in case you look them over after an episode. The show also devotes a decent portion of the runtime to interactions during the track writing phase, which I love. You can totally tell who's a good team player or who would be annoying to work with.

And seriously, why are all these songwriters so damn good at singing? While they aren't being judged for their performances, most of the contestants are professional quality and kind of amazing vocally. Ridiculous! I'll definitely be sticking with Platinum Hit over The Voice but I'm pushing both on anyone who will listen -- or who's still watching Idol. Get with the program, Simon's gone, time for you to go too.