Hark, a ‘Voice’! Suddenly ‘X Factor’ faces tougher (singing) competition

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eated on the set of their new NBC reality series — in giant red chairs that looked like something left over from one of those carnival rides that give you vertigo — pop diva Christina Aguilera, hip-hop’s Cee Lo Green, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and country crooner Blake Shelton pitched the network’s new pop-up “Idol” challenge, “The Voice,” to reporters.

(Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images) - Christina Aguilera is one of the coaches on “The Voice.”

“I’m not looking for vocal acrobatics, who has the biggest range of high and low — I’m looking forward to getting moved,” Aguilera, who nearly vanished into her chair in her strapless red satin dress and red-bottomed Louboutins, prattled on happily to reporters who’d been kept waiting for more than an hour for a promised 20-minute Q&A.

When “American Idol” holds news conferences, they start on time.

“It’s less about being judgmental and more about helping [singers] out,” said Levine, who spent much of the Q&A with his feet up on the chair’s built-in desk, staring toward the ceiling. Levine clearly has been cast as the show’s merry prankster — or smug twit, depending on your outlook.

To refresh your memory: Back in December, while The Reporters Who Cover Television were picking manically at navel lint over the whole  struggle-to-the-death battle shaping up between “American Idol” and Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor” — on competing broadcast networks Fox and Fox (wait a minute?!) — NBC pulled a fast one, announcing it had landed U.S. broadcast rights to a hot new Dutch singing competition format called “The Voice of Holland.” 

Suddenly, we’re looking at a war for the hearts and minds of America between Fox’s “The X Factor” and NBC’s “The Voice.” This is far more interesting!

The original version of “The Voice” has displaced not only “The X Factor” but also  “Idol” and is now the most-watched talent show in Dutch TV history, NBC noted gleefully. In Holland, about 60 percent of the population that’s watching TV when “The Voice” is on is tuned in to the show.

On the other hand, “The Voice” also hails from the country that belched out “Big Brother” and “Fear Factor” — so there are some cultural differences that could come into play as the new show migrates to the United States.

Anyway, NBC has turned this baby around so fast that “The Voice” will debut April 26.

Meanwhile, Cowell, who has been doing “The X Factor” for years abroad, announced more than a year ago that he was leaving “Idol” at the end of last season to launch “The X Factor” in the United States. Yet his show won’t debut on Fox until this fall — the slowpoke!

 “The Voice” wins Round 1.

 “The Voice” also has unveiled its celebrity judges/coaches, including the much-in-the-news Aguilera, Green, Levine and Shelton. The role of Ryan Seacrest on “The Voice” will be played by NBC late-night host Carson Daly.

Cowell, on the other hand, has yet to unveil the celebrities he has signed to join him as judges/mentors and host on “The X Factor.” And, he has been teasing out for so long the “will she or won’t she?” thing regarding his former “Idol” colleague Paula Abdul that even we no longer care.

“The Voice” casting is pretty brilliant. Aguilera has been in the news a lot lately — mostly bad news. The producers of “The Voice” couldn’t be happier. In one month — February — Aguilera managed not only to stumble onstage at the Grammy Awards while performing a tribute to Aretha Franklin, but also to famously botch the national anthem at the Super Bowl. This month, she’s still going strong, having been arrested on suspicion of public drunkenness.

Aguilera could be the new Paula.

Green, meanwhile, is no slouch on the publicity front, having stolen the show at that Grammy Awards telecast when he dueted with Gwyneth Paltrow on his hit tune “[Expletive] You” while dressed as the iconic NBC peacock logo in meta-protest of Comcast’s decision to kill that NBC logo. (Paltrow was wearing clown shoes.)

Maroon 5’s Levine has tried to keep up with these two, gamely posing nude recently for Cosmopolitan UK and giving the mag an interview detailing his turn-ons (lingerie, but only once it’s off the chick) — to promote prostate cancer awareness, we’ve all been told to pretend.

And Daly was Seacrest before Seacrest was Seacrest. Back in the late ’90s, he hosted and executive-produced MTV’s “Total Request Live” (a.k.a. “TRL”), which, NBC reminisced, “transformed an afternoon music-video program into a must-stop on the publicity circuit for musicians, movie stars and entertainers alike.”

On Tuesday, dressed in jeans, black leather jacket and exactly 26 hours of growth on his chin, he monitored the Q&A. Daly wanted the press to know that he “can attest to this”: The level of talent among wannabes they have lined up for this show is “above and beyond, by leaps and bounds” anything he’s ever seen on any of those other singing competitions. “This show picks up where the others leave off,” Daly said.

And what of Shelton? Well, he represents the country-music voting bloc. And, he’s about to co-host the Academy of Country Music Awards with Reba McEntire, which will air April 3 on CBS — making for a big, fat plug for the premiere of “The Voice” about two weeks later.

“The Voice” wins Round 2.

“The Voice” is being produced by Mark Burnett of “Survivor,” “The Apprentice” and “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” fame. Also producing: John de Mol, who created the show’s Dutch format and executive-produces that version. De Mol’s also the guy to hold responsible for “Big Brother” and “Fear Factor.” 

Each week, Aguilera, Green, Levine and Shelton will coach a team of singers through the competition. Wannabes will be eliminated, and yes, viewers will get to participate in the elimination, until each celebrity has just one team member left. Those four singers will battle in a live finale to win the crown “The Voice of America” — or whatevs — and land a recording contract.

But every singing competition’s gotta get a gimmick. In this case it’s . . . revolving chairs!

It works like this: The initial audition will be “blind.” The celebrity judges won’t see the singers when they perform initially — they will be in chairs with their backs turned to the singers.

If a judge is impressed with a contestant’s voice, he/she pushes a button to plant his/her flag on that wannabe. At that point, the judge’s chair — swivels! The judge will face the singer for the first time.

If more than one coach selects a singer, the power shifts to the contestant, who gets to pick which coach he or she wants to work with. Ooh, snap!

Once the teams are set, coaches work with their singers. Like in some documentary on National Geographic Channel about animals that eat their young, the coaches weed out their weakest team members until only the strongest have survived.

 You can see where this is heading: a finale in which four singers are left standing to compete in a boffo finale — and one gets crowned The Voice, wins a recording contract and a prize of $100,000, which NBC should really beef up because it seems pretty skimpy by today’s singing-competition standards.

 
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