Much has been made of the return of CeeLo Green and Christina Aguilera to the merrily spinning judges’ chairs on “The Voice.” As fellow judge Blake Shelton reminded us during last night’s premiere, it’s like the original band is back together. The catch is, of course, that original doesn’t always mean better.
Let’s face it; last season Shakira and Usher owned those chairs. It was genuinely surprising how easily they both slipped into the rhythm of the show right from the jump. When we’ve seen musical judges’ chairs on “American Idol” and “The X Factor,” there are usually a few awkward episodes before newbies find their niche — if they find it at all. While Blake Shelton and Adam Levine’s easy bonhomie should be welcoming in theory, I can see where their bromance might also seem to leave little room for newcomers.
Shakira and Usher seemed to have an innate understanding of how this strange animal of a competition show — one in which celebrity judges must entertain with a none-too-serious battle without stealing thunder from a herd of unknown contestants — needed to work. I had to admit that, unlike Shelton, I wasn’t all that excited about getting the band back together this season.
Still, I was curious to see how I liked Green and Aguilera the second time around, now that other players had been presented. What had they brought to the table before that I’d missed? Were Shakira and Usher actually an upgrade, or was I forgetting something?
After last night’s episode, I’ve decided that comparing Original “Voice” to “The Voice 2.0” is sort of an apples and oranges debate. While Shakira and Usher seemed to be perfectly simpatico with Shelton and Levine’s relaxed, jocular sparring, there’s also something to be said for Aguilera and Green. They may not mesh as easily with their fellow judges, but they do bring their own prickly, oddball attributes to the table.
While Shakira was all about relatable, genial warmth, there’s no doubt that this season the diva is back. There’s never a sense that Aguilera is so swept up in a moment she’s unaware of the cameras — she is, for better or for worse, always on. But with that diva control comes a seriousness that makes contestants stand a little straighter, even when she’s pleading with them to sit with her and hug her (maybe not the best idea, given that the contestant was a 15-year-old boy).
Behind the heavy make-up and sequins she doesn’t seem quite real, almost like a creation made for the stage, and maybe that’s a good thing for contestants to see whether or not they want to emulate it. She knows her stuff, and she knows her brand, and there is a certain brittle quality to her that makes it clear (hopefully) to these bright-eyed newbies how damn hard their path to the top is likely to be. It’s worth noting that the most coveted contestant of the night, Matthew Schuler, chose Aguilera’s team.
Do I get the impression Aguilera and the gang go out for drinks after the show? Not really. She engages in the requisite banter, but it’s never quite as fluid or as easy as it was with Shakira and Usher. When she “playfully” swatted Levine on the butt with her microphone last night, it felt more awkward than spontaneous.
But that absence of ease isn’t as noticeable with Green in the second chair. The guy’s a genius, but he’s pretty awesomely weird. With his henna-ed head and Michael Jackson jacket (and don’t forget those sunglasses), he’s just as inscrutable as Aguilera. While Shakira and Usher fit so easily with Shelton and Levine they seemed like pieces in a matched set, the original four are absolutely distinct. I’ve got to think that now it’s a little easier for contestants who have all four chairs turn. The differences among these judges go way beyond genre.
There’s something to be said for stars who bring some old school glam to the show, even if that means less adorable ribbing. Besides, I’m just hoping Green brings back the cat, aren’t you?
Do you miss Shakira and Usher? Are you happy to see the original judges back? Who would you like to see judging next?