The Voice season 3 is over and former Hey Monday lead singer Cassadee Pope has been crowned the winner. This wasn’t exactly a surprise. The coaches had been calling her a “true star” for weeks (just in case you somehow didn’t realize that she was). Some viewers however, can’t help but think it a bit odd Casadee Pope seemed to sail easily to the win because of the high level of talent on the show this season. Actually, I’ve read comments from fans expressing complete bafflement over Pope’s meteoric rise to the top. Let’s take a look at the season in review to see how exactly did Casadee Pope end up as the person who won The Voice 2012 season 3.
First of all, to understand how Cassade Pope ended up as The Voice season 3 winner, you need to understand the producers’ objective in ‘casting’ talent this season. Although the show has been quite successful, trouncing Simon Cowell‘s The X Factor season 2 in few head-to-head match-up that occurred, it’s Achilles heel is not having produced a huge break out star winner like American Idol‘s Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. So this year, the producers were on a mission to make sure that the winner was someone proven to be well-loved and marketable. Marketable, as we know, doesn’t always have to do with talent levels. Adam Levine addressed this issue in the Hollywood Reporter (Oct. 28th, 2012), admitting that producing a breakout star was something the show needed to do to continue to have credibility, but had confidence it would occur. “I’m sure that we can do it. I think that we’re gonna have to just re-tweak how we bridge that gap,” Levine said.
It’s an interesting line to walk. On the one hand The Voice has a sense of sincerity in it’s desire to find and mentor talented music artists regardless of appearance. They seemingly treat the “contestants” with respect, which is not necessarily the case on other vocal talent shows. There is no airing of bad auditions, or leading people on for sport. If a person makes it to the point of having an on-air audition, it’s because they definitely have some talent. However, the fact is that the last two winners of The Voice were people with vocal styles that did not, and have not mixed well with the mainstream pop market. The need for a breakout star altered the criteria for season 3. They didn’t just want a great voice — they wanted an easily marketed, mainstream sounding, pop star. From the various shows and even the general landscape of the pop-market, the most likely way for that to happen was if the winner was a woman. Looking at it from that perspective, Cassadee Pope makes a lot of sense.
I don’t think the show started out with Cassadee destined to win. There is no indication of blatant cheating or rigging on the part of The Voice season 3 producers. However, the show’s format this year was certainly geared to make sure the artists the judges thought were likely to be most successful did not get cut too soon. The first tweak to occur was ‘The Steal’ twist for the battle rounds.
The strategy of the battle rounds usually revolves around one of two concepts. The first is to put two very different singers together in order to make each have to go beyond their musical comfort zone in some fashion. It allows the coach to see the range and flexibility of the vocalists and then choose whom they think is stronger. With the second kind of pairing, they take two similar singers and just choose whichever one they think did that style better. However, in either case, these battles have occasionally resulted in losing someone with real star quality and talent. At such an early stage this proved to be a problem. This would result in The Voice ending up with a pool at the end that might not have the best of the talent they started with. While not an obvious problem in season one, it became blatantly clear in season 2.
During season 2, the battle round between Anthony Evans & Jesse Campbell was amazing. I still think it stands as the best in the show’s history. Don’t recall it? Take a look:
That round had them let go of Anthony Evans. Later in the season Jesse Campbell was let go by Christina Aguelira. This left the field open in that genre of music for the younger, handsome Jermaine Paul. This was Jermaine’s final performance – the one that won him season 2 of The Voice:
Jermaine is a solid, talented performer, no question, but compared to Anthony, in terms of just range and soul, Anthony was the stronger vocal talent. Anthony also was younger and more flexible than Jesse, and could appeal to a younger demographic. However, because of the battle rounds, Anthony wasn’t an option. In season three, “The Steal” made sure that situation never happened again. So when Amanda Brown & Trevin Hunte ended up in a similarly epic battle round, Amanda did NOT go home. She went to team Adam and made it to the top six. I’ll be talking more about Amanda later.
Every steal made sure the best ‘types’ with the strongest vocals and stage presence stayed in play. What do I mean by types? The steals were all people who fit a genre (or so they thought). Collin McLoughlin: attractive, all-American young man with perfect pitch, Amanda Brown: pretty African-American woman, urban pop/soul. Caitlin Michele: indie princess. Joselyn Rivera: pretty, young, pretty pop sound. Alessandra Guercio: young, attractive, vocally well trained, big voice, MarissaAnn: pretty, pop-rock young girl, big voice. Chevonne: wild style pop, alot of vocal range. Every steal was someone who not only had a voice – but a clear market. The only question now, for the producers, was who would the public like the most and thus sell the best?
This led to the knockout rounds. They weren’t so much a tweak as a natural outcome. Because the battle rounds were combing for talent, they needed something that would now comb for markets and type. Plus, they wanted to avoid being top-heavy in some of the profitable markets. Trevin & Terisa Griffin for instance. Huge R&B voices. Trevin’s story, age, and talent made him more unique, a standout in that crowded R&B lane. A secondary criteria — The Voice likes to work with people they can polish. Every show does. Part of “The journey” is people being able to see a “star” being born. So Terisa, whose vocals and presence were pretty well established, didn’t need any more polish. Christina actually says in the Knockout between Devyn Deloera and Laura Vivas that she chose Devyn because she could benefit more from her coaching.
I could go through all the knockouts, but the best example of what was going on this weason was the knockout round between Loren Allred & Nicole Nelson - which can be viewed here:
Now, they both did well and blew the audience away. However, the first comment Blake Sheldon makes to Adam is, “I think Loren, she just became what we’re supposed to be looking for.” The vocals are pretty on par. So, what could he be talking about? Hmmm…. Now, visualize Loren and then do the same for Cassadee Pope. Yep, they are both young, attractive women with a marketable look and big voices.
This screening was not a racial issue, otherwise Amanda Brown and Trevin Hunte wouldn’t have gone as far as they did. No, this was a market type issue. When Loren came out with her louder, stronger, voice, Christina nodded and checked something off. If Loren hadn’t had the vocals to match Nicole she would have been gone. The Voice wasn’t going to move anyone forward who didn’t have a certain level of vocal chops. All the coaches were surprised by her performance. Clearly, they weren’t expecting Loren to be able to pull it off. Once she did, she became a singer for a more profitable market, a possible pop diva vs. an R&B/Jazz market. I don’t necessarily think this kind of screening is horrible. I understand that the music industry is not just about the talent – especially for women. However, the intense focus on marketing over talent is what ultimately ends up leading to Cassadee winning The Voice season 3.
“Everyone has succeeded. At this point it’s just a game.”
Those are the words of Adam Levine. He said them to his team right before having to eliminate two of them. It’s very accurate. The playoff rounds were a total popularity and marketing game, one that would get more and more heavy-handed as the season moved forward. It’s the playoff rounds that set off the situation which led to Cassadee winning The Voice.
For the playoffs, which would bring the field of 20 down to 12, each vocalist got to perform. Based on those performances, the viewers got to choose two finalists from each team. Each coach also got to save one — and those saves were critical to how we ended up with Cassadee. This is also where the “If I say it, it must be true” manipulative soundbites started. We get things like Carson Daly reminding the audience that “this show is all about vocal ability,” just when it’s at the point where popularity & marketing have begun to be strong factors.
Below are the pictures right before the first round of the eliminations. We’ve got seven young, pretty diva women with marketable looks and big voices – nearly a 3rd of the field. We’ve got “The guys” Dez Duron, Brian Keith, Terry McDermott, Cody Belew & Mackenzie Bourg. Then there were the three “indie” girls Melanie Martinez, De’borah & Michaela Page. The “soul” singers: Trevin Hunte, Nicholas David and… Amanda Brown. All strongly viable in a profitable market. Judging by the number of long-haired divas, I think it’s fair to say that Blake’s comment about what they were supposed to be looking for wasn’t just about voices.
Here is how the coach saves worked out:
Team Adam Levine:
Coach Save: Melanie
Team Blake Shelton:
Coach Save: Michaela
Team Christina Aguilera:
Coach Save: Adrianna
Team Cee Lo Green
1. Trevin Hunte
2. Nicholas David
Coach Save: Cody Belew
I’m going to make a guess and say that Christina was supposed to save De’borah because of her comments about people’s opinions, etc. It definitely sounded like there was a strategy they were all aware of. De’borah would have balanced Christina’s team out and rounded out the over-all indie type pool of possibilities. The fact that Blake — Mr. Country artist all the way — chose indie-type Michaela over country-artist Liz Davis (who has a really great voice) seemed odd at the time. I loved them both, but given how Blake has chosen in the last two seasons I wasn’t expecting him to pick Michaela. Now, looking at the whole picture, it makes sense. Adam had picked Melanie, which given that Amanda up until “Dream On” was considered a urban/pop type, made sense. The choices of Michaela and De’borah would have created a three-way race in the indie category. Female indie singer often translates over to the mainstream pop charts. You have Pink, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj as current examples. Strange clothes and rebel attitudes all cross-over well into pop-stardom. It was important to keep that door open because you never know what will capture the public’s favor.
Instead, Christina picked Adrianna. Her reasoning was again about “who would benefit the most from staying — who she thought needed the most help. In a way that’s kind of sweet, but later it definitely caused a problem, because all three of her team members were pure pop. Rounding out the top twelve, Cee Lo chose Cody based on most improved… but that’s because for the elimination round, Cody did the George Michael ballad “One More Try” and was a smooth a crooner as Dez, with only a touch of the “Bam-Bam” on the song. He did an amazing job and came off as pure pop potential – but he wasn’t really. Given the track record of who was on his team, Cee Lo would have been better off with MacKenzie Bourg — a definite pop-chart type.
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