This is only the second time I’ve watched “The Voice,” and it intrigues me. I’ve never seen anything outside of the initial blind auditions. I don’t know what comes after that, I don’t know how the mentoring goes, I don’t know how eliminations work. But I have to admit, I love the idea of the blind audition part of the show: four music quasi-moguls choose contestants to nurture and mentor based only on their vocal performances. This eliminates a lot of what I hate about American Idol. There are no silly costumes, there is no jumping up and down and showboating and begging for second chances. There is only, until the moment one of the coaches decides to pursue a vocal training relationship with this person, a voice.
That means this is based on talent, not on appearance. There are times when it is clear a coach was expecting something totally different when s/he turns around. But the beautiful thing about this show is it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether the voice belongs to a tiny skinny petite girl or a muscular athletic guy or a full-figured diva. Once that person is chosen, it’s done. It’s based on the voice.
Obviously this means clear, appearance-free assessment for men as well as women. And I think that’s great, and it’s important. This is Girls Like Giants, but male body image is becoming a bigger issue than we think it is, as this disturbing article about rising male adolescent anorexia proves. I’ve been considering body image a lot lately, and trying to step outside what I usually think. In a world – or at least a country – that is really anti-fat, with instant and vitriolic troll-hate on anything plus-size, a world where Rush Limbaugh can critique Michele Obama for eating ribs and yet telling America to try to be healthier even though she’s not the size of a Sports Illustrated cover model, we need to be forgiving of bodies that are bigger than model-skinny. And yet we also live in a world where the weight demands on professional models are so extreme that models have actually died on the runway. And there is a lot of thin-hate out there too: sniping and poking and accusing visible ribs or vertebrae or knobbly boney knees of not being as beautiful as full-figured breasts and hips and thighs. And I find myself – an average size 8 who fits neither into the plus-size nor the “sample size” category – often committing the latter of these two forms of hate. Where are the “normal-sized” women, I find myself asking, forgetting that people with naturally skinny frames are also “normal-sized.” And that’s something I need to work on. And so does the rest of the world.
But in this respect, if in no others (again, I’ve spent approximately 2 hours of my whole life watching this show), I think The Voice gets it right. Clothes, face, build, hairstyle: none of that matters if your voice speaks to one of those coaches and they decide they want you. This is self and worth based in performativity rather than appearance. The audience in the studio reacts to your performance and appearance, but even if they think you’re ugly or you have awkward dance moves or you aren’t wearing a trendy outfit, they aren’t the important part. The coaches are, and they can’t see you. They can only hear you. And your beauty is based on the potential they hear: you come through in what you do, not what you visibly “are.” You are a moving, evolving, soaring amalgam of what your voice sounds like and what it can do, not the way your bones and muscles fit together. This seems important to me, and something we should focus more attention on. And of course some of us (me included) do not and will never have a wonderful – or even a decent – voice, which means saying “open your ears, not your eyes” is an incomplete and insufficient response. But it feels like a move in a better direction than this body-obsessed dance we’ve been watching for so long. It reminds me of that wonderful old Shel Silverstein poem “No Difference.” The Voice doesn’t quite “turn off the light,” but it requires a choice in what I think is a healthy kind of darkness.