Can 'The Voice' Give 'American Idol' a Run for Its Money?

NBC's new singing competition series debuts Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET, aiming to hold its own vs. Fox's juggernaut

With five weeks left in its season, American Idol is going strong,defying those who doubted that it could stay on top without Simon Cowell. Meanwhile, Cowell's new talent show, The X Factor, is making headlines daily, as he draws out the process of choosing his judging panel.

In the midst of all this, tonight NBC will premiere its own singing competition, The Voice (Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET), exec produced by Mark Burnett (of Survivor and The Apprentice fame). Like those other two singing shows, The Voice has been hyping its own team of high-profile stars. Also like them, it's searching for America's next pop star -- and a piece of the vast viewing audience that likes to watch that star emerge. But can The Voice really give American Idol a run for its money? And, for that matter, can it eclipse a show created by the controversial and charismatic Cowell?

We'll find out soon enough. NBC is presenting The Voice as a different animal, similar to Idol but different... and, the network hopes, better.

To begin with, there's the blind judging aspect. Like the show it's modeled after, The Voice of Holland, this series' judges (Christina Aguilera, "Forget You" singer Cee Lo Green, Maroon Five frontman Adam Levine and country star Blake Shelton) will sit in giant red chairs that face away from the contestants. When they hear a contestant they'd like to mentor, they hit a button, and the chair swivels around. If more than one of the stars swivel, the contestant gets to choose his/her mentor from among them.

"Young people seem to be so enamored with just becoming famous," Voice host Carson Daly tells TV Guide. "This immediately takes all of that out. Here, you need skill. You need to be an artist that established artists want to help mold."

And that brings us to the other difference between The Voice and American Idol. After the initial auditions, Augilera and company switch from judges to mentors. The competitors will move forward with the help of their celebrity and his or her team. As on Idol, viewers will vote for the winner (starting once the 32 contestants have been narrowed down to a group of 16).

Despite its differing tactics, The Voice is, of course, still basically a singing competition in the vein of Idol. And it sounds very similar to Cowell's X Factor, which also puts a strong emphasis on musician mentoring. Just listen to how Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly describes X Factor: "A lot of the mechanics are similar (to Idol)," he tells USA Today. "But the mentoring aspect is so major, the spectacle nature of it, the production of it feels very different." When the newspaper asked whether he thought there was room for four talent competitions (Idol, X Factor, The Voice, and America's Got Talent), he replied, "I wouldn't think so, and I don't think there will be four (on the air for long)."

But NBC's head of reality programming, Paul Telegdy, sees it differently. "This wasn't an aggressive move against Idol," he tells TV Guide. "I look at it as the football season overlapping with another sports season. We'll take our chances."

And at a rumored cost of $1.4 million per episode of The Voice, NBC is taking a big chance indeed. Here's a sneak peek.

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