I'll admit that I didn't watch the Simon Cowell-less "American Idol" this season and in fact, I skipped most of last season too. For all I know, the revamp with Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez worked wonders.
But I have been quite enthralled by NBC's "The Voice" so far, and I think it's interesting how that show uses the same basic template of "Idol" (find unknown musical talent, have judges comment on performances, let TV viewers vote on who they like), but makes it feel so different.
The gimmick of "The Voice" was that in the early audition round, the four judges (Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, and Maroon 5's Adam Levine) sat with their backs to the singer so that they could only hear the singing voice. No picking singers you like because they look like a star. If a judge liked the voice, he/she would press a button to turn the seat around. If only one judge turned around, that singer was put on that judge's team. If multiple judges turned their seats around, they had to persuade the singer to pick them. This went on until each judge had 8 team members.
At that point, the gimmick was obviously done with. The second round consisted of having each judge whittle his/her team from 8 down to 4 by having pairs of their own team members square off against each other, taking turns singing the same song.
We're now in the third round, where the TV viewers vote to "save" one singer at a time.
Why has "The Voice" been so much more interesting than "American Idol" was at the end for me?
1) The judges have good chemistry and offer more than useless "it was pitchy" or "you are so beautiful tonight" comments.
This doesn't mean that the judges are always nice to one another. Aguilera has been kind of annoying at times, and Green has been fairly restrained. But when the judges were competing with each other in the first round to persuade a singer that two or more liked, it was interesting hearing each judge pitch what he/she could offer in terms of working with that singer. Levine and Shelton in particular have had a good rivalry going in that regard.
2) No age cap means that there's much more diversity in style, experience, and strengths/weaknesses among the singers.
It's fair to say that a number of the current finalists in "The Voice" (but not all) would never have made it far in "Idol," assuming they were allowed to compete at all, given that show's age cutoff. The last few seasons of "Idol" that I watched seemed to have far too many teens who could've used more seasoning. There are a few like that on "The Voice," but a far smaller proportion.
3) Vote limits, with much longer voting period.
One of the dumbest things about "Idol" is how host Ryan Seacrest announces something like, "Last night, singer X got 80 million votes, which is more than the President got!" Well, yeah, except there's no limit to how many times you can vote in "Idol," whereas you're only supposed to vote once in the Presidential election. . . .
"The Voice" limits votes to 10 per singer per method of voting, which isn't the same as one vote per viewer, but much closer. More importantly, "The Voice" doesn't cut off voting two hours after the end of the show! Voting goes on for almost an entire week, which is quite helpful to the TiVo crowd.
UPDATE (6/29/11): This article says a lot of the same things.