Something remarkable might be about to happen on The Voice. For the second year running, a 16-year-old unknown is poised to run the table against older, wiser, more experienced competition.
In last week’s performance program, Colts Neck, N.J., high-schooler Jacquie Lee tore the cover off coach Christina Aguilera’s aptly named The Voice Within, moments after dropping to the stage during a rock-infused rendition of Janis Joplin’s Cry Baby.
Lee was the first singer vaulted through to this week’s semifinal performance show. The other singers to advance are in their 20s; fellow front-runner Tessanne Chin, originally from Kingston, Jamaica, is 28.
If Lee wins The Voice — and it now looks entirely possible — she will follow in the footsteps of 17-year-old country artist Danielle Bradbery, who was also 16 when she rode her country pipes and the advice of mentor Blake Shelton to win The Voice this past spring.
These are heady days for The Voice. The ascendant singing-competition program has charted upward in the ratings, even as interest in similar shows like The X Factor and American Idol has tailed off.
Still, one important question remains. Why has The Voice yet to establish a bona fide recording artist, the way Idol produced Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood?
Bradbery’s self-titled debut album will bow soon; Lee now seems assured of an album deal of her own.
And while neither is guaranteed success, Aguilera, fellow Voice coach Adam Levine and host and co-producer Carson Daly caution against writing off either Bradbery or Lee too soon.
“There are winners on this show every day,” Daly said, earlier this year in Los Angeles. “I’ll put it in perspective: Danielle Bradbery won last year. Danielle Bradbery is 16. If we’re going to break an artist, we’d rather break a career artist. And that’s not going to happen overnight.
“She has eight years to figure it out — her voice, an album, whatever it might be. And in eight years she’ll be the same age Taylor Swift is right now. She’s got time.”
Levine, the frontman of Maroon 5 and Voice coach with three singers left in the competition, insists youth will be served. One day.
“We always say we aim for the moon with this show, but people don’t really appreciate what it takes to get to the position where you’re sitting in one of the these chairs,” Levine said. “So many elements have to come together. This show is only one piece of the puzzle. There are millions of people who walked away disappointed after doing one of these shows, and some of them have had huge careers since.”
Aguilera herself, when she was much younger, fell just short of winning Star Search.
“The immediacy of winning and becoming a huge star is a fairy tale and a dream come true, that we would all love to see,” Levine said. “But it’s still a fairy tale. There’s going on tour. There’s staying in crappy hotels. There’s a lot you have to do first.”
Despite coaching the 16-year-old Lee to the end — Monday’s performance program is one of the last of the season before The Voice names a winner — Aguilera says success doesn’t have to be immediate.
“Not everything needs to be boom-boom-boom, then record deal, then No. 1 success,” Aguilera said. “It doesn’t happen like that. It didn’t happen for me that way. There’s always time.” (8 ET/PT, 9 MT, 7 CT, CTV/NBC)
• On first hearing, The Sing-Off, an a cappella singing competition that hopes to do for groups what The Voice promises to do for solo artists, sounds pointless. But this time last year, The Sing-Off was a surprise success during the holiday season, so it’s back for a seven-episode run with Nick Lachey hosting once again and Jewel joining returning judges Ben Folds, of Ben Folds Five, and Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman. (NBC, 9 ET/PT, 10 MT, 8 CT)
• Composition of a different kind is music to the ears in the semi-autobiographical documentary-and-performance program Six by Sondheim, in which the legendary Broadway composer — and this is one occasion when the overused expression “legend” works — shares the backstory behind six of his greatest hits, as performed in the program by some of Broadway’s brightest lights. Included: Something’s Coming, Open Doors and the Barbra Streisand standard Send in the Clowns. (HBO, 9 ET/MT, 8 PT, 10 CT)
• The late-night talk shows are often all about the guest, despite the big bucks they pay late-night hosts, and Monday’s guest on The Late Show With David Letterman has “PVR-worthy” stamped all over it. Letterman welcomes Stephen Colbert, which, if nothing else, will be interesting which Colbert shows up: The made-up character he plays in his own late-night talk show (sorry to spoil the illusion, if you didn’t know that already), or the real Colbert, a soft-spoken, often thoughtful advocate for social change. Either way, expect laughs and a few surprises. (Omni, local stations, CBS, 11:35 ET/PT, 12:35 MT, 10:35 CT)