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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Tonight, a winner will be crowned in the latest reality TV singing competition, "The Voice."

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I have no choice. I hear your voice. Heaven help me...

MONTAGNE: The voice is powered by pop star judges like Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera. And it's NBC's biggest hit in years. The show is a one of a number of TV singing contest that have sprung up in the wake of "American Idol," which became famous in part for the snarky critiques of then-judge Simon Cowell.

We as NPR's pop music critic, Ann Powers, for her take on what makes the voice stand out.

ANN POWERS: Several different things, I mean arguably better song selections, better or at least more experienced singers. But maybe most of all, it's the judges. The judges have this intense and intimate relationship with the contestants because they're also mentoring them. So the not sort of trying to stand back and they're not falling into predictable roles, as they did on "Idol."

Here's Christina Aguilera about to see which of her two final team players goes home.

Ms. CHRISTINA AGUILERA (Judge, "The Voice"): There are no winners or losers today because we've all shared such a special journey together. We're bonded for life and I hope you guys will have me as a friend of yours for life, because you will always be mine.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #1: Well, let's take a look...

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

POWERS: And, you know, high school is a great thing and I really hope that Christina signs my yearbook.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: That is so sweet. Although Simon Cowell was nothing, if not completely popular.

POWERS: No, it's absolutely true. And Simon Cowell, of course, is bringing his new singing competition, "The X Factor," to the States in the fall. And that's going to be interesting because structured rather similarly to "The Voice."

I think the idea of becoming a singing star has always been a major dream for so many people and television is feeding that.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

Unidentified Man #2: More people audition than ever before.

Unidentified Man #3: We auditioned over 40,000 kids who showed up with their hearts on their sleeves and their jazz hands in the air.

Unidentified Man #4: Biggest time out for L.A.'s singing audition ever.

MONTAGNE: And where are all these people coming from?

POWERS: Well, they're not coming from nowhere. They're coming from community choirs, from amateur singing competition - regionally. Even 17-year-old winner Scottie McCreery from "American Idol" this year, who seems a country boy with no experience had actually won something called "Clayton Idol," which is a regional version of "American Idol" in his home State of North Carolina.

So what we have now are people in between professional and amateur. And that's what we're hearing on these shows.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about becoming professional, you know, after the show. Because over the years, "American Idol," of course, has given us Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. But most people go on these shows and, even if they do well, never heard from again. Can they produce stars?

POWERS: Here's the thing, if you've won on a show like "American Idol," you've done a doing other people's material. So the question is: Can you either write your own material or team up with the right people?

Carrie Underwood went right into a very comfortable place, which is Nashville, where they're used to manufacturing personalities. And they could help her form her personality. But a lot of these contestants, that doesn't happen for them. Instead, what happens is they find these other streams.

For example, Constantine Maroulis was an "Idol" that people thought was sort of cheesy. He's become a Broadway star. He even won a Tony. So they do make careers in the music industry, but they don't necessarily top the charts.

MONTAGNE: Ann, thank you for joining us.

POWERS: Well, thanks so much. I have to go to my singing lesson now. You know, I'm thinking about my next career.

MONTAGNE: Ann Powers is NPR's pop music critic. And she writes for the Record blog NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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