After Wé McDonald sang “Feeling Good” during the 11th-season preview of The Voice, Miley Cyrus leapt out of her seat to give her fellow singer a standing ovation. Alicia Keys, visibly moved by the 17-year-old’s performance of the Nina Simone standard, exclaimed, “You’re so beautiful, and you’re so perfectly yourself.”
The whole thing was warm and wonderful and ooey and gooey and an extremely far cry from the old days of The Voice’s ideological predecessor, American Idol, in which nearly every kind reassurance from Paula would bring, soon enough, a soul-crushing snub—“I even think you would do badly in Kosovo Idol”—from Simon. The Voice is also a far cry, though, from Hell’s Kitchen, which applies the logic of drill sergeant-ing to its star chef. And from The Apprentice, which treats Trump’s “you’re fired!” as a schadenfreudic refrain.
What The Voice is similar to, though—being in its own way so beautiful, and so perfectly itself—is The Great British Baking Show, whose judges offer encouragement to their contestants even, and especially, when they fail. And The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, where one of the most common claims among the star singletons is, “I’m trying to do the right thing.” And Project Runway and Dancing with the Stars and America’s Next Top Model and The Biggest Loser and RuPaul’s Drag Race—competition-based reality shows that, episode by episode, opt for supportiveness over sadism. Sure, television’s versions of “reality” can sometimes be as cruel as reality itself; these days, though, many of the non-scripted shows on offer are finding ways to celebrate, and commercialize, kindness. Welcome to the era of empathy TV.