Out finalists Vicci Martinez and Beverly McClellan may not have walked off with the top prize on NBC's The Voice last night, but their success through the season helped prove something that ten seasons of American Idol have so far failed to do: that American viewers have no problem embracing openly LGBT performers.
In addition to Vicci and Beverly, the season also featured openly gay singers Nakia Reynoso and Tyler Robinson, with Nakia making it to the semifinals before being edged out by Vicci to be the final contestant on Team Cee Lo. All four contestants were out and proud from their very first interviews on the show during the audition rounds, which certainly didn't hold them back in the eyes of the judges or the show's voting home viewers. Below you can see the happily gender-nonconforming Beverly singing a duet of "Beautiful" with coach Christina Aguilera:
Much of the attention The Voice has received in the media for its inclusion of openly gay and lesbian contestants come from a direct comparison to NBC competitor Fox's long-running singing competition. After ten seasons on the air and 200 plus semifinalists, not once has American Idol featured a contestant who was openly LGBT while competing on the show. In an interview with The Advocate, Season 1 contestant R.J. Helton recalled getting feedback from American Idol staff while struggling with coming out publicly during the show's run, saying "I did tell some of the assistant producers because I felt like it was eating me alive. But I was advised to just keep it to myself. The reason they gave me was that it wouldn't be a good idea for my career." A Fox spokesman replied that any producer who said such a thing was speaking purely on their own behalf, but a full decade has since passed without an out contestant. Even the out and proud Adam Lambert didn't address his orientation until after his season ended.
When asked by Entertainment Weekly about the lack of out contestants, Fox released a statement saying that "While sexual orientation is irrelevant to the competition, the decision to reveal sexual orientation has always been a choice made entirely by each individual contestant."
By comparison, Voice creator Mark Burnett remarked of his own show's inclusiveness, saying that “it didn’t cross my mind to do anything but be authentic...It’s fun television and this is a diverse population. You need to be reflective of the authenticity of the contestants. It wasn’t something we did, it just is what it is.”
The show has proven to be a hit for NBC, which will undoubtedly bring the show back for a second season. Meanwhile, viewers hoping to catch more of Beverly, Vicci, and Nakia may get the chance this summer when the show kicks off a mini-tour featuring the first season's eight finalists.