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‘The Voice’ is bigger, better than ‘The X Factor,’ and here’s why

Julio Cesar Castillo Portage Park (left with host CarsDaly) survived knockout rounds “The Voice” will compete this week’s live shows.

Julio Cesar Castillo of Portage Park (left, with host Carson Daly) survived knockout rounds on “The Voice” and will compete on this week’s live shows. | NBC

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Updated: December 6, 2012 6:13AM

After weeks of buildup, it’s decision time, America. This is the week citizens get to vote for their favorite artists on NBC’s hit show, “The Voice.”

As an added bonus, we also get to elect the leader of the free world on Tuesday.

I know: A presidential election is far more important than a singing competition. Unless you’re an NBC executive. The network is having its best fall TV season in a decade, largely thanks to the popularity of “The Voice.”

With its signature spinning chairs, likable coaches and emphasis on actual singing over manufactured drama, “The Voice” has served as a giant life raft, buoying NBC’s sinking ratings.

For the first four weeks of the fall TV season, the Peacock net flew from fourth place to first in the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic favored by advertisers — a feat it hasn’t accomplished since 2002.

While NBC trails CBS and ABC in total viewers, it’s the only one of the Big Four nets to post a larger prime-time audience than it did last autumn.

Much of NBC’s success can be chalked up to “Sunday Night Football” and its Monday-Tuesday installments of “The Voice,” which never aired in the fall until now.

“The Voice’s” Monday night shows average an impressive 14.1 million viewers; Tuesday’s telecasts, 12.8 million. Its ratings have repeatedly trumped those of Fox’s “X Factor,” which wasn’t helped by postseason baseball scheduling snafus. Sports aside, “X Factor” clearly is playing second fiddle to “The Voice,” and that’s got to hurt, especially after the Fox show shelled out a lot of cash to add pop princess Britney Spears to the judges’ table for its second season.

Spears must think she’s getting paid per grimace, given her propensity for making faces. This, combined with fellow judge Simon Cowell’s smugness, are just a few of the reasons “The X Factor” is so tedious to watch. An overproduced hot mess, the series tries to drum up drama with too many pregnant pauses from the judges and heavy-handed backstories for the contestants. It’s going to take a lot more than the newly added hosting duo of Khloe Kardashian Odom and Mario Lopez to right this ship.

“The Voice” moves along at a far brisker clip. And the judges — make that “coaches” — jell better with one another. Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green are all entertainers in their own right. They come off more credible than the “X Factor” crew when they’re mentoring contestants. (Should be interesting to see what happens when Usher and Shakira step in for Aguilera and Green when the show returns for a fourth season March 25.)

“The Voice’s” coaches also tend to be more constructive in their criticism, forgoing the public humiliation that Cowell & Co. seem to think makes for good TV.

Maybe the “niceness” of “The Voice” has a particular appeal to our Midwest sensibilities; the show routinely trounces “X Factor” in the Chicago market, where the Fox program often fails to register on Nielsen’s weekly list of the 25 most-watched primetime programs. (In the New York City area, “X Factor” typically gets more viewers than “The Voice.” Read into that what you will.)

Chicagoans also have had a strong presence on “The Voice” this season.

Four Illinois singers — three from the Chicago area and one from Downstate Virden — went into last week’s knockout round. Only two survived: Julio Cesar Castillo of Portage Park and De’Borah Garner of Chicago Heights. They’ll be among the 20 artists competing in this week’s live shows from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday.

Viewers’ votes will help determine which singers make it to the Top 12. Those finalists will be revealed during Thursday’s hourlong results show at 7 p.m.

“I never thought I’d get this far,” said Castillo, 21. The Lincoln Park High School graduate was taking classes at Wright College and playing in a local mariachi band when his sister signed him up to audition for “The Voice.”

“I guess you can say all of this is her fault,” Castillo said.

Before going on “The Voice,” Castillo spent many weekends performing at Mi Tierra restaurant in Little Village.

Trying to branch out from his mariachi background, he opted to sing Justin Bieber’s “Somebody to Love” in last week’s knockout round.

“I could have made a better choice,” confessed Castillo, who didn’t deliver his best performance — but one that proved good enough to keep him on Team Blake.

Garner also ended up on “The Voice” thanks to a sister.

“I auditioned to prove to her I wouldn’t make it because of the way I looked,” said Garner, 25, whose short hair, glasses and quirky sartorial style have begged comparisons to Urkel.

The soulful rock/pop singer’s unusual appearance hasn’t always sat well with some of the churches where she was slated to sing.

“I couldn’t stand in front of their congregations; they wouldn’t have it,” Garner said. “Eventually I just stopped getting calls, and I went into a shell.”

One of 10 musically adept children, Garner, a vocal coach, grew up in Roseland. She went to Percy L. Julian High School before graduating from American School in Lansing. Garner studied theology with the aim of becoming a preacher like her father, an assistant pastor at Christ for Everyone Ministries in Ford Heights.

“I preach to everyone, including the contestants on ‘The Voice,’ ” she said.

Garner still hopes to be a pastor one day, but she said her looks — and her sexuality — might pose some challenges. She’s a lesbian, and she chose to come out during “The Voice’s” blind auditions.

“That was the first time I said the words,” Garner said. “I thought, ‘Let’s get it out of the way, and now we can get on with the singing portion.’ ”

Singing is what the Team Christina member will be doing — live — on this week’s shows.

“I’m going in with the same game plan: go in chicken but come out victorious,” Garner said. “Let’s see what happens this time.”

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