2017 Emmys post-mortem: How did ‘The Voice’ pull off that shocking upset over ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’?

The Voice” pulled off one of the few upsets of the 69th Emmys Sunday night when it won its fourth award for Best Reality-Competition Program. More than three times as many people who logged their predictions at Gold Derby favored “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to win, on its first nomination in the category. (See complete list of Emmy winners.)

“Drag Race” finally had everything going for it. The show debuted in obscurity on the Logo TV basic cable network in 2009 and it was not until the seventh season that the series earned its first Emmy nomination in 2015, for its makeup. The eighth season scored two nominations in 2016, for its costumes and a win for its host RuPaul Charles. With older seasons uploaded for streaming on Netflix and the ninth season airing with wider exposure originally on VH1, the series hit critical mass, more than doubling its Nielsen ratings and Emmy nomination haul to that point. The ninth season and its online tie-ins garnered eight nominations this summer.

“Drag Race” was the dominant competition series at the Creative Arts portion of the Emmys a week ago, taking three awards, for its costumes, host and picture editing. In fact, no other Best Reality-Competition Program nominee bagged a single award at the Creative Arts. “Drag Race” widened its lead in Gold Derby’s odds, with the support of 16/22 Experts, 7/7 Editors and 21/24 Top 24 Users, giving it the same 2/5 odds shared by the likes of Best Comedy Series “Veep” and Best Movie/Limited Actress Nicole Kidman of “Big Little Lies.”

What the pundits overlooked was that “Drag Race” was not the only strong contender for Best Reality-Competition Series. The Emmys nominated “The Voice” and its online tie-ins for 10 Emmys this year, following consecutive years of winning Best Reality-Competition Series with only six total nominations each time.

Although “Drag Race” asserted dominance at the Creative Arts, it never did so directly over “The Voice,” as “Drag Race” only won in categories that “The Voice” was not nominated. (The snubs of “The Voice” in those categories were statistically insignificant to boot. “The Voice” has never been nominated for host Carson Daly or its costumes. It has variably been nominated for its editing, but last year is the only time that it has had an editing nomination when it has won Best Reality-Competition Series.)

The races in which “Drag Race” and “The Voice” went head-to-head instead went to “Born This Way” (Best Reality Casting), “Hairspray Live!” (Best Multi-Camera Hairstyling) and “Saturday Night Live” (Best Multi-Camera Makeup). That “The Voice” came out of the Creative Arts empty-handed was also not a knock on its strength overall, as the Emmys have always found the whole of “The Voice” to be more than the sum of its parts. “The Voice” only ever prevails in a single Creative Arts category if any: Best Variety Lighting Design/Direction.

Perhaps a bias for RuPaul blinded pundits from considering that “Drag Race” was a dubious frontrunner and “The Voice” was a viable alternative, if not the default option to repeat. The journalists who cover the Emmys first nominated “Drag Race” for Best Reality-Competition Series at the 2011 Critics Choice Awards and awarded it Best Reality Program at the 2014 Television Critics Association Awards before it had ever been nominated for an Emmy in any category.

RuPaul first scored a Gold Derby Award nomination for Best Reality Host in 2012, so he is quite overdue for major recognition to the online community in 2017. Having won the top Emmy in 2013, 2015 and 2016, “The Voice” was not overdue, but it certainly was familiar and that proved yet again to be more important with the academy. “The Amazing Race” infamously won 10 times over the first 12 years of this category’s existence.

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