Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine, who is a coach on the U.S. version of “The Voice” singing contest, is known for his outspoken ways, on and off screen. On “The Voice,” he’s opinionated, confident and persuasive. In interviews, he gives refreshingly candid answers. And he was equally forthcoming at a New York City press conference for “The Voice” on October 26, 2012, when Levine sat down with members of the media to talk about what goes on behind the scenes with the show, which has become NBC’s biggest hit prime-time entertainment series of 2012. The second season of the “The Voice” (which wrapped in May 2012) earned the show an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. Winners of “The Voice” get a record deal with Universal Republic Records.
The third season of the show, which began in September 2012 and concludes in December 2012, features two new changes: “steals” (in which the coaches can steal contestants who have been rejected from another coach’s team) and “knockout rounds.” In the “battle rounds,” two contestants face off in a duet of a song chosen by their coach. When a contestant is rejected from a team after a battle round, another coach has the option to “steal” the contestant for his or her team. If more than one coach wants the same contestant, then the contestant gets to choose the coach. In the “knockout rounds,” two contestants face off by each doing a different song of the contestant’s choice, and coaches can no longer “steal” a contestant who is rejected. The fourth season of “The Voice,” which is currently filming and will begin airing in February 2013, will have other big changes: original “Voice” coaches Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green will take a leave of absence to go on separate tours, and their temporary replacements for the season are Usher and Shakira. Levine and original “Voice” coach Blake Shelton will remain on the show.
Before the press conference, we watched a sneak preview of the episode that airs on October 29, 2012, which will be the first episode of the “knockout rounds.” We were only shown the segments featuring Levine and NBC asked us asked not to give away any spoilers, but what I can say is that the song choices definitely made a huge difference in his decision to put at least one contestant through to the next round. In fact, Levine admitted on TV that he went into one of the knockout rounds absolutely certain that he was going to pick one of the contestants but he chose the other contestant because she gave a “game changer” performance. Stage presence was also a major deciding factor, as Levine chose one contestant over another because he felt the contestant when performing connected with the audience better than the other contestant. In another knockout round, you could see that another contestant (who had a great voice) was doomed because he sang with his eyes closed for most of his performance.
As for Levine, “The Voice” (which debuted in 2011) has brought him a new level of fame and fortune. Maroon 5 (a multiplatinum, Grammy-winning pop/rock band) is selling more music and concert tickets than ever before, and Levine has branched out into acting, with a memorable guest appearance in the TV series “American Horror Story” and a co-starring role in the feature-film drama “Can a Song Save Your Life?,” whose cast members include Oscar nominees Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Catherine Keener. While “The Voice” has been great for the coaches’ careers, the show has yet to have a breakout star contestant who goes on to have big hits. (Javier Colon, the first winner of “The Voice” U.S., parted ways with Universal Republic in 2012, after his first album with the company was a big flop.) Levine didn’t shy away from talking about “The Voice” having a hard time getting a breakthrough star, as well as several other things about the show. Here is what he said at the press conference.
How do you feel about “steals” being integrated into “The Voice”?
Steals are great because I think it was kind of a rough time because the button-pushing and the live auditions are so exciting to watch, and they’re really exciting to be a part of as well. And I think that the steals were just kind of a continuation with kind of a slight twist on what was already happening, which was great, because it kind of kept people who loved that aspect of the show involved.
So it’s also a lot more fun for us too. We still kind of get to choose, pick and choose as the show continues, as it gets a little bit further, so it’s awesome. I love stealing. Also, I’m a thief, so it worked well.
In the knockout rounds, the contestants, not the coaches, choose the songs that they’re going to sing. Can you talk a little bit about maybe how a contestant’s song choice may have affected your decisions?
Yeah. What we’ve learned from working on the show is that we can’t do everything for these guys and a huge part of what it is, I think, to be an artist at all and to be a singer and to be a performer is selecting the songs that best suit you, the songs that will get an audience going, get people’s attention, kind of play to your strengths as a vocalist, as a singer.
And sometimes that decision needs to be left to the artist themselves. Well, maybe not always, and certainly collaboration on those types of decisions is important, but it’s nice to have an isolated section of the show where they have to essentially rely on their own skills, or I guess their own intuition to say, “OK, well, I’m going to sing this will song because …” There’s a number of reasons why someone would choose it. But “OK, I want this song because I think this is going to really get peoples’ attention; this is going to get me to have this guy” — me or one of the other coaches — “keep me around.”
You know, that’s a huge part of it. And that shows us a huge part of who they are. And then it kind of makes the decision easier, because then we say, “OK, well, this person had a great voice. But then this person chose this amazing song, created this amazing moment for themselves, and we have to go with them.”
Whereas, maybe I would have thought – trust me, numerous times — what would happened is, you really expect to be going with one person, then this incredible decision is made to do a song that is just kind of a show-stopping moment. So you say, “Wow, what this person has in vocal ability, they may not have in that kind of intuition as an artist.” And you kind of tend to go with the person that has that vision. That’s a pretty good answer, actually. I’m shocked.
So with this season introducing steals and knockouts, you found yourself coaching contestants that weren’t originally yours. How did you find your coaching style changing, especially since you not only didn’t know these contestants as well?
Well, what’s really interesting is countless times I look back on the fact that maybe I haven’t chosen someone that wound up even going the distance — you know, like Jermaine Paul, who wound up really stunning all of us just because his, like I was talking about earlier, his decisions were great as he evolved on the show.
Dia Frampton, I think, was another example of someone that … out of the gates might not have been as strong as a lot of the other contestants, but made some really wonderful decisions strategically but also just did the best things for her. And that what was a huge part of it, that got tied into the thing with the steals. You admire them in a different way because you weren’t their coach. So you automatically respect whatever it is that they decided to do that got your attention for the steal.
So it’s a little bit different. In fact, it makes our job easier because we see how they started to succeed on their own merit. And then it becomes for us as kind of a guidance process rather than trying to build something out of the wrong materials that you would start out with in the blind auditions. They’re that much further along.
In Season 4, are your team sizes going to stay the same as they were in Season 3?
I believe it was 16 that we started off with the blind [auditions] this year. I believe it was eight [in the first season], 12 [in the second season] and 16 [in the second season], and now we’re back to 12, because 16 is ridiculous.
It’s very hard to find anybody that is an amazing singer. But 16 people, I think that it was a bit overwhelming for the coaches and also even for the audience, it was just a lot, when you’re talking about so much. It was almost too much process. So we’re back to 12 now. And I think that’s a better number. And that works for everyone.
Obviously, we’re sad to see Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green taking time off from “The Voice.” What was it like working with Usher and Shakira, especially with her expecting her first child?
I know! I didn’t know she was six months pregnant, too. It’s crazy! It’s bittersweet. No one can replace Christina and Cee Lo. It’s not really possible. They’re two extraordinarily unique people and also very good friends of mine at this point. It was really sad, actually.
I wasn’t happy about it at first, but then when I found out that Usher and Shakira would be replacing them temporarily, I was optimistic just because they’re amazing artist in their own right. It was nice to see that the caliber of artists was kept the same, and that even though they’re very different, it will be wonderful to work with them. Hopefully.
You can never account for what the chemistry’s going to be and the chemistry is there which is nice. It’s a different chemistry, but that was a transition and it was fine. I think it went very smoothly and we’re getting along great. And, like I said it, is different, but trust me. And as far as Shakira is concerned she’s not afraid to knock me out.
In what way did you initiate Usher and Shakira into “The Voice”? Were there any pranks going on?
Hazing or anything? No, not really. You know it’s funny, Blake and I had all these designs to make them feel very uncomfortable, but we saw how genuinely excited and slightly nervous they were. I know Usher doesn’t really get nervous, but Shakira — not nervous, but just in a strange place for the first time. What happened was that instinct kicked in, and we got extremely nice and we didn’t do anything terrible. We didn’t have it in our hearts to haze them too much. We welcomed them, made them feel really comfortable, because that’s what they deserve.
How hard is it to manage your music career and “The Voice”?
You know, working in a coal mine is hard. This is not that. This is easy, comparatively, to when you talk about having multiple jobs. It’s the dream come true. “The Voice” has been incredible and inspiring, and the music career has never been better. So we’re talking about all good things.
It’s really difficult as far as it monopolizing most of my time, but I don’t think that that’s really necessarily a bad problem being in our position. It’s so much fun and both things are so different, that it actually is nice to kind of jump from one to the other because they’re very different in nature. But I’m very busy. That’s a fact that I’m happy with.
This is a tough question to answer and you won’t be able to choose just one, but who do you think is the strongest on your team and how have you bonded with some of the members?
I think it’s a little early to say who the strongest is because people really surprise you. I mean, whatever I was to say now, which I don’t even think I will say. It officially I will kind of be a politician about it a little bit just because it’s very genuine. I’m not trying to avoid answering the question. But whatever I think right at this particular moment is going to change over the next however many weeks.
Because the one thing that is the foolish thing to do in our position is to say that, that we thing we know, because there is no ringer this season. There’s no one person that seems like it’s all theirs to lose. So it’s going to really count on what happens out there. I think that … everybody on my team is strong. I don’t think that I have any weak links at this point. I’m also more further along in the season than you guys even know. So I can’t tell you that based on the fact that you haven’t caught up yet.
The coaches can’t steal any more contestants this season, but is there anyone on another team that you would give, say, your right arm to get on your team?
I see what you did there. I like to keep my arms. After fake losing it [in “American Horror Story”], I enjoy holding onto it. I appreciate it every day. I don’t really think that way, in terms of the show because I’ve got who I’ve got. And 85 percent of the people I wanted, I got, 90 percent.
So I got be happy with that statistic. And like I said, there’s just no way to know who’s going to emerge from this kind of thing. I mean, we’ve been so surprised by people’s kind of last-minute victories that have been pulled out here.
And, listen, by the way, I wasn’t sure that I was going to win last season, but I certainly wasn’t sure that it was going to be Jermaine that won. I thought it was going to be Juliette Simms, who wasn’t on my team. So not only was I wrong, I was double wrong, ‘cause I didn’t win [with Tony Lucca], and I didn’t win with the person we all thought was going to win.
So it’s tough. And it’s an impossible thing to predict what people are going to want at any given moment. Honestly, I think I’ve got the best team, but that’s because it’s my team. I’m supposed to think that because otherwise how do you win?
Can you talk about witnessing the artists you’re coaching grow from the beginning to the end of the competition?
Yeah, I think that it’s really interesting to see people start to get comfortable doing this because I can tell you about people who were, from the very beginning people I thought were going to go all the way, or at least get very far, who crumbled. And then on the same end, I can see somebody who started off very meek, kind of nervous presence who was constantly getting nervous or chose a couple bummer songs or didn’t have too many great moments who makes it all the way through to the end. I think that responding to the pressure of the show, now that it’s become this institution that it is …
When we started, Javier Colon, that was an interesting moment, because the coaches didn’t know what this was, or what it was going to be. Javier didn’t really know what it was going to be. So when you think about it, he had nothing to lose, no nerves, kind of like, “OK, let’s try this weird new show.” And now that’s it’s become this thing, it’s really interesting to see how people respond to what it is, because some people can’t handle it, and they don’t get as far. And that’s a huge part of the competition. All of these little things that become what makes somebody great on the show affect everybody, every performer differently.
You could have the best combination or you could be the best coach in the world, but at the end of the day, if they don’t make the shot, then there is nothing you can do. You’ve just kind of get them there, set it up, and hope they knock it down. I think that the winner of this show, whoever that winds up being, is the person who kind of survives all of the mania around surrounding the show, which is a tall order. We’ve all had to deal with it in some version.
This is obviously very extreme in a short period of time. Like I said, the answers to a lot of these questions are really left up to fate. I can sit here and predict the future, but that would be foolish. I feel like a Republican right now, like I’m avoiding the truth or something.
How important is it to you to have someone win the show who can get a big hit on the radio? And it seems very tough to find a female winner of a reality singing competition lately. You’ve got a very female-heavy team this year. Do you think about what it’s going to take for a woman to win on “The Voice”?
I think that I go back and forth with this. I think eventually “The Voice” is going to have to launch somebody into the stratosphere for the show to continue to be taken seriously. That being said, I think that the show is about a lot of things. Some criticize by saying, “Oh, it’s all about the coaches and their banter, and the artists are secondary to that.” I don’t believe that because the show actually to me revolves around the talent and our reaction to the talent.
It would be really nice to have somebody emerge from the show and become what we all want them to become. However, one thing that’s underestimated, especially when people critique the show, is that — and we know this because we’ve been through it — it’s really, really difficult to make it, to exist outside of the bubble that is “The Voice.” I think that … first of all, it needs to be seen through in a way that I don’t think it has been yet.
And I’m not placing blame anywhere, but I’d like to see the torch carried a little further with these artists after they kind of graduate from “The Voice” because that hasn’t really worked yet. And a lot of that is left up to chance as well. And it is so hard.
I mean, one thing I can say about “[American] Idol” is that Kelly Clarkson, really, in my opinion, solidified the show’s credibility and kind of kept the show afloat the whole time. I believe she was the first person to win. It’s not like I watch “American Idol” all the time, but we all knew where she came from, and what she’s achieved is remarkable. That doesn’t happen every day.
And it’s being lucky. It’s being prepared. It’s being at the right moment at the right time. So many things. I think that we can do it. In fact, I’m sure that we can do it. I think that we’re going to have to just kind of retweak how we bridge that gap. Obviously, we haven’t done it yet.
And also consider the fact that we haven’t had much time. And that in however many decades-plus that a lot of these shows have been on — I’m talking about “Idol” of course — why hide it — you know, think about it, it’s been rare. It’s been difficult for that to happen. So give us a little more time. I think we’ll get there.
Can you talk about your chemistry with Blake Shelton? Are you still close with him and his wife, Miranda Lambert?
[He says jokingly] No, I hate that son of a bitch. [He says seriously] You know, it’s funny how a friendship that’s forced in this way is publicized and marketed and things like that. It’s kind of hysterical, actually because at the root of it, we’re friends. He’s a dear, dear friend of mine. I met him at NBC, the first meeting we had at “The Voice” we just got along instantly.
Same thing with Cee Lo. Obviously, Christina and I had our silly little squabbles that were nothing, but now we’re at that level as well. You know, Blake and I, from the first second, were just friends and continue to be, and will be for life. He’s one of my best friends. “I can’t quit you.”
What sets “The Voice” apart from “The X Factor”?
I have nothing to prove. It’s not “versus” anything. I’m not a person who’s going to care too much about anything outside of what we do [on “The Voice”], because it’s what we do. And as long as we make what we do the best it could possibly be, the rest of it is just other shows with other agendas, and they do other things.
I think that they’re extremely different in their presentations … Well first, let me go back a couple of years. When I sat down with [“The Voice” executive producer] Mark Burnett and he pitched me the idea of the show, the first question I had — well, not a question, more of a demand — was, “We’re not going to make fun of these people [contestants]. We’re not going to sit there and criticize them in a mean way, in a nasty way. We’re not going to make people feel bad about themselves. There’s no point.”
It doesn’t make any sense to us to ever intentionally hurt somebody’s feelings. That’s not the business that we’re in. I think the main thing that sets us apart is we’re not there to laugh [at people] and make people feel stupid. That’s the biggest difference. Obviously, there’s the turning of the chairs and the “gimmicks” that [“American Idol” judge] Randy Jackson so lovingly refers to. I think there’s just a really good, genuine, positive feeling that the show exudes that people really respond to.
And by the way, another thing that makes our show different is that nothing is scripted. There are no gags. There are no premeditated “Let’s get ratings by doing some stupid sh*t.” That doesn’t happen on our show. Every single word that I say I’ve been very sure, very careful — all of us have — from the very beginning, those are really words that we say because we feel we want to say them.
No one ever feels like we’re putting on a show. We just feel like we’re coaching these amazing singers and having a lot of fun. I think not just the positivity but the chemistry between all of us is kind of infectious. I really, genuinely believe that’s why people respond to the show so well.
Do you have a specific strategy as far as picking your team? And has it changed from past seasons?
Maybe. I didn’t really have a particular strategy. I think that I’ve kind of done away with strategy. The only strategy I know at this point, not only on the show but just in life, is whatever hits me, and whatever moves me, or whatever makes me feel something. I mean, I think about things like pitch and all that kind of crap, it’s just boring at this point to talk about whether someone’s pitchy or not, which we do anyway, actually.
But I think, for me, it’s just I want the people that I want. And when I want them, I go crazy, and I stand on chairs and I try to really make these people realize how badly I want to be a part of what they’re doing. And that’s my strategy. And then just stay consistent and kind of put my money where my mouth is and really help.
The more I help these people on every level, regardless of who wins. And that’s another thing too. Winning “The Voice” clearly is a really important, amazing thing, but it’s almost like I would be doing everybody on my team a disservice if I said they were all going to win. It would be more important for me to help them along and see however long their journey lasts on the show, just to be a positive support for everyone who crosses my path.
So back to your relationship with Christina Aguilera. It seems like you two are getting along a lot better this season. So is that true off-screen? Will you miss her?
I will. You know what? I will miss her. The feudy things that everyone discusses, [that] the press love to latch onto … Did I say “feudy”? Strike that. The fights that everyone thought we were having were fictional. We never hated each other. We never were having some sort of secret battles that everyone thought we were having.
There were silly bickering things, like brother and sister would do. It was not nearly what everyone thought, however those are a thing of the past now. You get to a certain point where you realize that it’s so much easier just to keep the people, especially the coaches, to stay close and to get each other’s backs. And we came to that conclusion relatively quickly. But we were always just messing around. It was never serious. We’re all good, Christina and I.
You’ve collaborated with many artists. Is there anyone, dead or alive, you would love to collaborate with if you could? And what are you going to be for Halloween this year?
Wow! The penetrating questions! Actually, the first one is a good one. Dead or alive collaborations? Collaborations are weird. Of course, I can sit here and rap off a list of amazing artists that I would like to collaborate with, realistic or unrealistic, living or dead. I’m trying to think.
I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with some of my heroes. I got to sing with Stevie Wonder. I got to do some incredible things. I got to sing with the Beach Boys last year. It was just a total trip. It’s been such a crazy, blessed life.
I kind of take all of those things on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, if I were to sit here and say I want to sing with Paul McCartney — there’s a million, but that’s one of them. And I’ve never met him, either. That’s a person I would really love to meet.
And Halloween … Can I give it away? OK, well, basically, we’re going to be Sons of Anarchy, a bunch of friends of mine this year. To a T. I won’t be recognizable as myself, let’s put it that way.
Will you be Opie?
Opie. Who knew that it was Opie? Yeah, I’ll have a beard, no one will know who I am, and it will be epic and glorious.
Can you update us on Tony Lucca and how he’s been since you signed him? Do you still coach him? And are you looking to sign another finalist?
I think I cease to be their coach once they’re not on the show anymore. Now we’re just friends. Tony we signed to our label. [Levine’s record label is called 222.] He’s one of the few. And he’s going to make a record. And I’m going to oversee that in a similar way.
I’m going to be by his side help him out with decisions. It gets tough because you want to be there for everybody all the time. And we have only so many ways in which you can do that. But Tony, we gave him a deal. I’m really excited to see what he does. I think he’s going to make an amazing record.
He’s so talented and so passionate — kind of really like-minded, too. That’s one of the reasons why we got along well on the show. We’re similar in a lot of ways. So I’m very excited to see what he does.
Christina Aguilera often gets criticized for her weight, her hair, her clothing choices. Do you feel like the big brother that has to protect her when people say those kind of things?
Well, people shouldn’t say those kinds of things because f*ck you. It’s, like, come on guys. Grow up. The one thing about the culture right now, the celebrity culture particularly that’s so ugly is that people feel like they can just say nasty things about other people, whether it’s Christina or whether or it’s me. We all go through it and obviously she gets a lot of it, which pisses me off.
And of course I have her back and of course I defend her. I think that it’s a really, really ugly part of our culture. And I think that we … other countries do it too — England does it; they’re probably the worst — but it’s not nice to just kind of have your bread and butter be trashing other people. Everyone’s so obsessed with trying to end bullying and “It gets better,” and this whole thing. And on one hand they’re saying that, and then they’re doing things like that. That’s bullying.
Sure, we may be confident, successful people that could take a punch, but it’s not cool. I’ve never liked it. I think it’s horrible and I will totally defend when people say things like that because it’s none of anybody’s business what anybody does, unless they want to get into it and come out and talk about it, which I clearly have no problem doing.
You said earlier about how “The Voice” has affected people in different ways. Can you talk a little bit about the fact that you’re doing work as an actor now? Were you getting those kinds of scripts before “The Voice?” Did you have this desire to go into acting before you were on “The Voice?” Can you talk about how directly “The Voice” affected some of these opportunities?
I think “The Voice” directly affected some of these opportunities — in fact, most of them. People hadn’t really heard me speak, ever. And I think tended to associate me with either singing songs or being linked to women. And that was pretty much it. There was no other gossip or things happening in my world, other than the singing.
And when you don’t have a chance to talk, people don’t know your personality. So they just do the worst thing, which is they just assume that you are a certain way or that you are an idiot or something. So I’m just happy that I was able to talk on the show. And clearly, I like to talk.
But yeah, “The Voice” was a humongous kind of a renaissance in my career. I didn’t know it was going to be that. I got the job on “The Voice” because somebody from NBC saw me on “[Late Night With Jimmy] Fallon,” where [Jimmy Fallon] had brought me down sitting with the [show’s] band, with the Roots, and sang a couple of songs, and some impromptu. So between me and Jimmy, I didn’t even know that was going to be happening until they put me down.
They said, “Hey, you want to sing with the Roots?” I said, “Yeah.” So they gave me a mic and put me on the show. And I had no idea Jimmy would be addressing me at all directly. So we got into a little banter and we had a conversation. And apparently, somebody from NBC saw that. And that’s how I got that job.
And then “The Voice” happened and it turned into this massive show … We all thought it was going to be a great show, but who knows where the chips would fall there. And then people saw me running my mouth, and thought I could act, which is funny because I never have. And I had no plans to do it and then I got a couple of phone calls and I did it. And now I’m here.
So you’re saying that you really didn’t have this desire to act before you were a musician? It just sort of happened?
Yeah, that’s the truth. Trust me, I respect the craft. And I am by no means an actor at this point, but it was really unexpected. And they asked me to do it. And I thought, “This sounds really fun, and I’m going to give it a shot.” But no, I had actually always turned everything down. I had been given a bunch of opportunities to do things and they weren’t the right things, and it just didn’t feel right and so I didn’t do it.
How comfortable would you feel doing an episode of “Saturday Night Live” as a host and as a musical guest?
I feel very comfortable with that.
You’re on the right network.
You hear that, guys?
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