In a world full of reality show competitions, The Voice, entering its eighth season, has risen above the rest, due in large part to the appeal of the music superstars that are in the judges’ chairs, every season. Granted, the artists vying for spots on the show are incredibly talented, but their coaches are undeniably at the top of their game and can provide a wealth of advice and support until it’s up to America to pick the ultimate winner.
This season, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams and Christina Aguilera will be battling it out amongst each other to put together teams of the strongest vocalists from across the country. During a recent conference to promote the new season, the foursome talked about what it takes to find a winning contestant, learning from each season, whether it’s significant that the show hasn’t had a real break-out artist, making sure your singing sounds as good as possible, rebuilding confidence in such a tough business, and why this show is enjoying continued success when their competitors have struggled.
Christina and Pharrell, what are you guys going to do this year to beat Adam and Blake?
CHRISTINA AGUILERA: With different coaches, you get different flavors and different styles and different talent that come on the show. I’m always like, “Okay, maybe this time.” I know these guys have been on for eight seasons. And then, I wasn’t on the season that Usher actually won. Honestly, I just want to have a good time, listen to great singers and great music, and just use my instincts, as usual. Everything happens for a reason. I’m sure that my time will come. But, it’s not just about us. It’s great that you can share and feel proud of somebody that you’ve supported through this journey, which is crazy and it’s a lot of work for them, and you get to see what they go through. It’s a competitive format, which I love and hate. I don’t like music to be so competitive. But it’s exciting and it’s a great training ground to prep them for what comes in the future, once they are not on the show. It’s an amazing training camp, in general.
PHARRELL WILLIAMS: We’ll continue to fight. You’ve got to fight.
AGUILERA: Somebody’s going to take it.
WILLIAMS: Adam is so swift. And Blake is so convincing. Aside from their experience, they’re just really talented people who have done really well, in their own careers. Artists are going to listen to them, so we just have to continue to fight. I haven’t won, but I have enjoyed it so much. You see these kids light up when they see something different in themselves. Not that you brought out, but you may have just pointed at it, and they see it and are able to retrieve it and take it to another level. That, in itself, is a win for me, but it doesn’t win the show. I remain content with that, but I also remain winless.
Pharrell, what did you learn from your first season on the show?
WILLIAMS: How much I really enjoyed paying everything forward, with all the stuff that we’ve learned, as musicians. I really got a kick out of that because I do that, as a studio artist, but to do that with kids who really working hard and finally end up on the show was fun. We get to give them advice and suggestions that we’ve been given, and things that we’ve done on our own, as well.
And I really didn’t know that the show starts when the cameras wrap. It’s really interesting. You walk off the stage, and that’s where all of the funniest and best parts of the show are, behind the scenes. To me, that’s the real show. You get to see their personalities on television. It definitely comes across. And The Voice knows what they’re doing. But what I find mind-boggling is how the show has just not given anyone what happens behind the curtains. That’s absolutely why I keep showing up. These are the funniest people, ever.
Christina, what can you say about your new music?
AGUILERA: It’s still a big creative process for me. I’m not one that just throws music out there to keep it coming, and all that. I believe in the craft, and the time it takes to really nurture something and put a lot of effort into the details. So, I wrote a lot during my pregnancy last year, when I was just living and experiencing and absorbing everything around me. That’s definitely going to show up on the album. There’s always going to be soul in my music because that’s just naturally where I am inspired. But I’m very interested in a song that Pharrell has, that we won’t get into, but it’s a very, very cool song. I’m just glad to be working on things that excite me and are not forced. It’s all a work in progress.
Blake and Adam, would you ever want to take a season off?
BLAKE SHELTON: I won’t take time off. If I step away once, it’s going to be for good. That’s just the way my mind works. I’m either going to focus on this thing, as long as I want to or can handle it, and then it’ll be on to whatever the next phase of my life is going to be. That’s just how I would approach it. I don’t live here. So, once it’s over for me, it’s just going to be over.
ADAM LEVINE: I pretty much feel the same way.
Do you think it’s significant that you haven’t had a real break-out artist from The Voice, the way that American Idol has had with Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood?
LEVINE: You devil, you went there. You know what? That’s absolutely true. We want to have that happen. That would be great. There are a lot of other things that have been great, that have happened, as a result of the show and its impact. It’s hard to do that. I think that people judge success like it’s this all-or-nothing thing, and that’s not the case. Being successful is really, really difficult. A lot of things have to come together, at the right moment, for that to happen, whether it’s on a television show or it’s on a record label. Whatever your scenario is, it’s tough. I genuinely believe that it’s going to happen, but I don’t believe that there’s any sort of formula that can guarantee that. A lot has happened for a lot of these artists, who are all at another level of their careers, as a result of being on The Voice.
WILLIAMS: If I may humbly add to that, the show is not a record company. There’s a lot of good that comes out of this show. We’re reminded that there’s a lot of talent in America, with this show. We’re also reminded that there’s goodwill because you’re watching someone go through it. It’s a training camp. It’s an academy. You only advance forward when you have what it takes to move forward. There’s nothing wrong with working for something. There’s nothing wrong with having your eye on the prize and not winning. There’s always a winner, but there are eleven other people that ultimately end up going home. But they go home different people because they’ve had tutors that they would never, ever, in a million years, probably have met, let alone gotten singing lessons from, or learned how to control or strengthen their bravado, or learned how to put more heart and soul into their performance. It’s a gift to be able to pay forward everything that you’ve learned.
Every time you ask us, “How come you never produce stars?,” well, when was the last star you produced? And while we’re at it, when was the last time you gave someone mentoring, or took the time out of your schedule to tutor and to actually really deal with people’s real emotions? The tears are not fake. These are people, not robots, and so are we. The show is not about someone signing a record deal. The show is about a bunch of people who really care about the people that they encounter, and make sure that they’re changed when they walk off.
Christina, are there any problems that you have to face and overcome with your own voice that you could share with other singers?
AGUILERA: Every one of us has our own style. We all battle allergies, and we have good days and bad days, especially while being on tour. You have to get rest and take care of yourself. I get massages. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself. There are certain throat drops and throat sprays that do help. Honestly, I wish I had some big, gigantic secret for you. It’s really basic. It’s honey and tea.
What do you do to make sure all of your beautiful riffs are in key?
AGUILERA: It’s definitely warming up your instrument and taking the time to really get the sleep you need. Having two kids, sometimes you’re just not going to get the sleep. Sometimes you’re on the road and there’s jet lag. You’ve got to roll with the punches, which is also what this show is really good for. It helps kids and adults realize that it’s really hard to sound awesome on TV sometimes because the sound is more condensed and closed off. Every little imperfection is going to be heard, which is crazy, but it is what it is. You’re a performer, and not everything is going to go perfect. I do have a vocal warm-up that’s about 20 to 30 minutes, going through the scales and warming up your voice. It’s important.
In the entertainment industry, you have to have a tough skin. As coaches and mentors, what do you think is the best technique to rebuild confidence?
WILLIAMS: My two cents is that I always tell them to stop worrying about the industry because that is non-existent. Most artists that are being broken today are not being broken by labels. They’re being broken by themselves.
LEVINE: The power is back in our hands. Record labels are not healthy.
WILLIAMS: As artists, all you need is a MacBook Pro with Logic. That’s your studio. And you need iTunes, so people can actually buy your music, if they want to. You don’t need a record company for that. And radio doesn’t chase what record companies tell them to chase. They chase what feels good and what’s out there. You’re just as empowered as any other artist. It’s really all on you. I wouldn’t concentrate so much on the business, as I would on the music. If you don’t have great music, it’s not going to go viral. But then, arm yourself with a good attorney and you should be fine. You need protection now. It’s a crazy world.
LEVINE: It’s an artist’s game right now. It’s awesome to see people launching careers on their own, and being able to do that without a major label. There are only a couple major labels, and there used to be hundreds.
AGUILERA: When you’re on a platform that’s as large as this, and you have the world’s attention, sometimes it’s a head game. You’re like, “Oh, my god, I thought I was good enough. I’m on the show, but this person is saying this about me.” That’s just part of the business and part of the training. It’s tough.
WILLIAMS: And it’s way tougher for girls.
AGUILERA: I especially like to come on the show and really support women. We have it harder than anybody, having to walk in our high heels while these guys are wearing sneakers and boots. I get so jealous. But, my heart goes out to every girl that comes on here. I’m no stranger to criticism. That’s just part of it. You’re never going to be good enough, or just the right thing in everybody’s eyes.
LEVINE: You can’t make everybody happy.
AGUILERA: That’s something I learned, a long time ago. It’ll drive you mental. It’ll drive you mad. So, I just want to see them shine. I want to see them on that stage. I want them to live in that moment. After Star Search, I wasn’t handed a record deal. That took years, after that show aired. But, it’s one of those things in my back pocket. It’s part of the colors that made my journey, good and bad. That made me the fighter and the strong person that I am today. That’s all I try to instill in them.
What do you attribute the continued success of this show to, over your competitors?
LEVINE: I think that the show is successful because we’re dealing with people who are going through it. We’re not dealing with people who are breaking into the stratosphere and becoming huge artists. We’re actually dealing with the opposite on this show. That’s an interesting thing to get a look at. It’s inspiring to see what people go through personally, and then how they apply it musically.
AGUILERA: People like to watch the journey. They like to see someone start from humble beginnings, which we all did. I wasn’t born into any kind of riches, by far. My dad was in the Army, and we traveled a lot. My kids are growing up with the life that I never had. You get to see the stories unfold, and you get to see their families. It’s human and it’s real. The tears you see are dried are real tears. I get so emotionally involved. It kills my day sometimes to see certain members of my team go home. You care for these people that come in and sing for their lives. It’s built up in such a way that it’s life or death. I like to come on the show and support people, to the ends of the earth, and then allow them to grow into whatever they become afterwards. I don’t like to make it a life or death situation. It is about the story and the journey. It’s just being honest.
LEVINE: We all grew up and came into this entertainment world that we’re in, where you had to have a reason that you wanted to be famous. It wasn’t like we were born and wanted to be famous, for no good reason. I wanted to be a singer, and I really wanted to be a guitar player. I wanted to play music, and maybe get paid for it. That’s where my motivation lived and died. I feel like we’ve become so hyper-obsessed with words like “celebrity” and “star,” and everything has to be so huge and larger-than-life. But what’s great about this show is that everyone that comes on can learn something and apply it to their life, and have any amount of success, greater than what they were able to accomplish beforehand. This sounds earnest, but it’s a victory. When I first started doing the show with these guys, the first episode we shot on the first season, I thought to myself, “I really don’t even care if nobody sees this because it’s so amazing and I’m so inspired right now.” Not one episode had even aired yet, but I wanted to stand by it and support it. And I will feel that way until I walk out the door, whenever that is. I’m cool with this show. I love this fucking show. I will defend it for a long time.
The Voice airs on NBC.