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You have to hand it to "The Voice." Last week, the show added a third Wednesday episode to ruin "The X Factor's" big premiere night. And now, with the new "American Idol" and "X Factor" judges having had hardly any time to bask in their publicity, already "The Voice" is stealing both shows' thunder once again--with breaking news that two new singularly named superstar judges, Shakira and Usher, will replace Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green for Season 4. Both Christina and Cee Lo will be back for Season 5 in fall 2013, according to NBC.
Rumors have swirled for months that NBC's overkill decision to air "The Voice" twice yearly would at least temporarily drive away some or all of the show's regular judges, causing the lineup to be revamped for the spring 2013 season. Apparently such is the downside of hiring judges who, you know, are still relevant hitmakers and have other important things to do with their time, like touring and recording, besides sitting on an NBC soundstage six months out of the year. (And this is why talent shows should consider hiring non-celebrity judges, but I digress.) In fact, just last week when talking to Ryan Seacrest, Christina admitted that she'd first assumed her "Voice" gig would be "kind of like a side project...then it kind of took off, and there goes my free time!"
With Christina getting ready to release her comeback album, Lotus, in November (her new single, "Your Body," debuted last week to positive reviews), and the ubiquitous Cee Lo working on a Christmas album and a new sitcom, it's no surprise that they are the first "Voice" judges to take official leaves of absence.
"Being a coach on "The Voice' is a wonderful experience and the relationship amongst us all is like an extended family," Christina said in an NBC press release Monday. "I am so proud of being part of the show from the beginning, all the work we've done, and proud of what the show stands for as a whole. As I have expressed since day one of the show, that I am a singer and performer first and I am so excited to get back to that love. Since this year NBC and 'The Voice' have decided to tape back-to-back seasons, requiring a full-year commitment, it is important for me to take Season 4 off, allowing me to support my music that my fans have been waiting for...by pursuing my first passion of music during the break, I am also able to come back and offer even more to my team on 'The Voice' in the future."
In the same press release, Cee Lo said: "First, thank you NBC for supporting my decision to take this Season 4 hiatus! It says that I'm seen and respected as a complete artist and not just a cast member. I'm highly enthusiastic about focusing my undivided attention on my additional endeavors and interests like my upcoming solo album, new Goodie Mob album, Las Vegas residency 'Loberace,' new memoir, and new NBC comedy...I will return for Season 5 and will be watching Season 4. NBC is home and as far as Usher and Shakira are concerned--'mi casa su casa.'"
NBC's press release assured that "The Voice's" resident bromancers, Adam Levine (whose Maroon 5 band is hotter than ever) and Blake Shelton, will stick around to hang with Shakira and Usher in Season 4, but it seems like only a matter of time before they too decide to take a break. Blake in particular has repeatedly, quite loudly complained about "The Voice's" new grueling two-seasons-a-year shoot schedule, and just this week he told Access Hollywood: "I don't know how much longer I'm even going to do it. It's [NBC's] decision [for us to leave], in that they're the ones choosing to do back-to-back seasons. They really leave us no other option. As far as Christina and Adam and Cee Lo and I, if we want to tour, there's not a chance of that doing back-to-back seasons. That's not acceptable to me. At some point, I've got to go, 'You know what, this has been awesome. It's changed my life, but it's not my life. I've got to get back to what I really do, and that's country music."
It is expected that any current judges who sit out a "Voice" season will return eventually, after taking some much-needed time to focus on their own careers...however, Blake's statement almost reads like a final farewell, so we shall see. If he does ever leave, Adam will probably be crushed. But maybe Usher can be his new bromance buddy when and if that happens.
As for Usher and Shakira, both are relevant stars who appeal to demographics that have traditionally not tuned in for, say, "American Idol"--the urban audience and the Latin audience--and they have a combined 39 years of recording experience to their credit. (And in an age when rival shows hire relative newcomers like Demi Lovato and Nicki Minaj, that counts for something.) So they're not bad choices. But how will they gel with Adam and Blake...or with any new co-stars, when and if Adam and Blake also decide to go on hiatus? And what about when Christina and Cee Lo presumably return--will that old "Voice" magic still be there? This constant game of musical (spinning) chairs on "The Voice" could really ruin the show's momentum.
Or...perhaps a rotating (no pun intended) panel could put "The Voice's" focus where it really belongs and never has been: on the actual contestants, for once.
Usher, Shakira, Linkin Park, Brad Paisley, Aerosmith, Taylor Swift, Mary J. Blige, Green Day, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Miranda Lambert, and other superstar artists will perform at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas on September 21 and 22. The shows begin at 7 p.m. PST and will be streamed exclusively on Yahoo! Music.