Dan + Shay on Joining ‘The Voice’ as Coaches and ‘Strategizing’ to Beat Fellow Country Star Reba McEntire

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When The Voice came calling, it was the perfect time for Dan + Shay to join as the talent show’s first ever “double chair” coaches.

Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney had celebrated their 10th anniversary as a multi-platinum, Grammy-winning country duo, but had also hit a rough patch. “The last couple of years had been a bit of a roller coaster,” Smyers says. “We were going through our own personal battles, rebuilding our relationship –and you throw in COVID, and it was just kind of a wild time for us.”

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But as the pair worked through their issues and came back from the brink of breaking up, they were filled with a new gratitude. “We’ve changed our perspective from ‘We have to do this’ to ‘We get to do this,’ and that it’s amazing that there’s somebody who is willing to pay their hard-earned money to come see our show or buy an album or a T-shirt,” Smyers continues. “The Voice came to us at such a perfect time where that gratitude is at an all-time high.”

The country duo, who served as mentors in season 20, will make their coaching debut on the show on Monday, Feb. 26, as the 25th season of NBC’s singing competition starts. They are joined by returning coaches Reba McEntire, John Legend and Chance the Rapper.

This marks the first time that two of the chairs will be occupied by country acts, leading the way for some heavy competition for country contestants between Dan + Shay and McEntire.

Former coach Blake Shelton never overlapped with McEntire and “didn’t have to compete with the queen of country music. He had it really easy,” jokes Mooney. “I feel like we have really been having to strategize and use our blocks to our advantage. Who doesn’t love Reba McEntire and didn’t listen to her music and watch her show growing up? That’s stiff competition. She’s very competitive.”

Just as The Voice exposed Shelton to a much bigger, mainstream audience, Dan + Shay are well aware that the show could broaden their appeal. “This is a massive opportunity for us,” Mooney says. “We’ve had some crossover success, but this opens you up to an entirely different audience. Being on television every week definitely expands the people who listen to your music. We don’t really know what to expect.”

As the first set of double coaches, Dan + Shay have to share one button as they pick their 10-member team in the blind competition, which has already been filmed. “When we were flying out [to L.A.] for the first time, we looked over at each other’s like, ‘Should we come up with some kind of strategy, like two taps on the knee is a yes?’ We didn’t realize when they started taping that there’s cameras on you from every angle at all times, you’re miked up. You can’t really talk to each other that much. If one of us is really feeling it, we’ve given each other permission to go ahead and smash that button and turn that chair around. But the two chairs, one button [thing] is an interesting dynamic.”

Seeing contestants so eager to launch their careers has been a powerful reminder of how lucky the two are to have seen their musical dreams come true. “Seeing these people who are pouring their hearts and souls out onto that microphone, honestly, I can’t imagine being in their shoes,” Smyers says. “A lot of these people are coming from small towns and are singing into the back of somebody’s chairs. It’s a pretty high-pressure, nerve-wracking situation. It really is a cool perspective shift to see somebody who wants it so badly. I feel like you kind of lose perspective where we and a lot of our friends have a seat at the table. These people are working to earn their position at the table.”

Like the other judges, Dan + Shay have to juggle the daily demands of their careers with coaching, and also have to commute from Nashville to Los Angeles weekly.  They continue to promote their fifth Warner Music Nashville album, Bigger Houses, which came out in September and debuted at No. 9 on Top Country Albums chart. First single “Save Me the Trouble” reached No. 2 on the Country Airplay chart. Their Heartbreak on the Map arena tour, which takes its name from a song on the album, kicks off Feb. 29 in Greenville, S.C.

Spending more time in Los Angeles has one big advantage. “I get more sleep out here, which is pretty cool,” says Mooney, who has three small boys. More seriously, he adds, “It’s definitely a challenge being away from our families. It’s very difficult. But they’re excited for us.” Legend, who is Los Angeles-based, brings his kids to the studio, and Mooney is hoping his children can join him on some trips.

Even though they aren’t even through their first season, Smyers says they’d like to come back for more seasons. “It’s just a really exciting, heart-pounding experience for us as coaches when the lights go down, not knowing what’s about to go into your ears,” he says. “Hopefully they invite us back, because I’m having a little too much fun to give it up now.”

Mooney even has a suggestion for future seasons: “We’re conspiring with Reba — now that it’s three [country] coaches vs. two [non-country] coaches — to move the show to Nashville,” he says with a laugh.

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