How The Voice Knocked Out the Competition
The Voice | Photo Credits: Adam Rose/NBC
Inside Stage 16 on Burbank's Warner Bros. lot, two young hopefuls are battling it out for a knockout-round spot on Team Shakira. But because this is The Voice, the coaches will trade just as many shots as the competitors.
No sooner have the aspiring divas finished a melisma-mad rendition of a Spanish-language ballad penned by their coach than Usher declares the song choice "narcissistic." While the quip is delivered with a smile, Shakira is not about to sit idly by and let Adam Levine, who quickly jumps to her defense, have all the fun. Especially when the Latin-music crossover star can deliver a smackdown in more than one language — which she handily does, to resounding cheers from the packed live audience.
And the winner of that battle is...viewers of The Voice, which, thanks to the lively chemistry of its revamped judging panel (so long for now, Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo!) and a diverse crop of talented contestants, is having one of its best seasons yet.
Of course, another big victor is NBC, which had until recently been in a ratings free fall. With the March return of its hit singing competition, however, the network is making gains. Not only did the numbers for Season 4's premiere top those of Season 3's — bucking the conventional TV wisdom that judging-panel shake-ups can equal ratings erosion (see American Idol, America's Got Talent and The X Factor) — but the show has continued to grow. The first week of the battle rounds (when coaches pair teammates for duets, then select one to advance, at which point another coach can "steal" the loser) drew more than 14 million viewers — a clear sign that fans consider the blend of charismatic newbies Usher and Shakira with vets Levine and Blake Shelton pitch-perfect.
"Obviously, we're thrilled," says Paul Telegdy, NBC's president of alternative and late-night programming, who acknowledges that replacing half of the show's winning panel at once was a risk. "We've watched transitions on other singing shows and seen them done right, half-right and really wrong. The impact of someone leaving is something we wanted to be prepared for and were very proactive about." In fact, executive producer Mark Burnett anticipated the scenario when the show first became a smash two years ago. Call it the price of doing business with current chart-toppers: "If you want big stars," he says, "the consequence is they can't all be there all the time."
When, during Season 3, both Aguilera and Cee Lo expressed a desire to get back to their day jobs, the producers zeroed in on two A-list candidates with mass appeal who could also retain the panel's diversity. Pop and R&B powerhouse Usher had originally been approached about joining Season 1 but turned it down. This time, host and producer Carson Daly, whose relationship with the singer goes back to his days on MTV's Total Request Live, pushed hard. After the singer completed an interview on Daly's Los Angeles-based radio show, the host recalls, "I asked my producer to leave the room and had a good 20 minutes with him. I just said, 'Me, Adam, Christina — we all had the same feeling you have now about singing competitions on TV. But, I promise this is a great show for you.'"
After checking out some episodes, an impressed Usher agreed. "It's an opportunity for me to give some lessons about how to be an artist and what it takes to nurture yourself to be a winner," says the self-proclaimed perfectionist, who mentors Justin Bieber. "I've had to come off my square and come out of my natural cool demeanor to really get my hands dirty working with my talent. I'm serious about being a coach."