‘The Voice’ Makes Its Stars Winners
In its four cycles on the air, NBC’s “The Voice” has established a mutually beneficial relationship with its six superstar coaches, boosting their brands while using their marquee appeal to supplant American Idol as the country’s chanteuse competish of choice. And the best strategy to keep it that way, it appears, means allowing them to leave.
For its first three seasons, the show provided a platform to Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. Last season saw the former two replaced by Shakira and Usher, who will cede their chairs back to their predecessors for Cycle 5, then return for another go-round on Cycle 6.
These peaceful exchanges of power stand in marked contrast to the acrimonious judging panel upheaval that has almost become commonplace on the show’s nearest competitors. As the series enters its dotage, the kerfuffles surrounding Idol’s coaching staff have at times upstaged the show itself, with X Factor’s comings and goings also providing industry gossip fodder. Perhaps it’s a testament to the notable extracurricular benefits that have graced The Voice’s alumni during their tenure, enticing them to repay the favor by signing on for numerous tours of duty.
And per producer Mark Burnett, these sorts of shifts were always seen as inevitable, and in fact quite necessary.
“If you’re going to have coaches that are currently at the top of their game,” he says, “and if they want to stay at the top of their game, it requires them to service the fans, which means creating new music and touring. So it was very clear from day one that that would necessitate coaches being unavailable.
“There is a cost to the production of having current working superstars, and it was our choice to go that route, versus going with people who are looking to make a career resurgence.”
Burnett professes a hands-off approach to assembling judges — without any screen tests, chemistry meetings or even much in the way of guidance aside from “have fun” — and views the assembled coaches much like a basketball team, using terms like “deep bench” to describe the inactive reserves. And like any good g.m., he hopes to strategically add more manpower to the bench over the coming years: “It’s a very complicated, thousand-piece jigsaw of scheduling,” he says.
For her part, Shakira — who plans to spend her hiatus recording an album — says the fringe benefits of coaching have more to do with tapping sources of inspiration than goosing her Q rating.
“From the new artists to my fellow coaches, they all do interesting things,” she says, “and it’s inspiring to be in such a musical environment. It makes you want to get your ass to work.”
Per Shakira, perhaps the best move “The Voice’s” coaches can make is to reject the whole idea of the position as a steady second career, maintaining a sort of outsider sensibility.
“I’m not really a ‘television personality,’ ” says Shakira, with heavily implied airquotes. “I’m just doing this for fun, and for the experience. It’s been great, but I have a musical career. I can only take so much on my plate, and I have a lot there already.”
And while the show’s sextet of songsmith solons were, of course, household names long before joining, the exposure has undeniably given them a professional boost.