Ever since American Idol reintroduced the talent show to popular culture nearly a decade ago, the market has become more and more saturated with copycat knockoffs attempting to capture the same glory as the ratings juggernaut. Even Idol’s own network FOX is launching a new singing competition series, The X Factor, another British import from former Idol drone Simon Cowell, this fall. All these glorified karaoke contests boast variations on the same theme: to find the music industry’s next superstar. However, NBC’s answer to Idol is marketing itself by claiming to focus more on the singing than its image-concerned counterparts do. The Voice is a new reality competition series with an arguably similar goal as Idol, but with a simplified approach that involves more personal involvement between the contestants and judges.
“F*** You” singer and Gnarls Barkley vocalist Cee Lo Green, country star Blake Shelton, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, and vocal diva Christina Aguilera will join forces to work with The Voice’s singing hopefuls on both one-on-one and group levels before eventually, with viewers’ help, whittling the finalists down to one winner, and one voice. Aguilera was recently on hand to discuss her excitement for the show, and how her Voice coaching position has helped her cope with a difficult year, both personally and professionally.
“What I love about this show is that it’s all based on positivity. We’re not trying to tear anybody down for a TV moment,” Aguilera said. “This is all about bringing up amazing talent because each and every person that gets up on that stage can sing and has a voice.”
The Voice illustrates its singular mission to focus on a contestant’s singing talent above all else by having them initially submit to a blind audition with the four coaches. The contestant will sing a song of her choice while the coaches simply listen with their backs turned to the stage, unable to see the singer. This unconventional method is designed to prevent any distraction that superfluous factors like appearance could create, thwarting the coaches’ judgment. If the coaches like what they hear, they can swivel their chair around to face the singer, indicating their desire to work with them throughout the competition. Each coach will form a “team” of eight singers before narrowing them down to groups of four through a series of “battle” duets, and then allowing viewers’ votes to determine the final four contestants, one from each team. Finally, one singer will eventually be crowned the winning voice, and the coach who mentored the winner will also be recognized.
Aside from the innovation of the overall structure, the blind auditions are surely a curious element to The Voice that offers a new way for a TV judging panel to formulate their criticism and support of the contestants’ talent. Both Aguilera and executive producer Mark Burnett alluded to the entertainment created when more than one coach expresses interest in the same singer. In this case, they teased, control is given to the contestant, for perhaps the first time on a show of this nature.
“If more than one coach turns around, the power shifts then to the singer and it’s the coaches who are pitching each other why that singer would be better served by this coach,” Burnett said, adding, “And it gets very, very funny.”
“We definitely fight for certain contestants,” Aguilera agreed. “If both of us turn our chair around at the same time, then we become on the hot seat. [There’s] been some pretty heated debates as to who finally gets the person on their team. And they’re allowed to ask us questions as to what we can do for them, and it gets pretty heated.”
“Christina said she thought that Adam Levine was actually going to run for President, he was campaigning so hard for some people,” Burnett joked.
Aguilera explained why she found it so intriguing and important to be involved with a singing competition that practices such stringent focus on pure vocal ability, and carries out that notion through its formula.
“I think what’s great about this show is the fact that we take it back to real music and we take it back to a time before there was any such thing as, say, an MTV or any way to show an artist through video or through Internet or through packaging,” Aguilera said. “You know, it’s definitely about going back to old music where you wanted to buy it or you wanted to listen to it on the radio purely from just what sounds good on your ears … something that moves you.”
Aguilera talked about her own rise through the ranks of the music industry in a post-MTV era, in which her image and marketability mattered in spite of having one of the most impressive voices of her generation. What drew her to The Voice, she said, is the opportunity to use her experiences to help upcoming singers in ways she never had access to.
“I wish there was a show like this for me, or a mentor that I could’ve had starting out in the business, [who] would have told me these stories, because we get very close to these people,” Aguilera said. “You know, we share a very intimate time together, and it’s an opportunity to relate to each other on a level that we would never get in real life otherwise, away from this television show.”
When asked about the recent media frenzy concerning her mishaps both on and off stage in the past few months, Aguilera was refreshingly forthcoming and honest about her plan to move past what she refers to as a “life uprooting time.” Whether it be a way to cope with her current divorce or deal with the embarrassment of flubbing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, Aguilera is grateful for her experience on The Voice to provide a fresh start for her personal life and celebrate a new branch of her career.
“You know what? I honestly think that there’s a time and a place and a reason why everything happens, and, lo and behold, the show gets sort of placed in my lap, I’m asked to do it. I think it’s the perfect time in my life because, in light of the past year there’s been, you know, obvious setbacks,” she began.
“I get to share these experiences with these [contestants] to say, you know, not every performance day is going to be a great day. Sometimes you could be having the worst day in your life, and you have to get up on that stage and you have to give to your fans in a way that they would never know the difference,” Aguilera continued.
“If you make a mistake and if you make a flaw, you know what, you’re human and you’re going to catch flak for it, and that’s just the way it is,” Aguilera said. “The best thing at the end of the day is that you can prove to not only everyone else but yourself, most importantly, that you’re strong enough to get back up on that stage and be fearless and courageous enough to try again and know within yourself that it will be better.”
According to Burnett, Aguilera brings her headstrong attitude to set, and it helps rein in the unruly behavior of her fellow coaches.
“I would say for me, Christina is the voice of reason,” Burnett said. “We have three very irreverent, naughty boys who are all coaches. And thank God for Christina, always bringing it back to the business and what’s going on. And she is absolutely the rock and the voice of reason.”
Aguilera couldn’t argue with that, laughing, “The guys have been really fun. They really have. But I think that I have to bring a prop to set or something to keep these boys in line, because they need a few slaps on the hands a couple of times,” she said. “I almost feel like the schoolteacher within a classroom of naughty boys sometimes. But they’re fun. They’re actually really hilarious so they keep me laughing a lot.”
All joking aside, Aguilera discussed how her solidarity with her fellow coaches hopefully help make The Voice a compelling addition to the singing competition oeuvre.
“You have four judges/coaches up there, me, Adam, Cee Lo and Blake, who have all been in the performance part of being on a stage – having our setbacks, having our successes, going through it all, going through the motions, you know, getting our record deal, having to fight for it. I mean, we all came from a place of just starting with a dream and then accomplishing it eventually,” Aguilera said, adding a piece of advice that pertains not only to the contestants, but to both herself and her colleagues as well.
“That’s just the nature of the business, you know. And it’s important that you stay grounded and that you focus on why it is that you get into it in the first place; understand and recognize and appreciate your love for it and just sing your heart out.”
Don’t miss the series premiere of The Voice, Tuesday, April 26 at 9/8c on NBC.