A version of this story appears in Tuesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
‘The Voice’ was a right choice for Oklahoma country star Blake Shelton
Tishomingo resident says starring on the smash reality TV show has been fun, frightening and gratifying.
Blake Shelton isn’t “The Voice.” But he’s helping to pick it on TV.
And millions are tuning in to watch.
In April, the Oklahoma country music hitmaker joined pop belter Christina Aguilera, hip-hop crooner Cee Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley and rocker Adam Levine of Maroon 5 in a friendly contest to determine which star could field the strongest vocal team from the best singers the reality TV show had to offer.
As with most televised vocal competitions, the goal is to pick one winner as “The Voice.” But the show’s quirky variations on the reality TV format, solid talent pool and entertaining chemistry among its high-profile panelists have established “The Voice” as a breakout hit for NBC at a time when the network has been desperately seeking a spark.
For Shelton, starring on “The Voice” already has been fun, frightening and gratifying. And the inaugural season is just entering the final phase of determining its victor. At 8 p.m. today, the show begins its live performance rounds.
“I really am having a lot of fun with it. I’m glad I did it. You know, being just a redneck from Oklahoma, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a different world to step into that Hollywood spotlight and to be on television once a week in front of that many people. I think ‘The Voice’ has set a couple of records for viewers, and however they spun it, it’s a lot of people watching,” Shelton said in a recent phone interview from Nashville, Tenn.
Through its first three weeks on the air, “The Voice” averaged 11.8 million viewers. It became the No. 1 new series of the season among the highly desirable adults 18-49 demographic and the No. 3 entertainment series overall behind the two editions of Fox’s granddaddy of singing contests, “American Idol.”
With “Idol’s” 10th winner crowned and many scripted series finishing their seasons, ratings for “The Voice” soared even higher last week, drawing more than 14 million viewers.
NBC has been quick to capitalize, renewing the freshman show for a sophomore season and extending the live shows from one- to two-hour episodes. Last week, the peacock network announced it would bump the number live shows from four to six and give “The Voice” the coveted slot after the Super Bowl in February.
“There is no better showcase on television than to follow the Super Bowl, and we believe ‘The Voice’ is deserving of such high-profile exposure,” said Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, in a statement. “The attention-grabbing blind audition phase of ‘The Voice’ has mass appeal and will fittingly team up with the biggest sporting event of the year.”
Like many of the show’s fans, Shelton was first drawn to the series’ blind audition concept. In the first phase of the contest, the celebrity coaches listened with their backs turned as the hopefuls performed, picking singers for their teams based solely on the voices they heard.
“I won’t lie, I mean, I wanted to be on the show just because it sounded like fun,” he said. “But once you turn that chair around and you’re looking into someone’s eyes … and you realize, man, I was that person, that person up there giving that 200 percent, everything they got, they want this more than they want to live. You know, I remember what that feels like. And instantly it goes for me from a game show or entertainment to something real.”
The Tishomingo resident fielded a diverse eight-singer team ranging from a country crooner and a folksy husband-and-wife duo to a road-seasoned rocker and a sultry-voiced 16-year-old.
“I just like what I like, you know, I can’t make apologies for liking what I like,” he said. “It just is what it is. When I’m hear a sound when I’m flipping through the radio stations and I stop tuning and I listen to it, I don’t know why that is. It just is. That’s the same reason I hit my button and turn around and pick the people.”
For the show’s second phase, Shelton and his counterparts each brought in an experienced adviser to help coach their contenders. With fellow Oklahoma native Reba McEntire at his side, Shelton trained his singers for the Battle Rounds, in which he had to pit pairs of his team members in head-to-head vocal duels and then chose a winner to advance to the live round. It was a learning experience for Shelton as well as his students.
“As the show goes on, I’m finding out, man, I do know a lot of things about this industry,” he said. “When it comes down to help as far as ‘What would you do? Would you do an uptempo or a ballad? Would you do a rock song or a country song? Would you play your guitar or the piano?’ Those are the things that I can help ‘em with and look back at my experiences from being on television and knowing how important first impressions are and things like that.”
He also found picking the victors in the four Battle Rounds agonizing.
“If I look stressed on the show, it’s because I really do take it very seriously. And I know that these kids that are singing on this show they do have a lot riding on this and they’ve got a lot on the line. And it’s my job to decide which ones of them that I think I can help the most and that I think have the most potential,” he said.
The Ada native said he isn’t stressing over the controversy his picks have created, particularly in the first Battle Round. After he selected country heartthrob Patrick Thomas over openly gay soul singer Tyler Robinson, many outraged viewers took to Internet forums to rail against the choice and even condemn Shelton as homophobic.
“I expected it. You know, I got ‘em the second time around, too,” he said of picking rocker Jared Blake over duo Elenowen in the second Battle Round.
“People are never going to agree across the board on anything that you decide on a show like that. … People will always find a reason and a spin on anything you do to hate you. If they don’t like ya, they’re never gonna like ya, and they’ll find reasons to justify that.
“And for me, if they only knew how little of a s— I gave about it, I mean, it would probably drive ‘em even more crazy.”
Still, Shelton said he was looking forward to the live rounds when America will get involved in the decision making, even if he was a bit vague on the details of how the show’s final stage will work.
“I don’t know because I’ve never done this before. We’re all kind of learning as we go here,” he said. “The thing that’s most important to me is my artists that are on my team. It’s not just a television show to me. I really do want to do what’s best for them, and I’m in constant contact with them. … I want to see ‘em go on and be stars so that I can wave my hands and say ‘I knew it. I picked those people.’”
The network hasn’t confirmed that Shelton and his cohorts will return for the show’s second season, which will air on Mondays. However, Green recently told Billboard that the quartet will return for the follow-up run.
Despite his busy touring and recording schedule, Shelton said he would be glad to do it all again.
“We’ll find that out probably at the end of the season what they want to do as far as me coming back. But “I love the show. I’d be happy to come back,” he said.