Credit: Brian Bowen Smith/FOX

The Four: Battle For Stardom

The biggest show on TV is back.

Okay, to be clear, the biggest show on TV, according to DJ Khaled, is back. Along with host Fergie and fellow judges Diddy and Meghan Trainor, the Grammy-nominated DJ returns for season 2 of Fox’s The Four, the latest attempt to reinvent the music competition series genre.

Back in April, almost two months before the new season officially premieres, the four superstars reconvened, picking up right where they left off. The group’s chemistry is evident as they dance, sing, and laugh their way through a photo shoot. The camaraderie and laughs continued as The Four‘s four sat down with EW to talk about their “sitcom” and the lessons learned from the first season, before addressing the more serious topic of music executive and former judge Charlie Walk’s removal from the show ahead of the season 1 finale due to sexual harassment claims which also eventually led to his departure from Republic Records.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you feeling ahead of season 2?
DIDDY: [Screams] Ready to get to it.
TRAINOR: I miss this — this craziness. I miss everybody being here.
DIDDY: It’s a fun job. So when you take off for a little bit waiting for the next season, you go through kind of withdrawals. It’s something that like you’re used to doing, so you expect to be doing it. And there’s so much joy to be able to give someone the opportunity to really chase their dreams. It’s crazy.
DJ KHALED: It’s the biggest show on TV, my brotha. There’s a high-demand from the people and I’m excited to be a part of a great team, a great show, and it’s just incredible. I’m just being honest. When we took off and I was traveling, touring, and just touching the streets, everybody was screaming, “The Four” everywhere I’d go, if I was getting a salad or if I was getting a car wash or if I was at the red light. That’s when you know you’ve got a No. 1 show. The people have spoken and we’re here for season 2. Anotha one!

What did you learn from the first season?
KHALED: What I learned was not to drink two cappuccinos back-to-back.
TRAINOR: [Laughs] You were drinking so much coffee.
KHALED: Because I almost passed out one day. No, for real. I was on tour and I tried to do The Four cappuccino routine. Like you know when I’m with Diddy I’ve got to be on my A-game, so I do two cappuccinos on the show because we put in so much energy and long hours. Well, I was on tour and I did two cappuccinos and I hit the stage, and when I perform I’m doing all sorts of stuff, but I damn near passed out. So what I learned is no sugar in the cappuccino, just keep it dark and drink a lot of water. [Everyone laughs].
TRAINOR: That’s a good lesson.

How about the rest of you? Any non-cappuccino lessons?
Anything you learn Fergie? We saw you evolve so much.
FERGIE: Thank you. First of all, I have like a bird’s eye view that is different than these guys, because they are watching the show and I’m blessed because I get to watch them — and they are amazing to watch. I’m watching each of these superstars in their different worlds and they each have such intelligent things to say. Not only do I get to watch the performers that come on the show, I also get to watch and learn from these guys. And for me, I’m like a sponge, taking it all in. What I did learn as a host — which is a different thing — is not to be so extra, because I’m talking to the people at home and not doing a performance show. I saw myself, the first episode back in a few of the cuts, and I was doing a little much, so I had to learn to keep still and tone it down.
TRAINOR: The Fergie spins are iconic now.
DIDDY: You better not hold that back. I need full Fergie for season 2! Don’t listen to anybody but yourself.
KHALED: I like that, the twirl and all that.
FERGIE: I’ll keep the twirl [laughs]. But these guys… I’ve grown to love them in a very fun way. I can’t wait to hangout more just as friends and go have dinner and do dance parties.
KHALED: This is an honest and real show. That’s why I really love the show — besides being on it. I get to watch it and I’m a fan. There’s no acting, it’s straight up everybody’s personality at it’s greatest, good energy, and we’re all looking for great music. Great music makes you feel a certain way. And that’s what it’s about. This is a music show and we want to hear great music, and if great music excites us, you’re going to see, hear, and feel it from us. If it doesn’t excite us, we’re going to inspire, motivate, and help them to be great. That’s what we do on this team right here and that’s what makes us different from anybody. We’re not here trying to act, we’re not doing nothing that’s not real. When I say real, music is a feeling, it ain’t a joke to me, this is my life and music changed my life, helped me take care of family, it’s what made me… well, the G.O.D. did that, but you know what I’m saying?
FERGIE: It is real, there’s nothing false. That’s what I learned about these shows, because you never know what really goes on. But this, this is as real as it gets. There’s tension, there’s tears, there’s walks, people have to get up and take a walk. There are real emotions flying here and I think that’s what one of the things that people really connect with, not only with us, but for the people that come up there, it’s life or death. It’s not, “Let’s all put on smiles for the camera.” It’s, “Let’s go to battle.” They’re fighting for the championship.
TRAINOR: I thought all TV was like some type of fake, but everything down to the voting is real. Like we would be shocked at the voting and we were like, “This is how it is? Okay. This is TV and this is real. This is how we feel.”
FERGIE: At 3:30 a.m. [laughs]
TRAINOR: And I learned don’t expect anything. Every night was something shocking and so surprising that I had to say, “Stop being so surprised, this is what this actually is and get used to it.” It’s crazy for us, but it’s way more crazy for the contestants.

While the initial hook of The Four was the format, would you say that your chemistry is actually the show’s biggest selling point?
DIDDY: Yeah. It’s a competition, but it’s also a sitcom. [Everyone laughs].
TRAINOR: I think it’s cool because anyone who meets us, whether on the street or on our team, they can relate to us and we’re pretty down to Earth. I think we’re all very easy to talk to and I think that comes through on TV, even when you guys have your big moments, like, “It’s Diddy time!” I still feel like we’re very relatable and it makes it easier and people at home can be like, “Oh, I can be friends with them.”
DIDDY: Everybody wants to party with us.
TRAINOR: Everybody, even my mom.
DIDDY: We are here at a photo shoot and our chemistry is better already. We take this very seriously because we also represent something that’s really not on the airwaves. We’re representing hip-hop, we’re representing diversity, and so we take the opportunity seriously. And just getting that time and experience that we got in season 1, I think season 2 we’re going to be able to step it up a little bit, have some fun, get a little bit crazier, and really, really enjoy ourselves. The thing about being good on television is being relaxed and I think that experience is going to have us more relaxed. And we’re closer, we’re all doing different things, but this is the thing that kind of brought us together. We went through that journey where from the first, second episode, you’re a little bit rough and we have to all be there for each other. And then we just started to catch our flow and we’re in the flow right now, baby. Ain’t nothing gonna stop us.

That chemistry and the show was altered when Charlie was suddenly pulled before the season 1 finale due to the allegations against him. What was that experience like? This is someone who you all had known for years.
DIDDY: For us, it was about the talent. It was about focusing on the talent. We’re big boys and girls, we’ve been in this industry for a long time, we know the show must go on. That was our teammate and everybody goes through their journeys and we had to stay focused on why we were there. It wasn’t about any of us that were a part of the show or panel, the focus was about these people’s dreams. And I think we did an excellent job with doing that.
FERGIE: And it’s so good to have these guys. Honestly, becoming kind of like a family. I feel like we’re still at the tip of the iceberg because there are experiences that I feel like I can just have hours of laughter with this group. And I’ve been in a group, so I know that there is more to come. But seriously, it’s about to get crazy. Just the texts, the phone calls, Khaled inviting me up onstage, I’m so grateful. I just feel like we’re building something really real that lasts a lifetime.

From previously talking to all of you, I know how passionate you were about making sure the show represented all genres, so are you hoping to see even more of that this year?
In every interview I’ve done, I’ve been shouting out The Four, saying, “Please, if there are any country singers out there… or any genre, more rap. Like I want to see everything out there, and don’t be afraid to audition. Come out, we really want to meet you.” I want more genres. I want someone to blow us away with something crazy and unexpected.
FERGIE: It’s okay to be weird here.
TRAINOR: Yeah! We might like that more.
DIDDY: We love weird.

For people who maybe didn’t tune in during season 1, what would be your pitch for why they should jump in now?
DIDDY: Two people have received and worked for major record deals. Evvie [McKinney] and Zhavia [Ward]. That right there speaks for itself. We came to give opportunities and I feel like we overdelivered. And they overdelivered.
TRAINOR: You can gain a million fans over two episodes just from the exposure. Evvie got so many followers and so many fans that she calls Angels, a connection that I feel honored to be a part of. And superstars are watching this. I’m not going to name names, but superstars are watching this show and they become fans of people. I probably can’t say who it is, but I hear another artist has like Zhavia featured on a song. So big things can happen no matter if you win or you get second place.
KHALED: That’s exactly what I was going to say. For me, the whole show is basically about hoping to fulfill your dream, but at the same time about creating an artist. Zhavia is somebody who I loved and fought for since day one; I remember an episode where I literally stood up and went crazy and screamed, “I’m fighting for you, because I know how great you are.” And I’m just excited somebody from our show got an opportunity to get a record deal and, God willing, get to put out hits — and not just the winner of the show. I remember getting my first deal, going through my journey — I’m still going through it — but those moments are beautiful. When I saw Evie in the studio, when I see Zhavia posting that she’s got a deal, that’s amazing. That shows you how powerful this show is and that goes back to the beginning and to what I was saying: the people. I’m talking about the people who are at their homes, the viewers, the listeners, it’s about them too and them being entertained. Those are the people who need to support the music. So we’ve got a great show, I feel like we’ve got the biggest and No. 1 show.
DIDDY: Oh, we turning up this year. Last year was like at 10 percent.
FERGIE: I’ve got to say, I love the trash talking. It gets heated sometimes, but I just really enjoy it.
TRAINOR: It gets my heart pounding. It’s fun to watch though. I’m like, “Damn, I’m in the front row for the best show ever.”

The Four returns Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

The Four: Battle For Stardom
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