The Voice 10th anniversary: Getting 'this country guy' to be their last coach, broken red chairs, and more
Coaches Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, and Nick Jonas; host Carson Daly; and showrunner Audrey Morrissey join EW's Around the Table series to look back on a decade of the singing competition.
When NBC's The Voice debuted in April 2011, it did so in a crowded talent competition landscape: American Idol was still at the top of its game; America's Got Talent already had five seasons under its belt; and The X Factor, already popular in the U.K., was headed to Fox that fall.
"This all happened really fast, and we went to air with it really quick because this reality competition space was filling up," host and producer Carson Daly recalls of the show's first season in EW's Around the Table series, joining coaches Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, and Nick Jonas, and showrunner Audrey Morrissey. "Long story short, we get Christina Aguilera — arguably the voice of our generation, it's a huge get. We get Adam Levine, the rock star. We get the great CeeLo Green. And we have three huge names, it's fine, we'll just get a whatever fourth. And we get this country guy named Blake Shelton, and Blake walks in the room and we all look like, 'Who's the tall drink of water with the cowboy hat?' [Laughs] … After 10 years, I don't think anyone's got a bigger bounce off this television show than Mr. Shelton."
Daly and Shelton are the only on-air talent who've been from there from the beginning, and now they and the Emmy-winning show are celebrating 10 years and 20 seasons when the latest debuts Monday. But looking back a decade, Daly — who, because of his previous experience as director of music at L.A.'s KROQ-FM and host of MTV's TRL, admits he "wasn't sold on the music-on-television thing yet… It seemed a little weird to me" — remembers a phone call from a network executive that, in retrospect, might have been an early indication they'd still be here all these years later.
"The numbers were just so huge," he says of the overnight Nielsen rating, adding that the exec said, "Buckle up, we have a bona fide runaway hit. We haven't seen these numbers in, like, decades." (The show pulled in nearly 12 million viewers and won all key demographics.)
Morrissey says she got a similar call, and the news was a huge relief considering her big concern was "Is this format going to work?" The format did, fortunately. But something else didn't on the first day of filming. "The worst thing that could happen for day one of the show taping would be that the chairs don't work. And that's exactly what happened. Literally a half-hour before we were to start taping, the chairs don't work and it was a full-scale panic, like, 'What are we going to do?'" she recalls. "We had rehearsed with them forever, and now is our big moment. They need to work and they're not working, and we were delayed. I'll never forget that."
Some of the biggest names in music have occupied those spinning red chairs over the years, including Gwen Stefani, Miley Cyrus, Usher, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Hudson. Jonas returns for his second season — his coaching debut was this time last year for season 18, which was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic but able to finish via virtually filmed episodes — and he's looking for his first Team Nick win.
"I was furious," Jonas jokingly admits of not winning during his first season (Clarkson and Legend both emerged victorious in their freshman seasons). "Happy for Team Blake, sure… but I'm going to come back with a fire this season."
But it's not just about who the best singer is. There is strategy involved in this competition, which Legend admits he wasn't fully prepared for when he joined the show 16th season, in 2019.
"There's so much strategy going into who you turn for, how you plan out who you're going to pair [for] Battles and Knockouts," Legend says. "There's a lot that goes in it, and I don't think you realize until you're in it. The other side of it is the emotional side. You get attached to these young people who have big dreams, and you're part of their path to them having their dreams come true. And then you send half of them home after the first week. It's quite a roller coaster of emotions."
Which Clarkson knows all too well as winner of the first season of the OG competition, Idol. Not only was her interest piqued because of the show's unique blind auditions, where the coaches can only hear and not see the singers, but she liked the team and coach aspect versus being judged. And Shelton's personal investment in the contestants is what really sold her.
"I have been one of these artists, and it was cool because he actually gave a crap. He really cared, and it was nice. And I paid attention to that — I don't think I ever told him that," Clarkson admits, looking back to her first time on the show as a Team Blake advisor in season 2 (she joined as a coach in 2018). "I knew what to expect a bit because I've been on a singing competition, but I will tell you, nothing prepares you for the blinds. You turn around and you're like, 'What?! Whoa, you're a different human than I imagined in my head.'"
Including season 20, there have been 1,886 blind auditions (that's from the 1,157,568 audition registrations via open calls, appointments, video submissions, and virtual open calls), and 936 of those singers have landed on teams. And they don't seem to be slowing down, if social media is any indication.
"I guess because this is the 10-year anniversary, I see people talking on social media and stuff, and the competition between competition shows out there, and somebody got on Twitter and was saying, 'Name one person that The Voice has ever discovered besides Blake Shelton,'" the "Nobody But You" singer shares, laughing. "And I thought that was pretty funny. It is what it is, right?"
While Shelton has jokingly donned a crown on the show, proclaiming himself the King of The Voice, they're all quick to turn the attention back to the aspiring artists.
"There are so many people who have gone on to do other things after The Voice," Morrissey assures. "They may not be these huge superstars, but they're superstar songwriters now or whatever it is… They've made an impact in the music business in other ways."
Legend says he's still in touch with his former teammates, and he's written with Maelyn Jarmon, who won with him in season 16. And Clarkson says the "coaches work their tail off" with their contestants once the season is over, whether it's collaborating on a performance or inviting them to open shows for them, or in the case of Shelton, forking out his own money to help with housing and help them network.
"My goal in life wasn't to be a big huge superstar. Honest to God, I wanted to be a background singer. I love all different types of music — i think we're aware of this now [because] I cover a lot of music," Clarkson says about her original career ambitions, when asked what life is like for these contestants once the season is over. "I wanted to make money doing what I love. I didn't want to have to be a waitress for the rest of my life. That was it. Nothing wrong with being a waitress, and I was actually amazing at it, but I'm just saying I wanted to make money singing. And that is the point. We are really realistic with these artists. There are a lot of singing competitions, there's a lot of winners, there's a lot of people [who want to be singers], so you really have to have that in your head of, you don't know what's going to happen, but you do have a team with me. I'm going to do my damndest to try and help you accomplish whatever you can do." The true definition of a coach.
Season 20 of The Voice debuts March 1 at 8 p.m ET/PT on NBC. Watch the video above for our full Around the Table.
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