That was the original idea behind NBC’s hit singing competition The Voice. Nestled in their Dr. Evil chairs, the coaches couldn’t see you performing. So if you were a bald girl (last season had two of those), you could still be a pop star. And if you were a fox (last season had more than two of those), you could feel good about something other than being hot. The philosophy behind The Voice (which NBC adapted from a Dutch program) is simple: It’s raw talent, not looks, that matters. So…why can’t one Voice coach stop posing naked for the cameras?
Adam Levine is more than happy to answer that question. Sitting on the balcony of his sleek Hollywood Hills house, wearing ’80s-style sunglasses and a woolly cardigan, the 32-year-old L.A. native explains, ”I just feel comfortable naked.” His most recent nude photos were done out of the goodness of his heart: One was a cancer-awareness ad; the other, the cover of Russian Vogue, was shot with his girlfriend, Victoria’s Secret model Anne Vyalitsyna. (Apparently, she feels comfortable naked too. For Christmas she gave Levine the gigantic nude photo of herself that now hangs by his bed.) Besides, adds the singer, ”the biggest thing I’ve realized is that image plays into everything. And that’s true whether you’re Ke$ha or Bob Dylan.”
It’s certainly true if you’re Adam Levine. As The Voice enters its second season, his own image has changed quite a bit. Last year, most people knew him as the motorcycle-riding, supermodel-dating, boxer-shorts-baring singer of the Grammy-winning band Maroon 5. But after one season of coaching on the hit reality show, he’s been transformed into America’s most likable douche bag. (And before you protest, that’s a term he jokingly uses about himself…which somehow only makes him more likable.) True, he still delivers the occasional frat-boy comment — ”I thought you were a chick,” he told a high-voiced guy last season, ”but sadly you have a penis” — but he also has shown a genuinely sweet commitment to his team members, including winner Javier Colon. ”I told Stevie Nicks I wasn’t going to cry on national television,” a tearful Levine said after Colon’s finale duet with the Fleetwood Mac singer.
It’s that combination of hard yoga body and soft, tender feelings (along with a sharp ear for melody) that has made Levine the breakout star of The Voice. (The show, which averaged 13.7 million viewers last season and just lured a staggering 37.6 million with its Feb. 5 post-Super Bowl premiere, is the struggling network’s highest-rated entertainment series.) ”He’s the leading man, this handsome, mainstream, young, sexy talent — and he’s not afraid to take his shirt off,” gushes NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt. ”A little controversy isn’t a bad thing, especially when you’re building a network.”
For Levine, The Voice has been his best opportunity to show the world he’s more than a cocky rock star. ”Singers don’t get the chance to talk very often,” he says, petting his golden retriever, Frankie (whose paw print is tattooed on Levine’s shoulder), and gazing at the Hollywood sign in the distance. ”I like that I’m not perceived as just a bimbo. I get to use my brain on the show.”