When the cameras turn off, how do the judges of The Voice, old and new, really interact with one another? How do they interact with this year’s talent? Entertainment Weekly was on the scene at a Universal Studio’s sound stage as the hit music competition show filmed its season seven blind auditions, reporting on the new judges, new talent, and new season. Here’s what was heard and seen on the set of The Voice.
Around noon, a diverse crowd—young and old, male and female, hailing from all sorts of backgrounds—walked into the aforementioned sound stage to the soundtrack of the nearby amusement park’s studio tour blaring the Jurassic Park theme. (Need a refresher? Click here.) John Williams has a way of sticking in your head and staying there all day, but it didn’t last long: His ’90s anthem was soon replaced by a mix of Top 40 megahits and indie favorites.
Fans filed in, anxiously anticipating the day ahead. “I’m going to cry when I see Adam [Levine],” an excitable girl sitting behind me said. I can’t verify whether there were tears, but the screams were certainly deafening when the judges appeared before the crowd. I’d like to think her all-consuming enthusiasm was amplified because Levine, who went platinum blonde last season, is back to brunette (a welcome return). On this particular day, at least.
THE COMPETITION (JUDGES)
Levine appeared first, and Blake Shelton followed soon thereafter. Shelton attempted to give Levine a hug but was quickly shut down, understandably—Levine and Shelton are longtime rivals, going back to season one. But this season seems to be especially contentious as the Maroon 5 frontman has a chance to tie the country star in wins. (Win count: Shelton, 3; Levine, 2; Usher, 1.) Both lost to two-time judge Usher last season—his teammate Josh Kaufman took the season-six prize—and are presumably looking for a comeback.
The pair was joined by new judges Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams. With Williams’ producing background (he and Chad Hugo make up producing team The Neptunes, which has been active since the early ’90s) and Stefani’s longtime music experience (she started No Doubt at a mere 17 years old) they both bring decades of music-industry experience to the show.
[Quick tangent: I can’t be the only one hoping for Williams and Stefani to reprise their 2005 hit “Can I Have It Like That,” right? Producers, take note.]
THE COMPETITION (CONTESTANTS)
After a bit of prep (audience warmup, makeup touch-ups), the contestants—about a dozen by the end of the day—finally took to the stage. They covered all different musical styles, and as per The Voice tradition, came from a variety of places and lifestyles.
On this particular occasion, though, judges were selective. Why? A couple of judges alluded to a lack of space, explaining that their teams were already stacked with talent and there wasn’t much room to expand. (The blind auditions are filmed over a handful of days in Los Angeles, and the contestants who appeared at this taping seemed to be on the latter end of the audition process.) Good for viewers, bad for contestants. To the judges’ credit, though, they gave the contestants they turned down specific, constructive criticism and encouraged many to come back and audition again.
Despite their selectivity, there were a few standout auditions, metaphorically knocking Stefani’s white, knee-high socks off (she’s always been one for eccentric outfits, and her blind audition ensemble was no exception). Tensions rose when a powerhouse soul singer shook the room with her booming vocals, and the judges were ravenous when a country singer took the stage.
It’s early to say, and granted I was only at one day of auditions, but I’m calling it now, confidently: The fight of the season involves this particular country singer.
THAT’S A WRAP!
After about five hours, taping finally wrapped. Girls in heels with full bladders (naturally, many of the other reporters and I drank our weight in coffee) hobbled out, again walking past the studio tour. This time, the Jurassic Park theme was only a small murmur; the contestants’ songs filled my head, becoming my soundtrack for the drive home and the days thereafter.
The Voice returns to NBC on Sept. 22.