"The Voice" judges Shakira, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Usher… (NBC )
“The Voice” makes its return next week — surely pleasing non-“American Idol” viewers, or those who really feel like they’re slacking by only watching one singing competition series per week — and we’re here to prep you!
After a change to the format last season, the upcoming fourth cycle brings with it another modification: two new judges. R&B singer Usher and Latin superstar Shakira assume the roles of Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera, who are sitting out this season to focus on other projects. It’s a switcheroo that Paul Telegdy, NBC’s president of alternative and late-night programming, insists was necessary for a twice-a-year show with active talent, pointing to the media attention that tends to swirl over the comings-and-goings of judges on “other” shows.
TV mogul Mark Burnett, the show’s creator, told reporters after a screening of the premiere Monday at the NBCUniversal lot that the plan is to mix and match the six judges in future seasons as schedules dictate. His dream: to get all six together for a performance on the show.
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NBC, for one, couldn’t push the “I WANT YOU (BACK)” button fast enough on the series. The network has weathered a heft of ratings woes in recent months, with the absence of “The Voice” as a springboard hard to ignore. Now it seems the network is loading up on as much of the show as it can.
It recently announced it will air encore episodes Sundays, leading into to its prime-time programming. And it just revealed plans to double to two hours on April 30 and May 7 to showcase key rounds in its format. It will also air a Wednesday episode, in which the top 12 contestants are named — and meaning it will once again face off with a Fox singing competition foe, this time “American Idol.” (You’ll remember the ire that came when an episode of “The Voice” aired opposite the season premiere of “The X Factor” last fall.)
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — baby steps. Here’s a primer on what to expect from the March 25 premiere:
— The two-hour extravaganza kicks off with an opening performance from the judges — with a song we can only hope young viewers are familiar with, for the sake of all that is holy in music. The ditty features Levine on the drums, Shelton and Usher on guitars, and Shakira on harmonica. Process that.
— Usher will make your inner-grandma scream, “Take your leg off the chair!” The 34-year-old R&B crooner is known to be a savant on the dance floor, and it seems he likes to keep his hustling limbs close to his heart. You see, the singer’s swagger extends to his seating style, which consists of one leg on the floor, and the other hiked up on the chair. “We thought about giving him a talk about the leg,” Carson Daly, the show’s host and an executive producer, told reporters after the screening. “But for continuity we were like, you know, let him do whatever he wants to do.”
— For viewers who have come to look forward to the banter and chemistry of the show’s original judges, the newbies are holding their own. Daly admits “it took a minute” for everyone to settle into a groove, but the initiation seems to have been a smooth one. Shakira might be more tame and have less bite than Aguilera, but rest assured that the Latin superstar will call the guys out on their schtick.
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— Sob stories are a staple of music competition shows. And the fourth season of “The Voice” doesn’t skimp on them one bit. There are alcoholic parents, tales of homelessness ... a teen's battle with crooked teeth? Hey, who are we to judge?
— There is one contestant who will manage to make LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” sound pleasant, down to the “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” bit. No, really, that wasn’t sarcasm.
— Forget Pepsi and Coke, that’s sooooo Fox. Everyone knows Starbucks is the true beverage of musicians! No? Well, whatever, it’s the official drink provider of “The Voice” and its little green straws are EVERYWHERE. Let’s hope those baristas spell everyone’s names right on those cups!
— And yes, Christina Milian is still around.
**Here's a peek at an audition during the blind rounds:
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