This is The Voice, version 4.0.
Last season, the NBC singing competition (returning tonight, 8 ET/PT) added coaches' steals and knockout rounds. In The Voice Season 4, the change will be even bigger, with two new coaches, multiplatinum-selling Grammy winners Shakira and Usher, sitting in for the moment for Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green.
How they all mesh is key to the success of The Voice, which has benefited from a strong chemistry among its coaching quartet from the start.
"I didn't realize until Cee Lo and Christina took this season off how much the show centers around our four personalities and the dynamic and chemistry that we have together. When you take two of them out, it's different," says Blake Shelton, who returns with fellow coach Adam Levine.
"Adam and I were sitting there going, 'Holy cow, it's like a total readjustment of how you interact,' and we didn't know how to do it at first. Once we got into the game, it got pretty exciting. It got really fun."
Change can refresh, but it's a gamble, especially with a successful formula. Major panel overhauls have not stemmed audience declines this season for two other singing contests, American Idol and The X Factor.
"The playbook says, 'Oh, it ain't broke, don't fix it. Why are you making changes?' That was a debate we had internally and with the producers," NBC reality chief Paul Telegdy says. "I just felt strongly that being dynamic in terms of our talent roster would be fantastic from an audience and storytelling point of view. Versions of the same interactions only take you so far."
Only the preliminary rounds have been taped so far, but executive producer Mark Burnett says the panel's chemistry is there and there's no newcomer vs. veteran rancor.
"They're all very harmonious. In the blind auditions, it's kind of like a family at the holidays playing a board game," Burnett says. "Everybody can get a little friendly-heated in the competitiveness, but it's a family."
He says the newcomers are "such fun and so different. Usher is super cool, (and) Shakira is so electric. ... She just emanates this light source. It's hard not to fall in love with her."
Aguilera and Green will be back, both Burnett and Telegdy say, although it's too soon to start talking beyond this season. Stars' careers impact their availability: Aguilera is working on an album; Green has a Las Vegas show.
Adam and a 'Weirdo' return
Levine acknowledges the risky element of change but says the new dynamic is working out beautifully.
"Shakira is a firecracker, and Usher's got a certain way about him that's very confident, very cocky, like myself. We'll have our fun. Blake is kind of in a category of his own because he's just this weirdo," Levine jokes, with the playful rivalry that's one of the show's charms. "It all snapped into place really quickly. We're having a lot of fun with it."
Usher, who helped launch Justin Bieber's career, sees the opportunity to raise a curtain on the artist development process.
"There's something magical that happens in small rooms that never gets to be seen until a show like this, all the lessons that I learned as a child traveling around, performing on small stages, big stages, understanding breath control and
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