11:37am PT by Allison Keene
'The Voice' Gamble Pays Off With New Coaches Shakira, Usher (Analysis)
NBC is looking to double-down on its biggest non-sports ratings hit The Voice by introducing some new blood to its coaching lineup. For this season (at least), Usher and Shakira will be filling in for Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera as they pursue their own projects, but there was a network nervousness over how these new coaches might work with veteran coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.
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Spectacularly, it turns out. Shakira and Usher energize the show and seem to do the same for Shelton and Levine, both of whom have mentored competition winners in the past. The new coaches are playing the part of upstarts, getting playfully ribbed by the veterans while also, as Shakira says over and over, potentially benefiting from "beginners luck." Of course, Usher has also had success in mentoring one singer who's done alright for himself outside of The Voice … Justin Bieber.
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From the start, both new coaches established their personalities (and their bribery techniques). Shakira (the "pregnant, hormonal Colombian") typically played the "I'm the only female here" card to suggest better and more nuanced understanding of those she will mentor (Shelton countered at one point with "Well, I have a wife in the business," to which Levine shot back, "Blake just said he has a wife, so, because you are sisters, you're just like him. What?")
Whereas Shakira is serious and passionate, Usher is cool and flirty, often sitting with one leg up in a kind of "come hither" position that the other coaches make fun of, though both new coaches bring a glamor and sexiness to the show that infuses it with a sleek energy.
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Among the contestants, when Shelton is in the mix, he seems to be the most popular (possibly because of his winning touch), but Usher and Shakira also get a lot of positive attention from contestants and the crowd. Levine is so conservative in his approach in the first part of the this two-part premiere he doesn't get much into the competition of convincing the singers to choose him over his cohorts, which is when the claws come out (literally -- Levine says to one singer, "I'm going to claw everyone's face off until you realize I should be your coach.")
The banter among the coaches shows a lot of genuine good will, though whether this is just a honeymoon period or not remains to be seen. While Levine and Shelton seem the most comfortable bantering with each other, there's no denying that the new coaches have been accepted into their ranks. Levine is still the funniest, with the sharpest barbs, but Shakira shows no hesitation in going up against him. As Shelton goads at one point early in the show, "She just ripped your ass wide open!"
Series like The Voice don't need to try too hard to get an audience -- they're inherently fun and easy to get drawn into, but the judges or coaches do matter when it comes to keeping some skeptical viewers (like this one) early on. But NBC appears to have kept a good thing going, backing the right players in this game.