February 24, 2014 2:24pm PT by Ashley Lee
'The Voice': Usher's Blind Audition Strategy, Mark Burnett on Cee Lo Green's Exit
Even in press conferences, Usher puts his leg up.
"Why does your leg have to go north, wherever you are?" asked Carson Daly after a screening of the season premiere at New York City's Bryant Park Hotel on Monday afternoon. The singer wore shades of gray and a Davy Crockett-esque hat that rivaled Pharrell Williams' Vivienne Westwood headwear in height, and had Daly joking, "In this corner, Arby's; in this corner, Davy Crockett!"
The host and the coach joined executive producer Mark Burnett and answered questions about handling a newly-fiesty Shakira, making alliances against Adam Levine in the blind auditions, eventually replacing Cee Lo Green, and that pesky Twitter #InstantSave.
Usher -- who Daly called "the Mr. Miagi of coaches" -- spoke on his button-pressing strategy during the blind auditions, as he's usually never the first of the four judges to turn his chair for a singer. "It's that, well, I don't want to be stuck with this talent, because most of the time, when you hit your button, everybody else is [backing] off that person, you're kind of stuck with them, so I usually wait," admitted Usher, though there is a benefit to turning first. "Being able to see how the talent reacts to the turn -- the first thing is they know they're on the show, so they lose it a little bit…if you have sustaining power, it's because you can deal with the pressure." He did later add that after last year's season, "I learned to beg, I learned to ask where you're from, and to be extremely aggressive!"
He also answered that his ideal show coach would be Prince, and he would audition with a Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson track. Would he have gotten a chair to turn? "Hell yeah. I would be, I guess, relentless. I probably would've been the first artist to step off the stage and be disqualified for getting in the coaches' face and find out why they didn't turn their chair!"
When asked if his mentorship style has changed for any reason because of the tumultous year that his pre-Voice mentee, Justin Bieber, has had, Usher responded, "I guess I'm little confused at Justin and the association with The Voice, but any person that I've been a mentor to, I mentor them specifically. My approach, every year, is significant with that person, and everybody, I guess, needs something specific," he said. "While I'm mentoring, I would actually like to win the show. I think Blake, he created an idea -- there's a focus, he stays country, no matter what. It's his one go-to if he feels like he's out of sorts in some way. I'm working out that one piece. The rest, you gotta to tune in and see."
Also returning to the show with Usher is Shakira, who is notably fiestier. "We quickly saw when we shot the blinds for season 6 that these guys, it was their second time around," said Daly, who also said that her son, Milan, is often running around on set. "She's got this confidence about her now, she's hungry for a victory and she handles the boys really well. Reminds me of season two with Christina in that way too -- first year is all pleasantries, we all know each other, second year was just, I want to win, and I'll fight you for it. There's good fiery energy." Added Usher, "And she's sexy." The fellow coach did admit that he's intimidated by her in a good way, and if he does find himself against her for a contestant, "I'm an advocate for her. The only time when I'm very cautious is when analyzing her team. She's very protective, as any woman would be, but she's just very passionate about what she's doing here."
Daly also commented on the alliances that have formed during the blind auditions this season, as the coaches now endorse each other to contestants much more often. "Notice in the four-chair turns, because Adam has the best track record of getting four-chair turns to come on his team … it's funny to watch the three gang up to make sure they don't go with Adam."
When asked about Cee Lo Green's recently announced exit from season 7, Burnett, who described the show as "half-sitcom" and "a board game in real life" that you play with your family, explained that no coach's place is actually permanent, per say. "We knew from the beginning -- if you want to have a show with the biggest superstars in music in those red chairs, they have day jobs ... the hardest part is the jigsaw puzzle of schedules. This is not like we got four people in chairs who used to be in the music business!" he said. "It's not avoiding the question, it's just that it's not like a matter of re-upping deals, because it doesn't work that way. There are massive opportunities, and they're global stars. That's the truth. We're always really -- especially me, I'm always direct on these questions about anything on my shows -- this is very complicated…Cee Lo has things he wants to do. It's all about trying to respect that." Regarding who would replace Green, Burnett also added that "there hasn't even been a discussion about that at all." And as for whether Aguilera's show status will be affected by her pregnancy, Daly joked with a shocked face, "What? She's pregnant?!" making Usher and Burnett laugh.
But for whoever does replace Green, Usher offered his own advice. "It's an incredible environment to work in, and bring whatever your experience is to the show. A lot of why I really wanted to do this show was an opportunity in some way, to reintroduce myself. For many years, being viewed in one specific way-- I've been doing it for a long time, even though I'm still the new kid on the block [on The Voice]. It's that intimate look, my point of view, my perspective that I would never be able to give my audience that I think is great. I would encourage them to do the same."
The three teased that something new may be happening within the format this season (Usher asked if they could talk about it, Burnett and Daly said no). "Every season, we do reserve the right to look back and say, how do we tweak this show to keep what's important -- authentic music and the highest level on talent -- onscreen, with four of the biggest people in music?" said Daly. "And with that do come some tweaks. There might be some surprises this year."
Daly explained that he will probably continue to lead the social media segments previously conducted by Christina Milian, who left to compete on Dancing With the Stars last season and recently signed a record deal. Of those segments is the return of the #InstantSave, in which a contestant is rescued from elimination during a five-minute period in the live shows. West coast viewers have complained that participation is unfair since their broadcast is delayed, but Daly immediately responded, "That's not true, necessarily."
He explained, "It's actually pretty easy -- if you follow the show on Twitter, you get the alerts. You watch [the competition performances on] Monday night, so when you get the alert that so-and-so is up for elimination, and it's five o'clock, you can cast your save right there. Everybody can participate...It's just where television's heading. When we first did it, it was a little bit scary, we understood there were people kind of freaking out about their participation, but to be on air and to get the name in real time…and for us to not even be able to control those five minutes was really fun."
Burnett also reassured, "What's not on the screen that we're watching are the bar charts, growing and changing as it goes. It actually is really exciting, I hope we have more of it."
The Voice premieres at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Who are you most looking forward to watching? Sound off in the comments below.