Inside Adam Levine's $35 Million-Plus a Year Empire
From fading rock star to network savior, the Maroon 5 frontman and "The Voice" coach shares the secrets of his multiplatform success: "I don't lie, and that's unusual in a world of f---ing liars."
A lengthy meeting with executive producer Mark Burnett -- who explained that the show, an adaptation of The Voice of Holland, would promote emerging talent rather than knock it down as rival American Idol had done -- changed Levine's mind. Making the opportunity more appealing were the caliber of the coaches ("When Cee Lo decided to sign on, that was when we were all like, 'OK, this makes sense,' " says Feldstein), the examples of crossover success with Idol's Lopez and Tyler and the somewhat stagnant state of Maroon 5. The band's 2010 album, Hands All Over, garnered mixed reviews -- Rolling Stone suggested it wasn't "half as fun as it should be" -- and subpar sales. "Honestly," explains Levine, "the risk/reward situation was such that we thought it would be better for me to try doing it because the band was, I wouldn't say faltering, but not doing as well at that point as we had wanted to be doing."
NBC president of alternative and late-night Paul Telegdy recalls being particularly impressed by Levine during a late-2010 performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. During the breaks, the exec watched from the studio audience as Levine charmed the crowd with song requests. "That night sort of sealed the deal," says Telegdy, noting that he was struck by not only Levine's range but also his witty, self-effacing style. "He was acutely aware of what his performer qualities were, but there was just a little bit of a prankster and a clown in there as well."
Much as it is now, Telegdy's network was in serious need of a boost. NBC had been floundering in the ratings basement for nearly a decade, with its fourth programming chief in as many years. In something of a desperate move, the network's brass agreed to shell out $2.3 million an episode for Voice -- the most expensive new unscripted series in NBC's history -- which allowed Burnett to bring in four known quantities: Levine, Aguilera, Green and country music's Blake Shelton.
Recognizing that the coaches' chemistry would be key, Burnett sent the newly selected foursome -- each representing a different musical genre -- to L.A.'s Soho House for a night of bonding on his dime. "I thought it was important for them to go out socially, and I didn't want producers there," he says. "Can you think of a crazier idea than giving four music stars your credit card and drivers and sending them out to the Soho House? I remember Adam saw me the next day and said: 'Dude, that was such a mistake. Wait until you see your American Express bill.' "
The tab was worth it. Voice was an instant hit with viewers and advertisers. According to Kantar Media, the third cycle delivered $268 million in ad revenue, more than twice as much as the net's second-most-lucrative entertainment program, America's Got Talent. (Idol still dominates, pulling in $836 million in its 11th season.) What's more, the top-rated series -- more than 12 million people watch weekly -- led NBC to a rare first-place finish in the fall among the key 18-to-49 demographic, lifting rookie entries Revolution, Go On and The New Normal in its wake. (With Voice off the air, the comedies have collapsed; Revolution will return in late March.)
And while Aguilera was perceived as the big "get" when Voice premiered, Levine -- and, to a lesser extent, Shelton -- has become the series' breakout. "If I have to hear any more about Adam Levine's beautifully tattooed, pythonlike forearms …," says Telegdy, joking about the viewer attention his network's social media data reflect. During the show's third cycle, #TeamAdam and @AdamLevine scored a respective 203,000 and 2.14 million Twitter mentions, besting the other coaches. At one point, "Shirtless Adam" became a worldwide trending topic. "I'd hate to characterize Adam as just man candy, though, because he's much more than that," adds Telegdy. "He's extremely talented, hilariously funny, and he's got that, shall we say, naughty-boy quality about him."
Levine will tell you the show has propelled him because it showcases a different side to his personality. "No one knew what I was really like or whether I had anything to say. … I think that the occasional soccer mom probably thought I was a slut," he says bluntly of a pre-Voice reputation born of a rocker lifestyle that appeared to include a bevy of bombshells on his arm. "The show put me in an interesting light to be cross-examined and analyzed by the world at large, and I think that I succeeded in making them like me." (According to polling firm E-Poll Market Research, awareness of Levine has nearly tripled since he joined the show, and his likability has shot up more than 20 percent.)