‘The Voice’s’ Mystery Man Behind the Music Finally Speaks

by | April 23, 2012 at 9:20 AM | Interviews, The Voice

Lionel Richie and Paul Mirkovich on The Voice (NBC)

It’s a bit ironic that even though he’s one of the key people behind the success of a show that’s called “The Voice,” viewers have never heard Paul Mirkovich speak. They’ve seen the show’s musical director plenty of times, whether it’s sitting quietly at the piano during the coaches’ rehearsal sessions with their singers or conducting the band during the live shows. However, what fans don’t see or hear is Mirkovich working privately with the contestants on their upcoming performances.

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“We talk a lot,” explains the veteran musician, who has toured with everyone from Cher to Pink to Christina Aguilera. “We go over everything about what they’re going to do with their song, and believe me, I don’t shy away from speaking. Ask any of the contestants who they look to to get stuff done day to day, and I think they’d say it was me and the band.”

In the two seasons of the show, he adds, “we’ve done roughly 600 songs so I have to communicate a lot of information very quickly.” XfinityTV.com talked with “The Voice’s” not-so-silent partner to hear his take on everything from last week’s surprise eliminations to the coaches’ quirks to who he thinks is going to win it all this year.

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So we see you on-camera about as often as we see the coaches. Do you ever get recognized in public?
I do from time to time. I get that “I know you from somewhere” look, although they don’t quite know from where that might be. If they do clue into it, they will then say, “I love your show.”

Is it true that you very nearly ended up with “American Idol” rather than “The Voice”?
The crazy thing is I was hired by “American Idol” and let go in a two-day period, right before the first season of “The Voice” started. I was ready to do that show but for whatever reason, they then called and said it wasn’t going to work out. I was flipping out but two days later, I ended up at “The Voice.” I worked on three or four other shows with executive producer Mark Burnett, including “Rock Star,” so that is what got me here.

What’s your daily routine like?
We’re working 16 to 18 hours days most of the time. There’s the songs to prepare for, interfacing with the coaches and the contestants, rehearsing with the contestants. We’ll get a half hour to an hour Wednesday with each singer, then another half hour or so Thursday to go over their main number for the week. We record everything for iTunes on Fridays. We’re on stage rehearsing the show Saturday and Sunday, then Mondays and Tuesdays are show days. There are fewer people to work with now that we’re this deep into the season but also, now people are doing multiple songs.

How surprised were you last week, when big fan favorite Jesse Campbell ended up being Christina Aguilera’s first instant elimination?
I was a little surprised in one sense with Jesse, but not so surprised in another. Even though he’s an incredibly talented singer, Christina didn’t think he’d grown that much through the process of doing the show. He was the same singer he was at the beginning, which to my mind is a pretty great singer. But she was looking for development and thought he’d gone as far as he was going to go with her. I think I was a little more surprised that Jordis Unga went home.

Who do you think the favorite is in the competition now that Jesse is gone?
Last year, to be honest, it was always clear that Javier Colon was the guy to beat. This year, I really don’t think there is an obvious person to beat. Jamar Rogers is very strong. But up until last week, I’d have also said Jesse was very strong. Some people progress throughout the show, while some peak early.

Do you have any favorite performances from this season?
I loved Jamar’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”. I knew it was going to be powerful but seeing him play it life was great, even stronger than I had expected. I was also surprised by James Massone’s “Don’t Know Why.” I’ve actually been surprised by him a couple of times. The week of his battle round, he never really brought it like he should and then he stepped up in that performance and obviously won the battle. I don’t know if he was playing possum intentionally. And there was Jesse’s battle with Anthony Evans on “If I Ain’t Got You.” Anthony had won every other time in rehearsal. I remember thinking, “Wow, he’s doing a number on Jesse.” But then showtime came and Jesse really pulled it something out. Juliet Mills’ “Roxanne” a couple of weeks was another one that wasn’t great in rehearsal. She wanted to play guitar, but eventually decided against it. And then she came in and was amazing.

How have the contestants adjusted to the pressure of performing on the show?
Most of them are generally doing well until they get to the stage. Just the knowledge that suddenly you’re singing live can be a very intense experience. Some lose their minds, getting really nervous. At the same time, some excel. We rehearse all week but then they get to the stage in front of 600 or so people screaming at the top of their lungs…it can throw the contestants a curve. It’s hard to hear out there. It’s distracting. You can’t be trying to do anything with any kind of subtlety.

Do they all look to you as much as they do their coaches for advice?
They work with me and the band more closely than anyone. You get attached to them and want to take care of them. They’re always in a very sensitive place, freaked out 24 hours day by this whole process.

What about the coaches? How much do you work with them?
They are all musicians at heart and the interfacing between musicians and TV people can be a strange marriage. So they treat me as a conduit sometimes because I live in both worlds. I get emails from them at all hours of the day. They’re asking my opinions, finding out how their teams are doing.

How would you describe their coaching styles? Let’s start with Christina.
She’s meticulous, bordering on the somewhat obsessive, about what songs to pick for people. She’s very hands on. She emails all of her team a lot. Every time I think of her, I picture her with all of their pictures on her wall, pacing back and forth figuring what to do with each of them.

And Adam Levine?
He treats the singers as peers, as kindred spirits. He wants them to be artists first and foremost. And he’s very supportive of everyone, making choices with them and not for them.

Cee Lo?
He makes interesting choices for his people. Sometimes they don’t work well, but most of the time, he’s right on. Like when he had James sing “Don’t Know Why.” We thought it was odd but the first time we heard him do it, it was brilliant. At times, it might seem like Cee Lo is a bit detached but he’s always coming up with stuff that’s great for his team. He’s very much into pushing them to put on a show. He’s very theatrical, reminding them it’s show business.

Blake?
He’s the opposite of Cee Lo. He wants them to do songs as opposed to putting on a big show. First and foremost, he’s about the singer singing his or her songs and not letting a lot of production get in the way. His advice is to be musical. He’s very hands on with his team, acting as their friend and buddy as well as their coach.