New judges Shakira and Usher “Come Together” with Adam Levine and Blake Shelton to rock the Beatles song when “The Voice” premieres its fourth season on Monday, March 25. If you don’t know that Usher can play guitar, or that Shakira blows a mean harmonica, you will be happily surprised when the four judges take the stage for the opening number. It is a great way to introduce the new mentors into the mix.
“We are so grateful that Usher and Shakira said yes,” executive producer Mark Burnett said following a special screening of the premiere episode. “Remember, no one on ‘The Voice’ needs the job. Their job is music superstar and recording and performing, so we are lucky that they take time out for this. Which is also part of the problem. You are never going to keep the four, so now we have six. In a year, there could be eight of them.”
Burnett makes it clear that unlike other talent shows, where, when judges leave, they are permanently replaced, on “The Voice,” the door is always open for past mentors to rotate back into a chair.
Watch a First Look of Season 4 of “The Voice”:
The first three seasons of the singing competition featured three male judges and one female. Season four ditto, just swapping out Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green with Shakira and Usher. It raises the question of whether or not Burnett was looking to keep what had been a successful formula.
“There was no even thought about it,” Burnett tells XFINITY. “Some people said to us, ['Did you swap a] blonde woman for a blonde and an African American for an African American?’ but we didn’t give a thought about female, race or anything. It is just Usher and Shakira. Who is saying no to that?”
Paul Telegdy, President, Alternative and Late Night Programming, NBC Entertainment, weighed in on the issue of why only one female judge, after first joking that it is because “ladies take a long time to get ready.”
More seriously, he tells XFINITY, “The chemistry worked really well… I find myself shouting, ‘Go girl!’ at the TV screen for Shakira. You really root for her because there are three guys, but like Christina, she holds her own.”
In the two-hour premiere episode of “The Voice,” there are a couple of contestants who make all four judges turn their chairs around, and several others who, while not getting all four, were still hotly contested for. When a mentor didn’t succeed in winning someone to their team, you could see the wheels turning in their heads that there was still the possibility that they will be able to steal them in the Battle rounds.
“We made a significant adjustment last year,” Burnett says about adding the Steal. “The significance and the consequences of the Battles was suddenly — if I am letting you go, she is going to grab you and could win — it really is like a board game. There are consequences of moves you make.”
“The Voice” doesn’t yet have its Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, who rocketed up the music charts following their stints on “American Idol.” But both Burnett and Telegdy seem unconcerned about the fact that they have yet to launch a recording superstar.
While Telegdy acknowledges that it is important to produce one at some point, in the meantime, he points out, “The record industry is a very complicated game at the moment.”
Burnett adds, “All you have control over is making a great TV show. The job of television is an emotional connection. This, predominantly, has the best element of a sitcom with a competition. You think about ‘The Cosby Show’ or ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.’ They are funny but they have a lot of heart. That is what this has, too.”
The fourth season of “The Voice” not only has heart, it has heartbreak. Contestants include one whose mother’s cancer diagnosis gives her only months to live; another is giving it his all for his twin baby girls, who were born prematurely and died; while yet another is a recovering alcoholic. Then there is Judith Hill, who thought her big break was going to be performing in concert with Michael Jackson, only for him to die two months into rehearsals. The audience is rooting for all of them to make it through, but, of course, it wouldn’t be good television if they did.
Tune in when “The Voice” premieres its fourth season on Monday, March 25 at 8/7c on NBC to find out.