The Voice returns to NBC on Monday night with familiar faces in the coaches chairs and a whole new crop of talented singers. After four years and nine seasons, veteran coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton — along with relative newbies Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani — have a sense of what makes a winning singer. The Voice coaches said they don't judge singers on looks, but rather purely on vocal talent during the blind auditions. "What you look like — you can't help that," Levine tells reporters at a press junket. "It's going to be part of it. You can't ignore it. But the best voice tends to prevail."
Last spring, 16-year-old long-haired crooner Sawyer Fredericks won the Season 8 crown, coached by Williams, who expected to see someone totally different when his chair turned around for the teen during the blind auditions. "When we first heard Sawyer, I thought he was going to be like old, 50-60 year old man who'd been singing the blues for years and years," Williams says. "And, he was 15 years old, white boy with long hair from upstate New York. There was no way to really wrap your head around it. So much so that every time he sang, you just stare at him like whoa."
So, what makes a Voice winner? Here's what the coaches had to say about Season 9.
Stefani Loves Interesting Stories
Stefani returns to The Voice this fall for her second season as a coach after serving as one during Season 7 and guesting as an adviser in Season 8. She said that the journeys of the singers also play a role in who they are as contestants, as well as their voice. "It's not just the voice, but it's also story, personality, the inside of people and how they work," Stefani reveals. "All those things definitely play a role in everything. All of our favorite artists are flawed and we love what they have to say."
Shelton: "You Hear With Your Eyes"
Shelton has been with the series since the beginning and says he still gets surprised when that chair turns around during the blind auditions. "I should probably be cooler about it, but when I turn around and I think it's gonna be a girl and it's a guy, I'm like 'What? Oh my God! What the hell?'" he tells reporters. "I can't contain myself."
And, when that chair turns around, he says that looks do color opinions a little, because that's just human nature. "The difference is that the audience gets to see who's up there and that can't help but sway your thinking," Shelton says. "As coaches, all we get is the voice. That's all we get when we're selecting people for our team. You hear with your eyes, too, when you watch somebody perform. If you don't get to see it, it changes what you hear, I think."
Levine Says The Coaches Care More About The Singers Than Winning
Like Shelton, Levine has been a coach on The Voice since the show premiered in 2011 and famously has a rilvary/bromance with the country singer. But, make no mistake — as much as the coaches love winning (and he wants to beat Blake) — they all want the best singer to win the crown.
"Winning The Voice, for the coaches, is fun. But, if we're being super honest, we don't really care," Levine admits.
Although it's awesome and fun and I'm super competitive and I love to win, I would much rather believe the person who did win was the right person. I love that Sawyer Fredericks won, and he deserved to win. As far as I'm concerned, as long as the person that we think deserves to win wins, it doesn't matter what team they're on. Within that, I would rather that person be on my team and beyond that, I much enjoy beating Blake at many other things.
Pharrell Looks For A Vibe
Williams enters his third season as a coach on The Voice this fall, but that doesn't mean he's necessarily gotten better at predicting who will be there when his chair turns around during the blind auditions. "It's like a test on the senses," he says. "All we have is the sound of their voice and what's emanating through whatever they're singing. You just hear that struggle and it makes you press the button. Whether it's a seven-foot person or two-foot-two, you're always surprised." He jokes: "It's going to be Shirley Temple, but it's Chewbacca!"
So, what's Pharrell looking for? "I'm mostly impressed by a unique voice and a vibe that goes along with it," he says. "Because you could have a great voice, but what makes you want to see a person again is when they have a really strong vibe — and it's a unique one, where you don't know what it is. When a person has a vibe, you can't necessarily put a finger on it, but it's there and you always go back to it, because it's the only place you can get it."
With all that in mind, it's going to be interesting to see who impresses from the start of this season on Monday night!
Images: Brian Bowen Smith/NBC; Giphy (4)