The longtime coach opens up about his Voice loves, hates, all-time favorite contestant — and the one who's surprised him most. "I can’t take any of the credit," Blake Shelton says, and "it pisses me off"

By Nancy Kruh
November 18, 2019 07:45 PM
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The Voice coach Blake Shelton says he’s gotten over pining for longtime arch-nemesis Adam Levine, who left the hit show earlier this year. And Shelton has good reason: Fellow coach Kelly Clarkson, he says, is “doing a great job filling the Adam ‘assh— void.’”

In fact, Shelton revealed at a recent Nashville event to promote The Voice that he recently uttered those exact words to Clarkson. He also reported Clarkson’s reaction: “She didn’t take that very well.”

There’s another reason Shelton doesn’t miss Levine: The bromance continues, he revealed, “just not for the cameras.”

Shelton opened up even more about the show’s past, present and future in a wide-ranging Q&A session, held Thursday at his Ole Red restaurant and honky-tonk:

Blake Shelton’s Ole Red
| Credit: Katherine Bomboy/Getty Images

The role he hates the most: “Eliminating people from the show. … I literally despise it. I don’t want it to be in my hands. And so when we finally get to the [live shows], it still hurts as bad to see somebody go home, but at least you don’t feel directly responsible for it.”

What he does first after the live shows: Along with the rest of the coaches, he immediately checks in with iTunes to see “who’s just blown up.” Sometimes, he said, he’s disappointed to see a performance that resonated with him didn’t have a similar impact on viewers, but if one of his contestants is at the top of the heap, “that’s exciting to see it in motion,” he said.

Why he picked Darius Rucker to be Team Blake’s mentor: “I literally love that guy,” Shelton said about his team’s Season 17 mentor. But he picked Rucker for more practical reasons, since he’s had success across genres (both pop-rock and country) and as a Hootie & the Blowfish band member and a solo artist. “He’s written all these hits, and so he just had so much he can bring to the table as far as experience goes,” Shelton said. “He’s pretty much seen it and done it all.”

Blake Shelton
| Credit: Katherine Bomboy/Getty Images

What he loves most about “mega-mentor” Taylor Swift: Her brain power. “She’s just so smart,” Shelton said. “That’s the thing: We all know how talented Taylor is, but I think 50 percent of her success is also combining her talent with just literally how smart she is. Every time I’m around her, I love just kind of soaking it in and listening to her talk. She always has something to say or a way of looking at something that I never have thought that way. … Once you get past the” — Shelton gasped — “‘It’s Taylor Swift!’ you’re even more impressed with her.”

There’s a new Voice nemesis-in-waiting: Blind auditions for the upcoming Season 18 have already taken place, and Shelton confirmed that new coach Nick Jonas is a formidable adversary. The two got acquainted when both contributed their voices to this year’s UglyDolls animated movie, and Shelton found him to be a “super-nice guy.” At the moment, though, Shelton has put those warm fuzzies aside. “I’m starting to hate the guy because I’m competing with him now,” he said. “He is a tough, tough guy to go against. When you turn your chair around and there’s a young person up there, and they’re trying to choose between me and then Nick Jonas sitting down there, I’m screwed almost every time. So yeah, he can kiss my ass till the season’s over.”

His all-time favorite contestant: Season 4 winner Danielle Bradbery, even though Shelton said he singled her out “knowing that I’m going to hear some crap about it” from all the other contestants he’s coached. But Shelton backed up his opinion by pointing out the improbability of Bradbery’s success: She won the show at just age 16 having never sung in public before and after auditioning on a whim. “It just kind of fell in her life, and she found it out — and in front of the nation — that she was this incredible vocalist.” Shelton shared that he invited Bradbery and her parents to his home before the finale in 2013, and he asked her, “Is this even what you want to do with your life?” At the time she said she didn’t know. Now 23, Bradbery is indeed pursuing a music career, “and thank God she did,” said her former coach.

The one who got away: Morgan Wallen is the one contestant that Shelton looks back on and wonders, “what the hell?” The platinum-selling country artist was on Usher‘s team and then Levine’s team in Season 6 in 2014 before he washed out during the playoff rounds. (Granted, Usher presciently said when he cut Wallen: “He just hasn’t unlocked his full potential.”) “The whole thing just seems screwed up,” Shelton said. “Here he is having these gigantic, huge No. 1 hits in country music, and I can’t take any of the credit. It pisses me off, you know. Man, I had him right there and he got away.”

Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty

Gwen Stefani will be back as a coach: Well, at least if her boyfriend has anything to say about it. “I don’t know if I have any power,” Shelton said, “but I definitely have a loud voice when it comes to that. And I make it known that I don’t ever want her to leave.” Granted, Shelton acknowledged, Stefani has other professional commitments. He also understands the need for The Voice to stay fresh. “And the only the way to really do that is to change the coaches out every season a little bit,” Shelton said, adding, “as long as it’s not me.” He noted the show’s producers have created a sense of a family among the ever-changing cast, which keeps open the possibility that any former coach could make a reappearance. “So we’ll get Nick [Jonas] in there, and I’ll kick his ass,” Shelton said, “and then hopefully at some point we’ll bring Gwen back — or whoever it is — but I definitely don’t think we’ve seen the last of her on the show.”