This past January when Fox was advertising the new season of American Idol, instead of blasting the names of its star judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., it was the names of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood that flashed across the screen during promos. Why? Because it's the one advantage Idol still has over its younger, higher-rated competitor The Voice.
But during a junket to promote Season 8, which premieres Monday, Feb. 23 at 8/7c on NBC, returning judge Pharrell Williams made it very clear he is not concerned with making a star. "The show is not a record company," Williams told reporters Monday. "It's a training camp. It's an academy. And you only advance forward when you have what it takes to move forward. And there's nothing wrong with working for something. There's nothing wrong with having your eye on the prize and not winning. But there's always a winner, and there's eleven other people that ultimately end up going home. But they go home different people, because they've had tutors that they would never ever in a million years probably have met."
Although the show has been a ratings juggernaut for NBC, it has yet to launch a music sensation (unless you count Blake Shelton's impressive rise from the least-well-known judge in Season 1 to its arguably biggest asset now going into Season 8.) It is a question that has followed the shows for years, and although it's just his second season on The Voice, Williams' said he's already tired of hearing it. "I don't understand why we have these interviews, and people ask that same question every time," he said. "That's not why we're here to do this interview. We're here to do this interview because... we want to explain to you what this is and what it means to us. It's a gift."
Williams continued: "The show is not about someone signing a record deal and getting signed. The show is about a bunch of people who really care about people that they encounter, and make sure that they're changed when they walk off."
Christina Aguilera, back for her fifth spin in the big red chair, defended Williams' stance as well, looking back at her own path to success. "Whenever the journey on the show ends, we don't need instant gratification for their success right away. I mean, their journey is kind of just beginning. This is the training ground," she said. "I always consider my training ground to have been The Mickey Mouse Club when I was 11 and 12. I didn't make a hit record at 13, 14. I made 'Genie in a Bottle,' which was the start of my career, at 16, 17, which was years down the road."
Aguilera said it's what Voice contestants do with the lessons they learn from being on the show that really matters. "The true talent doesn't evolve like that. Like, true success, sometimes it takes time to build something great," she said. "You have to start with an awesome foundation, and then allow yourself the patience and the time to mature and to grow into something long-lasting."
But while singers like Aguilera may have needed Mickey Mouse Club or Star Search to help hone their craft, Williams said that today, artists can be much more in control of their own career thanks to the Internet. "My two cents is I always tell them stop worrying about the industry, because that is kind of non-existent. Most artists that are being broken today are not being broken by labels, they're being broken by themselves," he said. "Radio doesn't chase what record companies tell them to chase, they chase what feels good, what's out there. So you're just as empowered as any other artist. ... It's really all on you. And I wouldn't concentrate so much on the business, as I would the music. Because if you don't have great music, it's not going to go viral anyway."
The Voice returns Monday, Feb. 23 at 8/7c on NBC. What do you think of Williams' comments?
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