Adam Levine Adam Levine

When The Voice returns Monday, we'll get our first look at the new knockout rounds. But what are the knockout rounds exactly?

On Monday and Tuesday, viewers will watch as each contestant works with his or her coach on songs of their choosing. Unfortunately, the singers won't know which other teammate they're competing against until moments before they perform. The artists will take turns singing while their opponent sits in the battle ring until it's their turn to take the mic. At the end of the sing-off, coaches will have to choose only one artist to continue on to the live shows. And unlike in the battle rounds, this time there are no steals.

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Giving so much to artistic freedom to the contestants this early on might be a double-edged sword. A poor song choice could easily send one of the competition's top singers home before the series goes live next week. At the same time, the knockout rounds will give some of the series' underdogs a chance to really prove themselves as an artist and a performer. For his part, Coach Adam Levine

is looking forward to handing the power to the contestants and taking a little pressure off the coaches after the strenuous battle rounds."It's nice to have an isolated section of the show where [the artists] have to essentially rely on their own skills or their own intuition," Levine told reporters last week. "It shows us a huge part of who they are and kind of makes the decision easier. [We might think,] 'Well this person had a great voice but then this person chose this amazing song, created this amazing moment for themselves.' We have to go with them."

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But thanks to Season 3's new twist, some of the contestants have just started working with their current coach after being "stolen" in the battle rounds. While it might be easy to assume the poached singers will be at a disadvantage going into the knockout rounds, it might be just the opposite."You admire [the stolen contestants] in a different way because you weren't their coach," Levine says. "You automatically respect whatever it is they decided to do that got your attention for the steal, so it's a little bit different. In fact, it makes our job easier because we see how they've started to succeed on their own merit. Then it becomes for us kind of a guidance process."Here are the other highlights from Levine's very candid conversation.Don't compare The Voice to The X Factor: "I have nothing to prove," Levine insists when questioned about the rival series. "I'm not the kind of person that's going to care too much about anything outside of what we do... as long as we make what we do the best it can possibly be."

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While the singer tried his best to be diplomatic, a little dig toward the other singing competitions did leak through when he discussed his first meeting with The Voice executive producer Mark Burnett. "The first question I had [was] not a question so much as a demand: We're not gonna make fun of these people," Levine explained. "We're not gonna sit there and criticize them in a mean way, a nasty way. We're not gonna make people feel bad about themselves. There's just no point. It doesn't make sense to us intentionally hurt other people's feelings. That's not the business we're in."

We're betting Simon Cowell's ears are a bit red right now, because it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to deduce Levine's statement was at least partially directed at The X Factor judge. But do you think Levine has a point?

What to expect in Season 4: When The Voice returns this spring, there will be two new faces in the spinning chairs: Shakira and Usher have signed on to temporarily replace Christina Aguilera and CeeLo Green. And though Levine was very upset when he learned of their departure, he admitted he became optimistic about the new season after learning who was taking their spots. "The chemistry's there," Levine said. "And as far as Shakira's concerned, she's not afraid to knock me out." Levine also revealed that Season 4 will be returning to smaller, more manageable team sizes. Starting next spring, The Voice will return to Season 2's team size of 12 contestants per coach. "Sixteen is ridiculous," Levine said. "It's very hard to find anybody that is an amazing singer, but 16 people — I think it was a bit overwhelming for the coaches and also even for the audience."

On throwing out the playbook this year: "I think I've kind of done away with strategy," Levine said. "I want the people that I want, and when I want them, I go crazy. I stand on chairs and I try to really make these people feel how badly I wanna be a part of what they're doing." Levine believes he has a strong team this year, but after two seasons he's learned how hard it can be to predict the winner. "There's no ringer this season," the coach added. "There's no one person that seems like it's all theirs to lose. So it's gonna really count on what happens out there."

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What The Voice needs to survive:
"I think eventually The Voice is gonna have to launch somebody into the stratosphere for the show to be taken seriously," Levine said. Unfortunately, as he knows from personal experience, it's hard to make it in the music industry. But Levine remains hopeful. "I think that we can do it," Levine said. "In fact I'm sure that we can do it." One way Levine hopes to help get The Voice's first crossover star: throw more support at former contestants after they've graduated from the competition.

Do you think any of this season's contestants have what it takes to become a bonafide pop star? How do you feel about the knockout rounds? Sound off in the comments below!