The Voice is an extremely popular reality show and draws in millions of viewers each season. Its premise is simple: contestants perform and are judged on their singing talents. The winners then receive a large cash prize and a record deal. It’s all very appealing – but is it too good to be true? According to some, yes it is.
The blind auditions are the thing which sets The Voice apart from other shows. However, those might not be all that they seem. In 2016 five former participants spoke to Cosmopolitan magazine regarding their experiences, and they had some remarkable claims about what the audition process was actually like.
For a start, there’s a lot that happens before anyone makes it in front of The Voice’s judging panel. The show’s producers apparently find people who they want to appear on the program and then get to work encouraging them. Indeed, Vicci Martinez from season one told Cosmopolitan that staffers from The Voice were “really persistent” with her.
Meanwhile, season one’s Frenchie Davis had a different story. She had been on American Idol back in 2003 but was disqualified when old topless photos of her resurfaced. She told Cosmopolitan that a casting director for The Voice said, “I don’t think you were given a fair chance on Idol” in order to get her to participate.
Furthermore, there’s also paperwork to sign, and a clue to some of the details contained within were revealed in 2014 when a Voice contract was leaked onto the internet. It stated that for contestants the show “may be disparaging, defamatory, embarrassing and may expose them to public ridicule, humiliation or condemnation.” And even that wasn’t all.
The contract also said, “Contestants can be forced to undergo medical and psychological evaluations, and NBC is allowed to publicize the results.” In the 2016 Cosmopolitan interview Davis confirmed that she had to take a personality test before being allowed on the show. The former constestant added, “They know exactly what they’re doing. Every second.”
Elsewhere, the contestants are reportedly given training before the “blind auditions” ever take place. Kat Perkins from season six claimed that she was given voice training and instructions on what her reaction should be if a coach turned around for her while she was on stage. Not only that, but Perkins alleged that she was given social media and red carpet training, too.
Perkins also said that the loud whooshing noise heard on the show when a coach’s chair turns around isn’t real. She told Cosmopolitan, “It’s in post-production! You almost don’t notice it, especially when you’re focusing and singing to the crowd that’s in the studio.”
But the strongest condemnation of the “blind” auditions came from a former coach on the show – Christina Aguilera herself. After the singer had left The Voice in 2018 she told W magazine, “I signed on to a show where the blind audition element was something interesting, something genuine. After a while, though, you start to see that everyone is good-looking.”
Aguilera went on, “It wasn’t a comfortable place for me to be, where I’m just part of a money-making machine. When I stop believing in something, then it’s like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I think I did choose to – no pun intended – take a chair for so long and do something very commercial for my little ones. But at a certain point I felt like I’m not even doing them a service by cheating myself and what I’m here to do. They should be seeing mommy live her best life.”
And things may not be all they seem when it gets to the competition stage, either. Contestants have reported that their “image” on the show is picked by producers. For example, season one’s Dia Frampton wanted to highlight a band that she had with her sister called Meg & Dia. Instead, she was marketed as a children’s author.
Frampton told the website HuffPost in 2017, “I was introduced as the children’s book author, which was something I very lightly touched upon when we were doing interviews – that I liked writing children’s books, I liked blogging and writing stories. But that was definitely not the highlight in my own mind… That was interesting, to kind of have that narrative chosen for me.”
It was all the more disappointing for Frampton because she had gone on The Voice to try and get more publicity for Meg & Dia. She told HuffPost, “[At that time] we had been dropped from our label, we didn’t have a publicist, we didn’t have money, and I thought, ‘This is our publicity, possibly,’ But the band was never mentioned. I mean, I mentioned it, but it was never put on the show.”
The contestants allegedly also don’t always choose the songs they sing – the judges and producers do. Furthermore, Frenchie Davis told Cosmopolitan that she became very frustrated about that. The singer explained, “It’s always hysterical when the judges say, ‘I don’t think that was a good song choice for you,’ and I’m thinking, ‘You picked that song.’”
As for the judges themselves, it does seem like they actually put in the effort once they move to being coaches. Perkins told Cosmopolitan magazine, “I could email Adam [Levine] literally 24/7 and he was really great about responding and making sure I felt comfortable – even during the night before.”
Some of the contestants said that Blake Shelton would invite both the contestants and the judges to his house for parties. Vicci Martinez said that during these, “[Levine] would be there, [Aguilera] would be there. You’d see them all bonding. You got to see them be friends and Blake [Shelton] was really good at breaking the ice.”
Also, some of the celebrity friendships seen on the show were legit, the contestants told Cosmopolitan. Martinez claimed that Shelton and Levine really were best friends, and the people who worked for them formed a tight-knit group. She said, “It was cool to see [Levine’s] tribe and [Shelton’s] tribe [together]. [They] are genuine.”
And both men were reportedly good to the contestants, too. Perkins said, “[Levine] just wanted to know if you were okay, and that was so cool. Every single day he used his manners and opened doors for people. He said please and thank you. He was super kind.” And Frampton said of Shelton, “I was expecting an untouchable superstar, but he was the most grounded, most down to earth, friendly person I’d ever met.”
CeeLo Green didn’t get such good reviews, however. Martinez claimed to Cosmopolitan that once she had to wait around until 3:00 a.m. for him. The singer said, “I remember just being so upset because I had to be up for interviews that morning.” Though now she conceded that “it was practice for what it’s really like out there.”
Meanwhile, there’s been speculation over the years that the judges may be faking friendship with each other. In 2016 an apparent insider on The Voice said that Adam Levine and Miley Cyrus had “totally butted heads” during season ten. They told Us Weekly magazine, “[Levine] would get agitated when [Cyrus] would interrupt him, and she enjoyed getting under his skin.”
And apparently Shelton and Jennifer Hudson fought during season 13. In 2017 a supposed anonymous source told the website Radar Online, “[Shelton] straight up told [Hudson] that she is an entitled b***h and that he’s never worked with someone so difficult to be around. He thinks that she is trying to steal the spotlight, which she is. But it is creating a lot of tension on and off-camera.”
The source continued, “The fact that [Hudson] is scoring such amazing talent to be on her team drives [Shelton] insane. The two of them are bickering non-stop and he has lost his temper several times already. But she knows that he cannot stand her and that makes her push his buttons even more.” However, this claim was never confirmed by any party.
Meanwhile, Levine and Shelton reportedly didn’t get along so well with Aguilera. It all had to with Shelton’s girlfriend and coach Gwen Stefani leaving the show and being replaced with the other singer. Sides were drawn and it apparently turned into a full-on feud – with Aguilera exiting soon after.
Aguilera herself has denied the rumors of a feud, however. She told W magazine, “[Leaving] never had anything to do with any one person at all. And I actually think it’s really cute [that Shelton] and [Stefani] found love in that chaotic environment…I fought for a long time to get two females in the chairs. And, for a long time, I was just told it wasn’t the demographic. But just know that I was a fighter behind the scenes.”
Elsewhere, the contestants shared some other tidbits from behind the scenes in their Cosmopolitan piece. The show was, it turned out, an incredibly demanding environment. Jessie Poland – who competed as “Charlotte Sometimes” in the second season – said that once you’re on The Voice it takes over your life.
Poland said, “I couldn’t make a ton of money [while on the program]. And even though I worked as a film writer and played shows, I couldn’t do that while I was on The Voice. I couldn’t really work. No one can work.” And Vicci Martinez had an even worse story about the toll that competing took.
Martinez told Cosmopolitan that her time on the show led to the end of a relationship. She said, “I was engaged to someone at the time and we had to break up because of [The Voice]. I had just bought a house in my hometown [Tacoma, Washington], and I actually just ended up giving the house away and staying in Los Angeles.”
But what happens when you’re eliminated from the show? Well, the contestants had a lot to tell Cosmopolitan about that. Perkins said, “The minute you are eliminated, you walk from that stage and into the psychiatrist’s office for a debriefing. They make sure that you talk about it.”
Perkins went on, “It’s very needed because you’ll never go through anything like it again. It’s traumatic and you’re not really emotionally set up to do something that big that quickly.” Furthermore, the former contestant claimed that after being eliminated from the show you’re supposed to get on the next plane home with barely a chance to say goodbye.
So we know what happens when you lose, but what is in store for those who win? Well, it’s been noted that winners of The Voice seem to quickly slip out of the spotlight before too long. Some of these – such as Cassadee Pope and Sawyer Fredericks – were signed up to record labels but they ended up parting ways.
There seems to be a pattern of winners finding their reward of a record deal not all it was cracked up to be. Season one’s Javier Colon told BuddyTV in 2012, “I went in with high hopes, as I believe everyone did. But when you pour your heart and soul into a new album that you think is really great, and your label [which] is supposed to support, market and promote your music does neither, it’s really hard not to be upset.”
In 2017 the show’s host and producer Carson Daly told HuffPost, “We didn’t really create the show to create a celebrity musician or make people rich and famous. That was never really the goal of the show. We are proud to say that so many of the artists who have been on The Voice in any capacity have quit their sandwich-making jobs and are doing well in music. And at the end of the day that’s winning – to us.”
Dia Frampton might disagree, though. She was interviewed for the same HuffPost piece and she said, “Honestly, there was aftermath to that decision [to go on The Voice] for years. I think that last year was the first year I felt normal again with my sister, and that’s been a lot of work on our part… I still feel like I abandoned her in a way, and I struggle to deal with that in trying to be successful.”
Frampton did have some success after the show, however. She released an album, albeit one she described to HuffPost as “rushed.” Furthermore, the singer went on tour with James Blunt and opened a concert for Shelton. But it didn’t last very long; at the time of the interview she was working in a health food shop and making minimum wage.
Even the judges have spoken out about how winners of The Voice seem to end up being treated. In 2015 Levine told Howard Stern, “When the baton is passed post-Voice, there’s some problems. People take over after we do this great job of building these people up on the show. [There are] some real issues there.”
Shelton touched upon the subject of contestants’ success after Todd Tilghman won season 18 of the show in 2020. He told ET Canada Live, “So many times the ball has been dropped and there hasn’t been a lot of follow-through with the record deal… I’ve been vocal about that from the beginning because it’s a hard pill to swallow.”
But Daly told HuffPost that no one could “blame a record company or management because, I think, in today’s day and age, you can ‘succeed’ and really take off without it because of the tools that are available to you independently.” He added, “If you have a hit song, it’s going to happen for you. It’s just a matter of time.”
One of the issues might be simply that the contestants can’t outshine the judges. In May 2014 the music mogul and reality star Simon Cowell said to The Times newspaper, “Who does better? The Voice judges or the Voice contestants? It’s quite obvious the judges have sold a ton more records.”
And sometimes the show does seem like a showcase for the judges’ talents just as much as the contestants. On The Voice UK the celeb judges Olly Murs, Will.i.am, Tom Jones and Jennifer Hudson will sometimes reportedly do spontaneous performances between auditions. But audiences don’t buy that they’re not planned in advance.
And unfortunately, things can go very badly for the contestants post-Voice. Frampton told HuffPost in her interview, near tears, “It felt like I was doing everything right and I was going to be okay and I was bearing on what I think was success, and then everything just kind of falls down.” So, the lives are very real – even if much of the show is constructed.