The competition is fierce on season two of NBC's "The Voice," and we haven't even met the contestants.
Recording artists Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine have all returned as judges. The frenemies picked up right where they left off when taping began in the fall. The show, where the winner is decided by viewers, premieres Sunday after the Super Bowl.
"The four of us coaches just have such a love-hate relationship," said Shelton. "We're all high-fiving and drinking together, and as soon as somebody comes up on that stage and we hear them and they're really good, the gloves come off. It's like, 'Did you just say that to me? Why did you say that dude?' 'I just wanted to get that girl.' 'Oh, OK.' Then you're back and everything's good again."
The first season of "The Voice" was a ratings success for NBC, but there are a few changes this time around: The judges will pick 12 contestants for their teams instead of eight, and each team has two official celebrity mentors.
Levine recruited Alanis Morissette and Robin Thicke. Shelton signed up his wife, Miranda Lambert, and Kelly Clarkson. Green asked Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Ne-Yo, and Aguilera enlisted Jewel and Lionel Richie.
When asked why he decided to join Aguilera's team, Richie said with a mischievous smile: "She snuck up on me."
It turns out Aguilera had a secret weapon: Richie's daughter, Nicole. The two have been friends for years.
"I got the phone call that said, 'Dad.' And you can't beat 'Dad.' That's an insider insider," said Richie. "'The Voice' is just me hanging out with people who have been in my life for a very long time. ... I'm just thrilled to be on the show."
Richie is also friends with Shelton. They recorded a song together for Richie's upcoming country duets album, "Tuskegee."
Richie said he's learned a thing or two from being in the music business for three decades, but his advice doesn't necessarily translate into a contestant winning a reality singing competition.
"What's so amazing to me is trying to explain to someone what they should do, which is taking the time — I'm a 35-year overnight success. I'm still trying to get it right," he said.
He added: "I take my hat off to these new artists, because I don't even think I could take the pressure."
Competition aside, Shelton means it when he talks about the friendships he's made through "The Voice."
Last season's runner-up Dia Frampton has been Shelton's opening act on his "Well Lit and Amplified" arena tour.
"It really is turning into a situation that I hope is going to last for a long time, because you get close with people," he said about the show. "Even though it's a working relationship that we start with, by the end of the season the four of us coaches ... and many of the contestants are pretty tight. I hope it lasts a long time."
"The Voice" will end its 14-week run with the season finale on April 8.
Caitlin R. King covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow her at http://www.twitter.com/caitlinrking