When Carson Daly thinks about the upcoming 10th anniversary of “The Voice,” the first thing that comes to mind is his son, Jackson.
“He's 11, and so he's basically the life of the show,” said Daly, who’s hosted the singing competition show since it premiered in April 2011. “I used to have him on set in, like, a BabyBjörn and I used to wear him while I was doing ‘The Voice.’ So when I think of ‘The Voice’ turning 10, it's reflective of sort of my parenting, you know, my life as a father. The greatest job I have is being a father and ‘The Voice’ is probably second, so I'm nostalgic about it.”
An alum of Los Angeles’ KROQ rock radio station and MTV’s “Total Request Live,” Carson hadn’t yet been sold on the idea of mixing music with reality TV before the show. But then he saw an episode of the Dutch version of “The Voice,” in which a tattooed mixed martial arts fighter sang a Kings of Leon song.
“It was just exciting, like, these coaches had no idea who he was and then we heard his story, but they had already been a fan of his because of just his voice,” the TODAY co-host, 47, recalled. “So I immediately was interested in the show. And then I just simply asked who's producing it, because if you own a restaurant, well, who's your chef? You know, you need a good chef, and they said Mark Burnett, who makes cinematic television. I was like, ‘Forget it, I’m in.’ So I was the first person they hired.”
Carson said what really set “The Voice” apart in the beginning was the first season’s winner, Javier Colon.
“He sang ‘Time After Time’ by Cyndi Lauper and we put it in a promo, the very first promo ever for the show,” he said. “And we watched the promo, and we all were like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be something special.’”
Carson knew the show was a hit the day after it first aired.
“I got a call from one of the executives,” he remembered. “He said, ‘We just got the overnights, and we have a bona fide runaway monster hit television show. Buckle up and get ready for the ride.’ That's what he said to me, and the numbers were like — you know, they're different than they are today, this is again 10 years ago — but they were, like, ‘Friends’ numbers. They were, like, event numbers, like football numbers. They were ridiculous.”
Carson reflected on some of the many standout performances from the past decade.
“There's a duet between Casey Weston and Tim Mahoney I always remember,” he said. “It was in the battle rounds in season one, and they sang ‘Leather and Lace,’ Don Henley and Stevie Nicks. That's a song that I listened to this morning on the way to work. There’s this inside joke with me and the coaches, like when anybody auditions with a Sia song, we're always like, ‘Oh no, don't do that.’ So, (season nine winner) Jordan Smith auditioned with ‘Chandelier.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Oh no,’ and of course he would go on to absolutely slay it, crush it and win the show. So that was memorable. 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' with Tessanne Chin on season five, that was one of my favorites.”
“The coach performances were always a lot of fun, trying to figure out what song they could all do,” he added. “So when we did ‘Crazy,’ the CeeLo song, the first one, we knew that was really a powerful thing too. So, since then we've had the coaches do songs together. That's been really one of my favorite things about the 10 years of the show.”
In fact, Carson even took part in one of the coach performances in 2019, when he joined Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend for a stripped-down rendition of Extreme's 1991 rock ballad "More Than Words."
“I play guitar, and our music director and the artists needed to rehearse it, so I was backstage, just playing so they could practice singing the harmonies,” he recalled. “And then the artists invited me, like ‘You should come out and play with us. And so I did and that was probably one of my more personal favorite moments on the show, actually getting to perform with the coaches.”
While the four red coach chairs have featured a rotating cast of A-list talent, Shelton — like Carson — has been on “The Voice” since the beginning.
“He’s become one of the closest people in my life, to be honest with you,” Carson said. “We're very close, which is ironic because I — obviously, you know, I’m a producer on the show, I'm involved in recruiting coaches. I've talked some people into doing the show. And he was the person I knew the least. And so it's just ironic that 10 years later, he's the one that I'm definitely closest with. Our families vacation together at this point, and so I'm very grateful. Aside from what the show, from an employment standpoint, has done for me and my family, you know, my friendship with Blake is probably the next best thing I've yielded by being on the show.”
Carson said he was really proud of the “tenacity and passion” shown by the season 19 coaches — Shelton, Stefani, Clarkson and Legend — while filming the show amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We've been shooting under very, very strict guidelines, obviously, for COVID,” he said. “We've been stripped away of an audience, we've been stripped away of a lot of bells and whistles and a lot of extras and we're really bare bones, and we're really seeing the character of this current cast of artists and it's really impressive to me how much they care about their artists on their teams and making them look good on television. Like, after 10 years, it would be easy, especially for Blake or somebody who's been on for a long time, to be very jaded and phoning it in, and they're not. They're really diligent and it's really impressive to me.”
Asked what artists would make great future coaches, Carson said he had a lot of ideas, but named a couple.
“You know, I've interviewed so many people on radio or TV and I love the people who are candid, like, Pink, somebody who I just love personally,” he said. “And I've always thought she would be an incredible coach because she's so passionate, she cares so much, but she's so normal and regular. Adele would obviously be great, because she is a voice and she's, like, stealthily, I think, one of the funniest people out there that you don't know — she's, like, Kelly Clarkson funny, like, she’s really funny.”
Carson said his favorite part of his job is being with the contestants’ families, rooting for their loved ones.
“They come into this whole crazy experience and you know they're on our soundstage in Burbank and they’ve flown in and they're all sequestered and it's probably a really crazy thing,” he said. “And they're rooting for their son or their daughter or their mom or their dad or whoever it is. So I really, I love being, like, literally their host. Being on television is my least favorite part of it all, but kind of being the ambassador of the show to the families and making sure that they're comfortable and I think you see that during the auditions. You know, I'm living and dying with them. I'm just jumping up and down screaming when they get a chair to turn and I'm giving hugs and handing Kleenex when they don't get on the show.”
Carson says “quality control” is the key to the show’s longevity.
“Our show is built on inviting 75 to 100 of the greatest voices we can find in this country, and so we start with such a high caliber group of singers” he said. “There's been people who probably were passionate in the beginning and maybe they left us for a season or two and then they come back. And I think it's because of the quality. We always have excellent singing on television, and that's huge. The other thing is the chemistry between our coaches. It's not scripted, but it feels like a sitcom. It's entertaining and we just have found really good coaches, so I think the combination of those two things: It's a warm, fun, wonderful family television show and look at where content is these days. There's not a lot of that. Like what puts a 16-year-old and a 45-year-old mom and even maybe a 70-year-old grandma all in the living room these days, watching an American television show? Not much, but ‘The Voice’ is one of them.”
Carson thinks the show will remain popular, even beyond future cast changes.
“I've always said we're all replaceable parts,” he said. “The format of this show can go on forever.”
Season 20 of "The Voice" premieres March 1 at 8 p.m., featuring coaches Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Blake Shelton and Nick Jonas.