Christina Aguilera sat in a swivel chair alongside fellow judges Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton when “The Voice” premiered in April 2011.
Though the concept of a televised singing competition was nothing new – at that point, “American Idol” had already been on Fox for almost nine years – the NBC series immediately hooked viewers with its dramatic blind auditions and battle rounds. All four judges came to the show as established names, but now those names regularly made for water cooler conversation.
It sounds like a great gig, right? Aguilera would say otherwise.
In a Billboard interview published Thursday, the singer referred to the show as a “churning hamster wheel.” It was an “energy sucker,” she said, and she spent her six seasons as a judge “longing for freedom.” She scrunched up her face when asked whether she would ever return, adding that she would prefer to discuss “positive things.”
Aguilera’s career had hit something of a plateau in 2010 – by pop superstar standards, anyway. The electronic-tinged “Bionic,” her sixth album overall, met with mixed reviews that summer. While her vocals remained strong, some listeners wondered whether she felt a need to imitate Lady Gaga. A planned Bionic Tour never came to be, as she felt she didn’t have enough time to plan a satisfactory show between promoting the album and “Burlesque,” a critically panned movie musical that also starred Cher.
Then, in February 2011, Aguilera flubbed the lyrics to the national anthem while singing at the Super Bowl. A week later, she almost fell onstage at the Grammys while performing a tribute to Aretha Franklin. That March, she was detained for public drunkenness. The singer needed a career boost, and “The Voice” seemed like the answer.
But that changed. Aguilera told Billboard that the show soon strayed from what she signed up for in the first season.
“You realize it’s not about music,” she said. “It’s about making good TV moments and massaging a story. I didn’t get into this business to be a television show host and to be given all these (rules). Especially as a female: You can’t wear this, can’t say that. I would find myself on that show desperately trying to express myself through clothing or makeup or hair. It was my only kind of outlet.”
Aguilera isn’t alone in her criticism of “The Voice.” Fellow judge Levine has been known to speak up about its failings, particularly in reference to how the winners’ record deals don’t always help their careers. He said as much in a 2015 interview with 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’s some real issues there.”
He quickly clarified that he blamed the record labels, not NBC or the winners.
“The show ends, and they’re like, ‘OK, they don’t matter to me anymore,’ ” Levine said of how record labels treat the singers. “This is how they feel on the other end. I don’t understand why they don’t care. That’s what drives me absolutely bonkers. And then it makes me feel defeated on my end, because there’s really not much I can do.”
With all this in mind, it’s fitting that Aguilera named her upcoming album “Liberation.” Her first since 2012’s commercially unsuccessful “Lotus,” the album leans toward R&B and hip-hop. (A single released Thursday called “Accelerate” features Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz.) The singer seems poised for yet another comeback, one that will include her first tour in years.
“Touring is so frightening to me, because I am a mom first,” she told Billboard. “It’s part of why I stayed in the position I was (at ‘The Voice’). It’s easy to get comfortable and cushy in the same place and not have to worry about uprooting your kids. I’ve been putting myself on the back burner.”
“It needs to happen. I’m looking forward to getting back out and actually showing my kids what Mommy really does!”