Vintage cut-off flannel shirt by Eddie Bauer. Distressed leather vest by Dsquared.
The breakout star of NBC’s The Voice wasn’t a contestant -- it was its judge and Maroon 5’s front man. Here, the singer opens up about his natural exhibitionism, why his show trumps Idol, and how parents should react when a kid is queer. By Shana Naomi Krochmal | Photography by Yu Tsai | Styling by Grant Woolhead
In concert, Adam Levine slinks across the stage with a seductive, easy confidence. He is, in a word, cocksure. There’s a calculated tease, a sly wink across a room big enough to hold a small town. When the front man for Maroon 5 sings that he’s “got the moves like Jagger,” it’s a ballsy boast, but not entirely out of line.
On The Voice, where he is one of four celebrity judges, Levine is confined to a high-backed throne that he spins around to indicate his belief that an unseen voice -- the voice, perhaps -- might be the one to win $100,000 and a recording contract. The Voice is more complicated than American Idol -- but also more fun, more diverse, and, because its celebrity coaches are on the hook to produce real talent, ultimately more satisfying to watch.
Stuck in that glorified swivel chair, watching the singers on his team compete, Levine wraps his tattooed arms -- a crouching tiger; a classic shout-out to mom; the number 222, a reference to his band’s first recording studio -- around the seat’s built-in table, pounding his fists with excitement that one of his prodigies has just nailed it. During the finale, he can barely contain himself while praising Javier Colon, the vocalist from Team Adam who ultimately wins. “Everyone knows you’re an amazing singer, but what they may not know is that you’re such an amazing guy,” he says. “I’ve grown so close to you as a friend, and I’ve got so much love for you. And it’s really hard for me to root for someone that I don’t genuinely--” He chokes up. Clearing his throat, he tries again: “That I don’t genuinely love very much.”
Colon may have won the grand prize, but it’s Levine who became The Voice’s big breakout star. The show set records for its social media tie-ins, and many of the viewers who flooded Twitter with their commentary seemed to have little knowledge of Levine’s previous life, beyond a vague recollection of Maroon 5’s radio mainstays like “This Love,” “She Will Be Loved,” and “Makes Me Wonder.”
Levine’s self-assured, heart-on-his-sleeve rocker style translated well to the small screen, even if he was skeptical about signing up. “As a musician, being on a television show can often read as This person needed to do this for their career -- which clearly was not the case for any of us.”
With only three full-length studio albums in a decade, Maroon 5 is really more of a descendant of nomadic jam bands—since their 2002 debut, Songs About Jane, they’ve played hundreds of shows -- with a funkadelic, souped-up sound that relies as much on R&B hooks and hip-hop beats as extended guitar solos. They’ve sold more than 15 million albums and racked up three Grammys (including 2005’s Best New Artist some 10 years after they first began playing together).
At times in the last few years, Levine has sounded ambivalent about committing to a long-term future as a front man of a globe-trotting band. But The Voice has obviously touched him deeply, rekindling his passion for performing and bringing to the forefront his crunchy, hippie attitude. He earnestly talks about the “energy” of the show and how “beautiful” it is that people have embraced music more than ever.
“I talk about it in a very heavy way, but it’s definitely had a pretty profound impact on my life,” he says. “That show’s become a part of me. Being in a position where you can help these people out and -- of course I get paid, and of course it’s good for my career as well. But there’s a lot of real talent, and it makes me excited to know I’m part of that.”