Unlike Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears, Adam Levine didn’t need a career reinvention when he signed up as a judge on a TV singing competition.
But of the four artists on NBC’s The Voice, he’s probably benefited the most. Once America got to know Maroon 5’s frontman as a laidback jokester with a competitive streak, his singing career has been on fire. “Moves Like Jagger,” which Levine debuted on the show in 2011, became the 12th most-sold downloaded song of all time. Overexposed, Maroon 5’s new album, has sold 500,000 copies since its summer debut, with two singles (“Payphone” and “One More Night”) currently on the top 12 of the Billboard Hot 100.
Levine returns to his judge’s chair on the third season of The Voice next week, and he’s adding another TV role to his résumé: he makes his acting debut in the second season of FX’s American Horror Story in October, playing a lover in a 1960s mental asylum. He’s careful not to reveal too many spoilers.
“I’m used to running my mouth and talking shit all day long,” he says. But now, “I’ve been traumatized by Ryan Murphy, who keeps things so heavily shrouded in secrecy, that I don’t even know what to say. Ever. About anything that happens on television.” Still, after talking to Ramin Setoodeh, he said a few things.
Publicist: Ramin, you’re on with Adam Levine of Maroon 5.
I hate it when you give me a formal introduction like that.
Publicist: Sorry about that, Adam. I forgot.
It makes me feel so lame.
The Daily Beast: What kind of introduction would you like?
Not that one, You’re on with Adam Levine of Maroon 5. I prefer, like, Here’s Adam. You know it was going to be me.
Yes. I figured it was you. The Voice is returning for its third season, and it was just announced that you’re coming back with a three-episode premiere. What else is going to be different?
What’s really cool, besides there being more of it, which is what everyone loves to see, is that there’s another feature that’s important to the show’s continued success. You can steal people in the battle round—we have to let people go, inevitably, and when that happens, they brought the buttons back for another round of negotiations. It keeps things interesting throughout that process, which in the past has become slightly dull. There’s a euphoric fun thing with the button that people tend to miss.
Why is Christina Aguilera so mean to you on the show?
She’s not mean to me. Christina Aguilera and I are friends. She’s awesome. She and I had a rough start, but it wasn’t even that rough, it was just totally sensationalized. I love that woman.
Do you think she has a crush on you?
No. I think she’d probably say “ewww!” if you asked her that.
Had you been a fan of reality singing competitions before you did The Voice?
I had not. To be quite frank, I wasn’t interested in being part of one. Timing is such an interesting thing. What seemed like a cool idea at one point in my life might have seemed like a joke at another. It was a really unique and soulful premise: that you weren’t able to see the person singing, you were just listening. I really dug that. In a pop landscape, where being attractive and the right weight and the right look—and all that bullshit—play a huge role in people’s success, which is something I do not deny, I liked the fact that we were returning to the purity of what a great voice was, regardless of what the appearance may be.
Do you think the show has helped your career?
I think it absolutely has helped our career. I think there’s no doubt about that. Things were fine with the band. It wasn’t like we didn’t have success and weren’t satisfied, but I felt like we were at a bit of a crossroads trying to figure out the next move. We were searching a little bit, and [The Voice] changed our career profoundly. It got my face in everyone’s household. It got our music all over the map. What was interesting, our music was already quite big. But people discovered and rediscovered who we were and what we did and got to know me. I always felt like I was slightly misrepresented.
How were you misrepresented?
Maybe not misrepresented. Just not represented, period. I hadn’t really been able to have a—pun intended—voice, and be able to talk.
The first two winners of The Voice have yet to make it big like, for example, certain winners of American Idol.
I think the show needs to do things better to help see it through. However, that being said, I also believe people need to understand that launching someone into the stratosphere and creating a huge success is one in a million. It’s not a factory. It’s not a machine. Having been in a band for however long, you release a single, and sometimes it does really well. Sometimes no one gives a shit. We’re two seasons in. You’ve got to give us a minute. I think American Idol got very lucky in having Kelly Clarkson. Kelly Clarkson was the first winner, right?
“I think The Voice absolutely has helped our career. I think there’s no doubt about that.”
Yes, she was. Are you still in touch with the winner that you “coached” from Season 1?
Yeah. It makes me sad when I see Javier [Colon] isn’t having the career we want him to have. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to help him. We just took him on tour in South America. I’m passionate about seeing talented people succeed. What people also need to understand is that it’s a TV show. It would be really great if they could help launch the careers of the artists after the show is over, but you know what happens when the show is over? It’s time for the next season. All that being said, I do believe somebody is going to break through.
How is American Horror Story going?
We actually just finished it up. It’s done. It’s amazing. I’ve been having the greatest time. I’m slightly apprehensive, because I don’t know if I want to watch myself.
Did you watch the first season?
I didn’t. I told Ryan that, too. I said, “Look man, I’ve never seen it.” I tried to watch it. It scared the shit out of me. I don’t like that kind of stuff. It bugs me out.
Then why did you do it?!
I thought to myself, if I did it, I wouldn’t think it was frightening anymore.
Did you shoot any nude scenes?
No nude scenes. There’s a very naked picture of me [on the cover of Vogue Russia] that I had no idea would circulate all over the place the way that it has. I don’t know if I need to be taking my clothes off any time soon.
So you must feel bad for Prince Harry.
I’m just happy I wasn’t that kind of naked. It wasn’t like I was literally caught with my pants down.
You also appear in an upcoming movie, Can a Song Save Your Life, directed by John Carney. How did you learn how to act? Did you take classes?
Now that I’ve done it, I can say I’ve never acted a day in my life. I walked on set of a movie. I don’t know how it happened, but I just did it. I said OK, if I’m really a good actor, I’ll be able to pretend I’m a good actor, and it worked. I hope I don’t suck. I haven’t seen any footage. I thought it would probably be a better idea to pretend it wasn’t happening.
During the Republican National Convention, you tweeted that Paul Ryan reminded you of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.
I did not tweet that! I had everybody guess [which Christian Bale character he reminded him of] and they all guessed correctly. It was a joke. The dude talks about his body fat and shit. You’re like, “Are you kidding me, buddy?” He’s basically said things in several interviews that if you compiled them, literally sound like a monologue from that movie.
What’s the secret to Adam Levine scruff?
It’s called laziness.
Really? That’s all? You don’t trim?
Well, I mean I trim it down every once in a while. Never shave in the morning. That’s always bad. That’s the one piece of advice for all you shavers out there.
But most people shave in the morning.
I shave at night, because then it starts growing in by the morning.