Thursday, May 3, 2012

Maroon 5: Luckiest Band in the World?

Once again, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit, I've never watched a single episode of The Voice. Not even now that they air concurrently in Thailand with the ones in the United States. I've simply had my fill of televised star searches. If you've seen 10 seasons of American Idol, you've seen them all. I'm good.

But I really shouldn't have to watch any of these shows in order to know the rising stars they produce. Even if you've never given five minutes to Idol, you're probably familiar with Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. But can anyone who doesn't watch The Voice religiously name a single contestant who has appeared on the show? Though Idol -- which I've also completely ignored this season, aside from Colton Dixon's performance of Billy Joel's "Piano Man," which I saw on YouTube -- hasn't produced a major star in years, it did enjoy a very good run.

The Voice might be stealing some of Idol's thunder in the ratings, but two seasons in, it's still best known for its judges: Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine. Next confession: I'm intrigued by the participation this season of Tony Lucca, Keri Russell's ex and her former costar on The Mickey Mouse Club, along with future 'N Sync star JC Chasez, who might very well also end up on a future season of The Voice to relaunch his own stalled solo career. (Fellow 'N Syncer-to-be Justin Timberlake, Aguilera, Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling joined the MMC a couple of seasons later.) Apparently, though, my interest hasn't been piqued enough for me to actually start watching the show.

And then there is Levine's band, Maroon 5. If Aguilera were smart, she'd be paying close attention to the boys who helped her return to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 for the first time in 10 years with "Moves Like Jagger" for a lesson in how to resurrect a stalled career.

Before Levine landed his judging/mentor gig on The Voice, which to some may have seemed like a pop demotion at the time, Maroon 5 was inching dangerously close to the "Out" column. The band's 2010 album, Hands All Over, was an underperformer that hadn't produced a Top 10 single, and in one interview I read, guitarist James Valentine had already moved on mentally to the next Maroon 5 album.

Then along came "Jagger." Levine tried to move like him while performing the song with featured guest vocalist Christina Aguilera on the show last June. The result was an instant love-it-or-hate-it hit (I loved it, then I hated it, now I'm indifferent to it), which ended up becoming Maroon 5's biggest single to date, while pushing Hands All Over past platinum as a belated album track. Memo to Aguilera: It's way too late to resurrect Bionic, but make sure you release your next album while The Voice is in session, and don't forget to unveil the first single onstage on the show (guest vocalist optional, though a duet with Levine or Cee Lo Green would probably be the biggest song of the year).

For Maroon 5, "Jagger" wouldn't be an isolated fluke (unlike Idol judge Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor," which soared following the debut of the video on her show last year, paving the way for... well, nothing -- so far). After the band performed its latest single "Payphone" with Wiz Khalifa on the April 16 quarterfinals show (and wisely released it the same day), it immediately entered Billboard's Hot 100 at No. 3, giving the group its second consecutive Top 10 hit for the first time since "She Will Be Loved" followed "This Love" into the Top 5 in 2004. That's a feat that would have seemed highly unlikely, if not downright impossible, one year ago.

But what about the song? As Maroon 5 tracks go, "Payphone" is decent but nothing spectacular, hardly more deserving of hit status than "Misery," the premiere Hands All Over single that only made it to No. 14. Despite the presence of hot of-this-moment rapper Khalifa, it's hard to imagine that the first single from Maroon 5's upcoming fourth studio album, Overexposed (due June 26), would have gone so far so quickly without The Voice.

I'm not sure whether to thank the show or damn it -- after all these years, I'm still on the fence about Maroon 5 -- but if The Voice can help restore the luster to Aguilera's pop career via some gold and platinum, I might even start to watch it religiously.

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