Carson Daly knows how clichéd it is to utter the phrase “it’s an honor just to be nominated,” but with The Voice scoring its first ever nod this week in the Outstanding Reality-Competition Program category, he just can’t help himself. “I’ve never been in a position to actually say that line and say it where it means something,” muses the show’s host, “but it really is an honor.”
TVLine caught up with Daly to talk about The Voice‘s Emmy chances, some intriguing tweaks to the show’s formula for its upcoming third season, and any simmering tensions between judges Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine.
PICKING THEIR BATTLES | “We’re tweaking the Battle Rounds a little bit for Season 3,” says Daly. “The best way to categorize the changes is that we’re playing with some potential interchangeability.” When I tell Daly that I’ve always wished that mentors would be allowed to steal at least one Battle Round evictee from a competing judge, and ask him if that’s what he means by “interchangeability,” he chuckles. “I will unofficially not comment on that, but I think that you in particular will enjoy this season of The Voice.” [UPDATE: It has since been announced that mentors in Season 3 will be able to “steal” two dismissed singers each.]
A LESS CROWDED STAGE | “We had too many people in the live rounds, and it was hard to keep track of them, and it was hard to fall in love because there were so many,” says Daly, reflecting back on The Voice‘s first two seasons. As a result, don’t expect to see 24 vocalists — six per mentor — for Season 3’s live shows. “One of the things Mark Burnett excels at, his production company excels at, is telling stories. And [in the case of The Voice], these stories are so cinematic and they tug at the heartstrings,” says Daly. “When we get to the live shows, we want America to be a little more invested in fewer singers.” He also says to expect an increased number of performances from individual contestants by the time they get to the finale. [UPDATE: Mentors will now exit the Battle Rounds with 10 singers each, then enter a new two-week Knockout Round to narrow their roster down to five apiece.]
MORE BLIND AUDITIONS (NOW WITH MORE BABIES!) | With The Voice now airing Mondays and Tuesdays — three hours per week — that means more blind auditions for Season 3. “We just shot it,” says Daly. “It’s five days where I’m out of my mind.”
The host adds that he’d recently been pondering the grueling travel schedule his friend Nick Cannon has during America’s Got Talent‘s audition rounds, which initially had him thinking, “God, I have it easy. I never leave L.A.” But then, says Daly, he reconsidered. “Eff that! I’m on an emotional rollercoaster. I watch these auditions standing right next to the families and loved ones of these contestants, while they put everything on the line in 90 seconds. And it’s hit or miss. You just need one mentor to press one button, and when they do, it’s a moment of elation. But if there isn’t a button-push, it’s the most awkward room and the most awkward place you can possibly imagine on television.” Daly adds that after he was essentially mauled by the overjoyed mom of Season 2 singer Adley Stump following her successful blind audition, he’s seen an uptick in physical contact with contestants’ families this year. “I’m holding babies, I’m hugging moms, and I’m catching dads,” he says with a laugh.
99 PROBLEMS BUT A CONTINUING XTINA/ADAM FEUD AIN’T ONE | Daly is the first to admit Season 2 ended with palpable tension between Aguilera and Levine — whose finale-night tiff over contestant Tony Lucca’s Jay-Z cover created oodles of tabloid chatter. “You could see it. You could feel it. I’m not gonna lie to you, and you’d read into my bulls–t if I told you that there wasn’t any,” he says. Nevertheless, after a rumored truce at the Season 2 wrap party, the duo’s on-set relationship during the recently filmed blind auditions was very cordial, Daly reports. “I didn’t know what to expect in frame one of Season 3. I was curious to know if the first time they had an exchange, would you be able to feel any resentment, but it just wasn’t there. It’s better. It’s like they went to couples therapy,” he says.
Daly continues that while no one can be sure whether or not Aguilera and Levine will “go back at it in the live shows,” he’s of the mindset that serious discord isn’t good for the show — no matter how much press it generates. “There’s fun bickering, like when your husband misses the turn in the car, and you say ‘Why don’t you stop and get directions?!’ That’s fine,” Daly offers. “But when there’s trouble in your marriage, that’s not the business of chemistry we want to be in.” To that end, “you’ll never see on The Voice a promo with a flashing ambulance because somebody fell backstage,” Daly insists. “We don’t produce our show that way. We’re not trying to capitalize on any headlines of that nature, and we haven’t really needed to thus far.”
CHARTING THE COURSE TO SUCCESS | Asked about whether or not he’s concerned that The Voice has yet to produce a major radio success on the level of category rival American Idol, Daly is philosophical. “We’d like to have that Kelly Clarkson sort of moment, and it’s important to the longevity and stability of the brand of The Voice. At some point I think you have to have somebody pierce popular culture,” he says. “But on the other hand, it’s not something we can control, and we don’t think the show’s success is predicated on that. We’re also only two seasons in. There’s a timeline, but it’s not anytime soon.”
IN GOOD COMPANY | Daly says he’s “humbled” to see The Voice nominated alongside The Amazing Race, Dancing With the Stars, Top Chef, So You Think You Can Dance and Project Runway. “The conversation about snubs is going to be a growing conversation, because there’s so much quality television and not enough room,” he adds, citing the lack of nods for Sons of Anarchy, Community, and Parks and Recreation‘s Nick Offerman as this year’s most egregious snubs. And while The Amazing Race — “a great example of quality TV,” Daly says — has taken home the Reality-Competition statuette eight of the nine years it’s been in existence, he adds that The Voice has its own merits: “It’s a monster of a show. You’re talking 12 performances a week that are Grammy-esque in scope. It’s amazing what our crew does, and Paul Mirkovich our band leader, and our band. They have to learn 90-second versions of hundreds of songs per season. We may not be a global travel show, but what we do for our format is an amazing feat, and I’m happy for all the names that’ll never be mentioned that we’re nominated. Because there’s a long list of people that make The Voice an exciting show to be a part of.”
IDOL THOUGHTS | Asked about the fact that The Voice scored its first Emmy nod the same year American Idol was left off the ballot for the first time in 10 years, Daly takes a diplomatic approach. “That’s a storyline that was brought to my attention many hours after we’d been nominated,” he says. “Idol is, come on, arguably the greatest, strongest show in the history of television. For The Voice to be mentioned in the same breath is really an honor.”
HOST WITH THE MOST? | Daly, who didn’t make the Emmy cut in the Reality-Competition hosting category, says a personal nomination has never been on his radar. “My real passion is part of the ensemble — to work with Mark Burnett and have a chair at the producers’ meeting. I’m privy to all knowledge on this show on a lot of confidential levels on behalf of both the network and Mark Burnett Productions. The whole process to me is worth its weight in gold,” he explains. “But I don’t DVR my late-night show. I can barely watch The Voice, except our singers are so good. So I don’t even think about being a host and getting an award for it.” Nor is he expecting The Voice to take home the statuette in its category. “The nomination is another reason for [The Voice production team] to hang out and go to the show and just have a blast,” Daly says. “There’ll be no discussion of winning.”
Excited about The Voice’s upcoming third season and the tweaks to its format? Are you rooting for the show to take home the Emmy? Sound off below!