Carson Daly on Embracing 'The Voice'

Host reveals why he signed on for the show despite hating singing contests

carson daly
Art Streiber/NBC
'The Voice' host, Carson Daly.
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The latest issue of Rolling Stone goes behind the scenes of NBC's hit singing competition The Voice, which returned last night for its second season after the Super Bowl. We caught up with the show's host, MTV and NBC late night veteran Carson Daly, to chat about how he became a part of the show despite not being a fan of other singing contests.

I was told that you had some trepidation about signing on to a music show after your time at TRL.
I never watched Idol. The early days of Idol for me, coming from MTV and TRL and having been a music director at KROQ in Los Angeles, I was at the center of breaking music in popular culture. At that time, it was radio and MTV. When reality television really hit, I just had a backlash towards reality. It seemed like a cheap way to make a product. And then when music reality and Idol hit, I just didn’t watch it, it seemed novelty. And of course the story of Idol, this is one of the greatest stories in television history.

I was inside NBC pitching them, and I’m like, “Oh hey, I could be the new Barbara Walters.” I could hustle this fucking network for years, I’m not even shy to tell you. I was in a meeting with them and they were like, “We think we have a show for you,” and they gave me the Dutch version of The Voice. I’m good now – if you had put that in front of me five years ago, I would have taken it out of desperation. Now I’ve got a good radio career going again, my family is first and foremost, I’m older, I’m wiser, I don’t need to reach for lower hanging fruit anymore, I’m not scared to say no. But I watched the tape [of the Dutch show] and I really did like it. I saw that this mixed martial arts fighter, this tatted-up guy who sang Kings of Leon, and it blew me away. I thought the chairs were a little gimmicky at first and then I was like, it’s a great hook for popular culture, because people just get on board with that. The show has depth and it is a really important device to separate us from Idol and X Factor.

Have you been approached about doing other shows like this?
At this point, I don’t even remember. I’m on at 1 in the morning on NBC, I love that gig – I get to put bands on. No one even knows I’m there. Literally. I think they write me a check and didn’t realize I was there, until The Voice. I love Last Call. It took me a little bit to figure out that I wasn’t going to be that guy in a suit telling monologue jokes.

I stumbled into this format for Last Call that I really like, inspired by cable and Dave Attell’s Insomniac. I love being out on the street. I was like, fuck it, I’m going to do the late night show that I genuinely want to watch and it’s just me interviewing random people, in any sort of scenario. It’s like This American Life, story telling, a sense of discovery and new music. The plate tectonics of media have shifted where NBC had to become a new media company from an old media company. And there were guys like me in the building who had to operate like new media. I had to work in the new model because I’m forced to work in it.

[The success of The Voice] is still so new for me. I’ve been here for almost ten years, I’ve never gotten more Christmas cards from NBC people. It’s swanky. It’s crazy.

One of the things that is different about your role on the voice is that Seacrest on Idol kind of would get into fights with the judges and you are more in your own space.
The good thing is that I’m not influenced by Ryan. I’ve never really watched Idol. I know it seems like the cool thing to say but I really haven’t. I’m not working off the frame of reference of Ryan. I mean, I’ve read about catfights, but this show’s model is different.

When the live episodes of The Voice hit, you really seemed like you were in your zone.
I don’t really know how to do them. I don’t care if I go to my grave with people never understanding my talent, but it can be difficult to work in a very big arena like a live show on NBC. I mean, it’s pretty stressful. The network is going all in on this move, and I know what it’s like to be the traffic cop of that. There are a lot of moving parts, but if I can make it look easy and effortless and talentless to some degree, if you will, then I have done my job, and if nobody really understands that, it’s fine. Because I know if I ever put an IFB on someone criticizing me and put them in the center of that circuit, they’d probably shit their pants.