He fronts one of the hottest bands in the world, coaches would-be singing stars on The Voice, woos supermodels and dabbles in acting. Meet Adam Levine, a very famous man.
When Adam Levine calls on a Monday in December, I can’t help but picture him in a telephone booth. After all, his band, Maroon 5, scored a huge hit in 2012 with “Payphone,” an airy little ballad on which Levine, in his signature tenor, cries, “I’m on a payphone, trying to call home.” In reality, the 33-year-old is on a cellphone at the LA studio where NBC films its wildly popular singing competition The Voice. It’s day one of the show’s two-day finale, and in a few minutes, he’ll head into a taping with fellow coaches CeeLo Green, Blake Shelton and Christina Aguilera. A young rocker named Cassadee Pope will win it all tomorrow night, but for now Levine is psyched for the three remaining contestants. “It doesn’t matter who wins,” he says. “They all have potential.”
If he sounds like a life coach, well, that’s part of the job. In addition to offering musical tips to the show’s wannabes, Levine and the gang often dispense Oprah-isms on being your best self. Levine is particularly good at this. He’s effusive and genuine, funny and self-effacing. He’s also competitive, a risk-taker and supremely confident—traits that serve him well on a show where coaches pitch themselves to contestants, then try to steer them to glory (Team Adam won the first season, Team Blake the last two).
These same qualities have helped Levine reach “steroid levels of fame,” as he puts it. Though he was well known before The Voice as Maroon 5’s swaggering, frequently shirtless leader, he transformed into that rarified species of celebrity when the show took off: the household name. And now that he’s giving acting a shot—he was surprisingly not horrible as a guest on the FX series American Horror Story—Levine’s career arc is looking downright Timberlake-ian. We predict a U.S. Senate seat for the increasingly versatile entertainer by 2016.
Levine’s backstory follows that of many extroverts with supportive parents. Growing up in Los Angeles, he attended music and theater camps during the summer and the arts-friendly Brentwood School the rest of the year. As a freshman at Brentwood, the budding songwriter and guitarist formed the power-pop outfit Kara’s Flowers with classmates Jesse Carmichael (keyboard/guitar), Mickey Madden (bass) and Ryan Dusick (drums). Though its members could barely grow facial hair, the group became a fixture in the LA music scene, playing at Whisky a Go Go and other clubs. Kara’s Flowers eventually signed to Reprise Records and released its debut CD in 1997. It promptly flopped.
But the road to steroid-fame is never easy, and in 2000 Levine went back to the drawing board and retooled Kara’s Flowers into a funkier, more beat-driven outfit called Maroon 5. James Valentine joined as lead guitarist, which freed up Levine to work on his virile frontman persona. Whatever it was about this new alchemy, it worked, because two years later Maroon 5 dropped Songs About Jane, a superb bit of pop-rock fluff that found the band throwing everything from R & B piano riffs to aggressive guitar lines at the wall and sounding equally at home on alt-rock and Top 40 stations. Don’t be ashamed if you still know all the lyrics to “Sunday Morning,” “Harder to Breathe” and “This Love”—a lot of other people do, too (at last count, the album had sold nearly 5 million copies).
Songs About Jane proved Levine to be a natural, if slightly neurotic, leading man. His delivery on those hits is cocksure even when he’s singing about being crazy in and out of love. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s dapper as hell and currently owns the registered trademark to the quintessential brooding/yearning rock-star facial expression.
Three more hit albums followed: 2007’s It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, 2010’s Hands All Over and last year’s Overexposed. “We’re pretty adaptable,” says Levine of Maroon 5’s perennial stranglehold on the airwaves. “The easiest thing to do is get trapped in your ways as a band or artist. What’s been cool is our ability to adapt and evolve in the last decade.” Over the phone the next day, James Valentine elaborates on the group’s longevity: “The focus [of the band] will always be Adam’s voice and the way he delivers those songs.” In other words, Levine is a singular force onto which a variety of sounds can be grafted—the thumping house beat of “Moves Like Jagger,” the reggae groove of “One More Night,” the band’s latest earworm. “It’s confidence,” says Valentine of his coworker’s ability to adapt to new pop trends. “That’s the first requirement of being a lead singer. But he can transfer that genuine belief in himself to other people. That’s what I see on The Voice.”
For all his chest puffing, Levine really does seem to care about helping others navigate the business that’s been so good to him. “What we have to offer contestants is experience,” he says of the show’s pop star judges. “Speaking from the perspective of singers who’ve gone through the ringer, we happen to be authorities on these issues. That’s what makes the show genuine. We’re not A & R reps and we’re not moguls and we’re not executives—we’re people who sing and who’ve been through this crazy life.”
When asked what The Voice has given Levine beyond the mentorship platform (and the money and fame, of course), he explains that it’s improved his image. “People might have been led to the conclusion that I was a bit of a dum-dum before the show.” I disagree: A ladies’ man with an overactive id, maybe, but never a dum-dum. He laughs. “I just wanted to say dum-dum. But seriously, when you’re on stage you get to act like a caveman and pretend that everybody loves you—and you can put on that swagger, and that’s a whole thing that I do, but that’s not 100 percent me. The Voice has been great for letting people know who I am.”
Not that he’s quitting his day job. Maroon 5—which has lost and gained members over the years, most notably drummer Ryan Dusick in 2004, who was replaced by Matt Flynn—heads out on a North American tour this month, and at some point in 2013, the band will begin working on its fifth studio album (Levine is tightlipped, though he says the record will continue the trend of the band working with outside songwriters). As for his burgeoning TV and film career, Levine rejoins The Voice for season four next month and later this year he will make his big-screen debut in the music film Can a Song Save Your Life?
So how does the be-tatted performer stay sane while balancing gigs and navigating ubiquity? “Golf, yoga and laughter,” he says—and, if you believe the celeb rags, Victoria’s Secret supermodel Behati Prinsloo. With that, the household name politely excuses himself. The TV studio beckons. The future Adam Levines of America need his help. //