Adam Levine Will Be Loved

8.14.2011

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

The breakout star of NBC’s 'The Voice' wasn't a contestant -- it was its judge and Maroon 5's front man. Here, the singer opens up about his natural exhibitionism, why his show trumps 'Idol', and how parents should react when a kid is queer.

The singer signed on early to the It Gets Better Project. “High school fucking sucked,” he says in the clip, “but if you can get through it, there’s a whole world that exists beyond people treating you badly.” His participation was motivated as much by his own experiences with gossip. “Perez [Hilton] asked me to do it,” he says. “I found it strange that one of the biggest bullies on Earth is asking me. I was really not a fan of his. I thought he was part of the problem. In doing this, I was hoping for a change in him, and I saw one. The guy has changed his tune quite a bit. I respect that.”

It’s typical of Levine to find the silver lining in any situation. “I’m realistic about the world, but I do have a very sunny perspective on things,” he says. “When the ‘F word’ and the ‘N word’ are equally taboo, when you can’t just walk around saying that word -- which you can, to be brutally honest -- that’ll be when it’s really real. Homophobia and racism are very different and have a very different history behind them. But for some reason, we’re a little bit behind with homosexuality. The fact that gay marriage isn’t legal everywhere at this point is a joke. But there are things now that you never thought would have existed, so I think that we’re kind of in good shape.”

The Voice is one of a new wave of music competition shows, all of which have set their sights on the aging elephant in the room. (The X-Factor, with Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, was considered the real threat before The Voice debuted.) “I can’t fuck with American Idol,” Levine says. “It’s a cultural institution. On The Voice, we just care about a different list of things. It’s for a different type of person, I guess.”

On the show, there were four openly gay contenders, two of whom -- Beverly McClellan and Vicci Martinez -- made it all the way to the finale and were championed by Levine, even though they were not on his team. And while the televised auditions may have been blind, with coaches’ backs to the singers -- “It’s impossible to tell who anybody is… I even thought [a male vocalist] was a girl” -- the original casting and accompanying back-story segments with host Carson Daly were matter-of-factly inclusive.

Levine is less diplomatic about this particular difference. “What’s always pissed me off about Idol is wanting to mask that, for that to go unspoken. C’mon. You can’t be publicly gay? At this point? On a singing competition? Give me a break. You can’t hide basic components of these people’s lives. The fact that The Voice didn’t have any qualms about being completely open about it is a great thing.”

He acknowledges that the music industry may still have a double standard for gay artists but says The Voice can help correct that. “It’s a great show because it doesn’t alienate anybody. If you’re a talented person, and you want a career, and you’re trying to join an extremely intimidating and also completely dismantled industry -- skip all that other bullshit, and go for what can be immediately effective.”

Until The Voice starts taping again this fall, with a second season debut set for February, Levine is back on the road with Maroon 5, including make-up dates in Europe and a sold-out night at the Hollywood Bowl. “Being from L.A., growing up here and going to the Bowl -- that was the biggest dream,” he says. “Having a strange second wind in our career has been pretty inspiring.” And challenging. “Doing the show has made me realize my own shortcomings. It’s made me want to improve upon them. Your personality is under the microscope. I’ve always had a slight chip on my shoulder about the fact that people might perceive me a certain way without really knowing my character. That maybe I was just kind of a bimbo. I wanted to show them, Hey, look, I can play. I’ve got a brain, and I’m not a total idiot. I wanted to set the record straight, I guess.”

When not on the road, he’s relatively settled down, even if it hasn’t sunk in. “I still feel like a child -- look what I’m wearing.” He’s in pajama shorts and a white tank top. His golden retriever, Frankie, wanders in and out of the interview. “I feel like I wake up in the morning and I have this house, and I have this life, and I still feel like Tom Hanks when he woke up in Big.” He and his girlfriend have been together almost two years, even though “musicians have relationships that are like dog years,” he jokes, and a few months off the road leave him restless. “I twiddle my thumbs quite a bit,” he says.

“I used to have a very set idea of what I wanted to accomplish -- I want to be like the Police, or I want to be like that guy. But when I turned 30, I thought to myself, My career’s going to be its own thing, something that other people will aspire to, hopefully. I don’t want to have anybody else’s trajectory. It took a long time to figure it out, because anything less than being this person, as far as the way I’m perceived in the world, would have been unsatisfactory. Now I've kind of come into my own."

To view our Adam Levine slide show, click here.

Tags: Music
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