NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jean Holmgren doesn't like country music and had never heard of Blake Shelton.
Then came "The Voice."
A few months later, she's the proud owner of Shelton's new album, one of more than 116,000 fans who made "Red River Blue" the tall Oklahoman's first No. 1 on the Billboard album charts this month.
"Once Blake was on my radar from 'The Voice,' I heard his new single and I was really impressed," said Holmgren, a 27-year-old online marketing specialist from Kingston, Pa. "I was never a country fan but he has such a good voice. The song 'Honey Bee' is really cute and I guess it's kind of a crossover song, if you want to call it that. From there I watched some videos on his YouTube channel and followed him on Twitter. I love his sense of humor!"
While NBC's "The Voice," Fox's "American Idol" and other talent shows are designed to make stars out of unknown talent, they've also had the effect of boosting the fortunes of some of the contest's singing celebrity judges. This year Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez became judges on "Idol," marking the first time the panel had singers still with viable careers (Paula Abdul's singing career had died years before the show). "The Voice" relied solely on current hitmakers in its first season and found a winning combination with Shelton, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine of Maroon 5.
Shelton hit the publicity trifecta when "The Voice" became a sensation, taking an already solid country career that was on the rise to a nation looking for someone interesting.
He already had a career-defining year in the world of country music where "Red River Blue" was highly anticipated and had already spawned his fastest-rising single, "Honey Bee." He'd won a recent cache of awards, including the 2010 Country Music Association's male vocalist of the year and co-hosted The Academy of Country Music Awards. And marrying Miranda Lambert didn't hurt his star power either.
The missing ingredient? The chance to put it all together in front of a large audience on a weekly hit show. "The Voice" held steady at about 12 million viewers during its run and was the first new show at the four largest networks this year to grow its viewership from week one to week two.
Shelton has watched his fan base grow week by week at the same time, on Twitter and even on the streets.
"It actually blows me away," Shelton said. "It's definitely obvious. Just walking down the streets of New York City with Miranda, people are stopping me and wanting to say hi and take a picture or something, and it's always about that show. I've been going to New York City and Los Angeles for 10 years and you can count on one hand how many times someone has recognized me in New York City."
Shelton is not the only "Voice" judge to take advantage of the show's success. Levine and Aguilera released a single together, "Moves Like Jagger," that peaked at No. 8 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart during the show's run.
Green, already hot after the widespread success of his song "(Expletive) You," has a chance to diversify his career in ways co-manager Michael "Blue" Williams always envisioned but never was never able to exploit until Green had a chance to show his personality for an extended time on the national stage.
"The label (Elektra) honestly told us we shouldn't do 'The Voice,'" Williams said. "They were like, 'You're cool and we'll always think of Cee Lo as being cool, but then if the show comes off cheesy you could lose some of that cool factor.' We feel like the show actually made Cee Lo cooler with more people."
People like Steven Spielberg, who Williams says called recently to see if Green might be available for one of his movies. That opportunity didn't work out, but Green has others. Williams thinks one day Green, previously known best as half of Gnarls Barkley and a rapper in Goodie Mob, could even have his own sitcom.
"'The Voice' has created an opportunity now for us to do all the things that you've always wanted to do," Williams said. "It's created an avenue. I kind of look at Cee Lo as a male version of Queen Latifah. He's sort of a bunch of artists rolled up in one. Sometimes I like to call him Sammy Davis Jr. He's an entertainer."
Other musicians have used stints as celebrity judges to boost their careers as well. Jewel, for instance, reimagined herself as a country artist and scored a No. 1 country album in 2008 with the help of "Nashville Star." She also recently worked with former "American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi on Bravo's "Platinum Hit."
It doesn't always guarantee success, though. While "Idol" breathed new life into Lopez's waning stardom, making her an in-demand personality once again and landing her on the cover of People's "Most Beautiful" issue, it didn't seem to do much for her musical career.
She started the year with a No. 1 single, "On the Floor" featuring Pitbull, but her follow-up, "I'm Into You" featuring Lil Wayne, released in the midst of the buzz around "Idol" this spring, hasn't done as well.
Her stint didn't seem to boost sales of her new album, either. "Love?" sold 83,000 copies in its first week and has yet to crack the 225,000 mark, Nielsen SoundScan figures show, after 11 weeks. It's unclear how the appearance will help Tyler. Aerosmith sales initially spiked when he started his "Idol" stint, but a single released in May, "(It) Feels So Good," didn't really capture the public's imagination.
"It's really situational," said Scott Lindy, program director of Atlanta's WSTR-Star 94, using Tyler's song as an example
"My prediction was, 'Here it is, here's your summer song of pop radio for this year. The song's doing OK, but I thought it would be bigger because he's carrying a little bit more gravity, I guess, in terms of image with being on that show," he said. "But it really didn't do that well. One thing that great exposure on television cannot do is it cannot save you from having a bad song. I'm not saying that's a bad song, but it can't take a mediocre song and get it into the top 10 just because you're in the media."
Shelton saw a fairly dramatic bump from the sales of his last two albums — the six-song "six paks" ''Hillbilly Bone" and "All About Tonight." ''Bone" opened with 71,000 in sales and has sold 286,000 so far. "Tonight" sold 33,000 first week and 224,000 overall. He's already well on his way to surpassing those numbers — with the help of some new friends.
"There's no better feeling that feeling like you won somebody over," Shelton said. "And it's the same feeling I had the very first time I got on stage and held a microphone when I was 7 or 8 years old. It's that same rush of I'm starting from zero, you know, and I want to make these people like me and like my music and what I stand for and who I am as a person. So when you have that opportunity like I do with 'The Voice,' there's that whole new group of people again."
NBC is controlled by Comcast Corp.; Fox is owned by News Corp.
Chris Talbott is an entertainment writer for The Associated Press. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Chris_Talbott
- Blake Shelton
- Honey Bee
- if you want