Anyone who has watched Blake Shelton on NBC’s hit singing competition show, The Voice, knows he’s a competitor who takes great pride in his protégés’ wins. But long after they’ve taken home their trophies, Shelton continues his mentorship. Not only does he stay in touch with his three winners (Jermaine Paul, Casadee Pope and Danielle Bradberry, from Seasons 2-4, respectively), but he continues to guide those who didn’t make it to the winners circle.
“He legitimately cares about the contestants—not just how they can be a winner on the show, but how they can continue with a career after the show is over for them,” says Sarah Rodman, TV and pop music critic for the Boston Globe. “He follows up with them, and shepherds people like RaeLynn [a Season 2 contestant] he believes in.”
Shelton has sung on Dia Frampton’s album and taken her, as well as other Team Blake members including Gwen Sebastian, on tour. When critics have been harsh with eliminated contestants, Shelton has rushed to their defense on Twitter. “I can’t stand a person that makes a point to write hurtful things about kids just trying their best,” Shelton tweeted in response to an article by Houston Chronicle music critic Joey Guerra.
One group benefiting from his mentorship is The Swon Brothers. Zach and Colton placed third in Season 4, but landed a record deal with Arista Nashville that was partly due to Shelton’s help. Their talent shined, and the brothers were nominated for the 2014 Country Music Awards Vocal Duo of the Year airing Nov. 5.
“The cameras stopped rolling but he was still there,” Colton Swon says. “A lot of people he worked with on the show still talk to him, and we probably talk to him more now than when we were on the show.”
Shelton advised the duo to stay true to their artistic vision, and to pick songs they want to sing the rest of their lives.
“On one hand, he’s always there when we have a question. On the other side, he’s always texting us stupid pictures and messages,” Colton says, laughing. “He’s like a big brother. He’s cool, but having Blake Shelton as your friend means you’ll see things you wish you’d never seen.”
Although he loves a good joke, or a stupid one, Shelton is all-business when it comes to guiding his folks on the correct path.
“He’s never tough, but he’s very to the point,” Zach Swon says. “You never wonder what he was thinking because he’s very open about his opinions—which you know if you’ve ever read his Twitter.”
Colton remembers the day country legend George Jones passed away and Shelton was extremely somber. When he heard the pop-like song the duo had chosen to perform that night, he took them to task. “He said country music meant a lot to him and asked why, if we wanted to be country artists, why were we not picking country songs,” Zach says. “So at the last minute we switched to George’s ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,’ and Blake was so proud of us.”
Shelton emphasized to them that they needed to think beyond The Voice, rather than focusing solely on winning the competition.
“He told us the biggest thing was what we did after The Voice. Win or lose, we had a great platform with millions following us on Twitter and Facebook and we needed to hit the ground running. He told us people have short attention spans, so [we should] stay active,” Zach Swon says. “We did laundry for two days after the show, and then Blake got us a meeting with a booking agent and we went right to work.”
The Oklahoma boys were not newcomers to the music game. They performed for more than 16 years together, released a couple of independent albums, and Colton had competed on American Idol. Working with Shelton made a huge difference in their career and how they approached the business aspect of it.
“For both of us, we didn’t realize how much work we weren’t doing,” Colton Swon says. “We thought we were working hard, but he brought us to another level of work ethic.”
For the current season, singer Kensington Moore, who turns 17 in late October, chose Shelton, 38, as her mentor for a very specific reason.
“I sing pop, but he helped Sisaundra [Lewis, from Season 6] so much. He has so many connections both in the country side and other sides, so I know he can help me,” she says. “The one thing about Blake is that I’m almost star-struck by Pharrell, Adam and Gwen, and I feel nervous around them. But Blake feels like he could be my dad.”