‘The Voice’ Winners Win A Record Deal, But Why Do So Many Of Them Refuse The Prize?
The Voice has been on the air since 2011, and 19 winners have been crowned so far. These winners get two big prizes — $100,000 and a contract with Universal Music Group.
However, more than half of the show’s winners have cut ties with Universal at some point in their post-Voice careers. Several artists have spoke out about their frustrating experiences after winning, and coach Blake Shelton has even chimed in with his own thoughts.
It’s common knowledge at this point that winning The Voice doesn’t guarantee success. Is the record deal with Universal Music to blame for this? Is it time for the show to overhaul its post-show process for artists?
Most ‘The Voice’ Winners Cut Ties With Universal
In an interview with Season 18 winner Todd Tilghman on Entertainment Tonight earlier this year, Blake Shelton got candid about how Universal Music Group has failed to promote the show’s winners over the years.
“One of the most frustrating things for me, as a coach on this show year after year, is they win this record deal with Universal,” he said, “and so many times the ball’s been dropped. And there hasn’t been a lot of follow-through with the record deal.”
“I don’t care, I’ve been vocal about that from the beginning,” Blake continued, “‘Cause it’s a hard pill to swallow when somebody works as hard as Todd has, and they get this chance, and there’s just no follow-through with the record deal.”
Blake said that’s something on the show that needs to be “improved on,” and Universal needs to “lead the charge.” He said he would do what he could do as a coach to make things work, adding that he wishes he had his own label to sign Todd to.
What Happened To Javier Colon?
Unless you’re a die-hard fan of The Voice, you may not remember that the very first winner of the show was an artist named Javier Colon, on Team Adam Levine. Javier released an album with Universal’s label Republic Records, called Come Through for You, in 2011.
However, Javier was disappointed with Republic’s failure to promote the release, and parted ways with the label in 2012. And so began the long tradition of Voice winners cutting ties with Universal.
Javier said in a statement that his relationship with Universal became a “bad marriage,” despite his “high hopes.” He shared, “But when you pour your heart and soul into a new album that you think is really great, and your label who is supposed to support, market and promote your music does neither, it’s really hard not to be upset. The truth is, we are all better off going our separate ways.”
Javier went on to tour with his coach’s band Maroon 5, and he signed with the label Concord Music Group in 2014, releasing his next album Gravity in 2016.
Cassadee Pope Wanted More Creative Freedom
Cassadee Pope won The Voice Season 3 on Team Blake in 2012, and signed with Universal’s country label Republic Nashville, which later became BMLG Records. Her debut album Frame by Frame reached the top of the Country Album chart.
Cassadee later released the EP Summer in 2016, before cutting ties with Big Machine in 2017. The singer explained to PopCulture.com that she felt “creatively stunted,” adding, “When I felt like I couldn’t write a song without worrying about where it was going to go or if it was going to see the light of day, that’s when I knew there was a problem.”
She shared that there’s no “bad blood” with the label. However, when she released her 2019 single “I’ve Been Good,” she revealed that she’d first heard it three years before but didn’t have the creative freedom with such a big label to record what she wanted.
Tessanne Chin Got Put Into A ‘Bubble’
Tessanne won Season 5 of The Voice in 2013, on Team Adam. The next year, she released the album Count on My Love under Republic Records. She later told Pop Dust that she couldn’t take her time with the project.
She added that the show put her into “a bubble,” and she became known as “the girl who won a competition show.” She added, “When you come off a reality show and vocal competition where you sing other people’s songs and then you have to figure out what kind of artist you are in the space of three months and the type of album you want to make is tough.”
In 2015, Tessanne put out a single called “Fire,” released under the newly formed Justice League Music Group.
Adam Levine Called Out Universal
Blake Shelton isn’t the only coach to call out the record labels associated with The Voice. In 2015, he told Howard Stern that it was Universal Music’s fault that the show wasn’t producing big stars.
“In that time, we do so much great s— for these singers,” Adam said, “and then they go to a record label that I won’t mention. But they go to a record label that f—s it up … Record labels are — our business is the worst right now. No one knows what they’re doing.”
He added that those in charge of the labels “don’t care” about the artists once the show is over, saying, “And then it makes me feel defeated on my end because there’s really not much I can do.”
Josh Kaufman Went To Broadway
In 2014, Josh Kaufman won The Voice Season 6 on Team Usher. Rather than working on an album, Josh went on to join the Broadway revival of Pippin in the starring role. In 2016, he put out an independent self-titled EP.
“I feel like record labels feel, justly, that they don’t have as much room for error anymore,” Josh explained of his decision to go indie. “As I got into the process [after The Voice], it felt like at this point, I’m going to be able to accomplish more working on my own and working with people who are behind what I’m doing and who I know well rather than being somebody who’s [the] fourth, fifth or sixth priority.”
Craig Wayne Boyd Only Lasted A Few Months
The Season 7 winner’s single with Republic’s Dot Records, “My Baby’s Got A Smile on Her Face,” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart, but he ended up splitting with the label just months later.
Craig said he had the help of a lawyer, and shared that when he showed up to the label to talk about it, “They said: ‘You’re who and you’re what?’” After cutting ties, he released his next single, “I’m Still Here,” on iTunes under his own Long Haul Records.
The singer, who won on Team Blake, signed with Copperline Music Group in 2017 and released his album Top Shelf. Blake later shared that he understood Craig’s decision to part with Republic, saying, “They’re not being handled the way they should be handled and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, you know?”
Sawyer Fredericks Went Indie
Sawyer was 16 years old when he won Season 8 of The Voice on Team Pharrell. He put out an album called A Good Storm in 2016, under Republic Records. However, the next year, he chose to part ways with the label.
“It was kind of a mutual decision,” Sawyer told HuffPost about the decision. He explained that he wanted to write his own lyrics, but his record label wanted him to co-write the album. In 2018, he released his next album Hide Your Ghost.
“I wanted the freedom as full producer,” Sawyer explained. “Basically, whatever I say happens with the album, and I have the final word for everything… really conveying what I mean in my original work.”
Alisan Porter Went ‘Back To The Drawing Board’
Alisan, who starred in the 1991 movie Curly Sue, won Season 10 on Team Christina Aguilera. A year after her win, she tweeted, “Not everything worked out perfectly with my ‘record deal’ so I went back to the drawing board.” (Are those sarcastic quotation marks?)
Later that year, she released an EP called I Come in Pieces, telling People that Republic Records wasn’t the “right fit” for her. “I would much rather be true to myself than to do something that didn’t feel right for me,” she said. “But I’m grateful for the experience of that because it led me to what I know that I want to put out there. It was all positive!”
Even Blake’s Support Didn’t Help Sundance Head
Sundance Head won Season 11 on Team Blake in 2016. Right away, his coach made it clear that he wanted Universal to get behind Sundance. “I want to personally issue a challenge to Universal Records,” he said. “This guy deserves to be a star, and there’s no excuses anymore.”
However, Sundance didn’t put out his album Stained Glass and Neon until 2019, after being released from his contract with Republic Records. “For me, it’s taken two years to be able to get the correct support system behind me to be able to release this record nationally,” he told the Washington Post.
Sundance also called out The Voice for not promoting his music. “They bring you in, you get the ratings for them, they get a champion, people tune in to watch, and they sell millions in advertising,” he explained. “Then you win, and it’s like, ‘See ya later. We’ve got another season coming in.'”
Chris Blue Went His Own Way
Chris won Season 12 of The Voice on Team Alicia Keys in 2017. In 2019, he got the “blessing” from Alicia (who was managing him) and Republic Records to go in a new direction. He released the EP Fresh Start under Chris Blue Live LLC.
“She (Keys) had to focus a bit more on her career, and so … I had to also give her the space and time to do that,” Chris said, “and she also gave me the space and the time to figure out what it is I wanted to say and the music that I wanted to create.”
Brynn Cartelli Nipped It In The Bud
Brynn became the youngest person to win The Voice when she took home the title on Team Kelly Clarkson in Season 14, at age 15. After the show, Brynn signed with Kelly’s ex-husband Brandon Blackstock as her management.
In December 2018, just months after her win, Brynn announced that she had signed to Atlantic Records, cutting ties with Republic. “Thank you for making me feel safe and at home with your team,” she wrote on Instagram. “To say I am grateful would be an understatement.”
Is it possible that Brynn, having witnessed how Universal’s labels handled the winners before her, decided to get out ASAP? Really, who could blame her if she did?
Will This Continue In Future Seasons?
In 2017, a rep from Big Machine told HuffPost that it can be hard to market artists from The Voice because they’re associated with NBC, and other networks may not want to feature them. They added that contestants need NBC behind them.
Executive producer Audrey Morrissey said they “try our best” to keep tabs on the artists after they leave. Sawyer Fredericks told HuffPost this was the case for him, but Sundance Head seems to have had a different experience.
With The Voice entering Season 20 next year, whose responsibility is it to support the winners once the show ends? The record label? The network? The coaches? Can anything be done to change things, or should we just accept that singing competitions aren’t the star-making vehicles they used to be?