(NEW YORK) -- For fans who've been disappointed with this season of American Idol, The Voice couldn't return fast enough.
The fourth season of the hit NBC singing competition kicks off Monday night with veteran coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, and newbies Shakira and Usher. In addition, as usual, each coach will have a celebrity mentor to help coach their teams: Levine has Hillary Scott from Lady Antebellum; Shelton has Sheryl Crow; Shakira has Joel Madden from Good Charlotte and Usher has artist/producer Pharrell Williams.
While NBC has played up the rivalry between old hands Levine and Shelton and the newbies, with plenty of commercials featuring trash-talking, things haven't been quite so intense backstage.
"We've been trying to be good hosts and be as informative to them as we possibly can," Levine admits. "We don't want them to be at a disadvantage."
He adds, "I mean, we can always play that card on the show, on camera but I think that really at the end of the day, on a human level, we want them to be comfortable and happy."
Shakira agrees, saying, "Yeah, we compete, we try to beat each other, and we joke all the time, but they've been so warm and so nice and so, such great hosts making us feel at home."
But when everyone's on set, in those big red chairs, it's on. Shelton's a little worried because, as a two-time winner, he feels like he's got "a target on my back," and he knows Shakira and Usher are gunning for him.
"Adam and I have always just kind of lollygagged through this thing and just kind of not taken it too seriously...just had fun with it," Shelton explains. "[But] we got in those blind auditions, and Shakira and Usher -- it wasn't play time. They were very serious. They were determined to win this thing."
He adds, "I wouldn't be surprised if one of 'em does, because they're putting a lot of time and effort into it."
Usher confirms that because Levine and Shelton goofed around so much, and he's very serious, he's been able to swoop in and steal some talented contestants.
"They go back and forth. They keep the energy very light. So, it made it easy to slide in and even score talent at times," he laughs. "'Cause some artists are really into the serious thing, you know...I think I scored the ones who are really serious about their craft."
Shakira is also not skimping on the killer instinct when it comes to securing contestants.
"I'm actually surprised at myself. I didn't know I was gonna be this competitive!" she laughs. "After the first [few] minutes...I knew what I had to do. I had to give these guys a hard time and that's what I intend to continue doing. I'm not gonna make it easy on them!"
Levine, who shot this first round of episodes of The Voice before he hit the road with Maroon 5, thinks he's picked a team this year that just might allow him to pull out a second win. And he says what keeps him coming back to the show is the contestants' amazing talent.
"Just when you think you haven't, you know, there's not another singer on earth that's gonna inspire you, you get surprised 'cause you have somebody show up and blow your minds. And all of a sudden four chairs turn around, and it's Battle Royale again," he says. "It's just constantly being surprised. That's lucky, because you think it could get stale, but it actually keeps on trucking."
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