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Blake Shelton

The country music star opens up about ‘The Voice,’ Miranda, his new Christmas CD, and what it means to be an artist.

Photography: Kristin Barlowe/Courtesy Warner Music

Blake Shelton still remembers the first time he got paid for doing what he loves most. “And by the way I reacted,” he says, “you’d have thought it was a million dollars.”

A native of Ada, Oklahoma, Shelton started singing at an early age and learned to play the guitar by the time he was 12. By his midteens, he was a regular performer at “a local Opry-type show” at the McSwain Theatre in his hometown.

“One day, after about the sixth or seventh time that I performed there,” Shelton recalls, “the guy that owned the show came up and handed me $40. And I was stunned. I was just beside myself. I was 15, 16 years old — I can’t remember which — and I just stood there thinking, What the hell just happened? I just got money? Because, hey, I would have paid him for the chance to play there. It was a really big moment for me. And I don’t know if it ever crossed my mind that I could make a living doing it.

“But, yeah, I do think I’d already decided at that point that that’s what I was going to do with my life either way.” And that is pretty much what Ada’s favorite son has gone and done.

The son of a used car dealer and a beauty salon owner, Shelton received ample encouragement from friends and family when he was starting out. And whenever he thought the odds might be stacked against a small-town boy like himself, he found inspiration in the ongoing success of another Oklahoma native: Reba McEntire.

“Where she was born and raised isn’t 35 miles from where I was born and raised,” Shelton says. “And while I was coming up, going to high school and being a country music fan, Reba McEntire was as big as you could get in country music, and as popular as you could be. And I couldn’t believe she grew up right there [in Kiowa], that close to where I grew up. I figured if she could do it, I could do it.”

Shelton can’t say enough about McEntire as “an inspiration and a template — somebody that I want to be compared to someday and be like one day.” If that day hasn’t arrived just yet, it’s getting close.

 Photography: Andrew Southam

Shelton — who now counts McEntire as a good friend and her husband, Narvel Blackstock, as one of his managers — is a bona fide country music superstar with a passel of gold records, a string of No. 1 hits, and, arguably most important, a Grand Ole Opry membership to his credit. He’s the reigning ACM and CMA Male Vocalist of the Year and one of the four celebrity judges/coaches on NBC’s top-rated singing-competition show, The Voice.

And by the way: He’s also the husband (since May 2011) of Miranda Lambert, another country music artist you may have heard of.

C&I caught up with Shelton during a typical stretch of multi-tasking, just as he was putting the finishing touches on his first holiday album Cheers, It’s Christmas (out now), preparing for the third season of The Voice (now airing multiple times weekly on NBC) confirming dates on his tour schedule, savoring the success of “Honey Bee” (his first-ever digital platinum single) — and, of course, finding a way to spend quality time with the lovely and talented Mrs. Shelton.

“I just left Chelsea Lately,” he said by way of greeting. “And I still got [bleep] to say. Bring it on.”

So we did.

Cowboys & Indians: Some folks say that thanks to the influence of shows like The Voice and American Idol country has become more or less today’s pop music. Agree?

Blake Shelton: Yes, I would say in some ways it is. You see, with country music, there’s two things about it. And I hear Cee Lo [Green] say this a lot, too, which is interesting because I would consider him a pop/R & B artist. Lyrically, country music is so in-depth. There are writers who spend days, weeks, months, sometimes a year on one song. And making sure they’re writing something special. Sure, sometimes it might only take 15 minutes. But they’re always making sure they’re writing something that connects with people. It’s not about a gimmick. It’s about things that are relatable for people that they can understand — it’s not over their heads.

And musically, it’s not over anybody’s head. It’s easy to sing along to, and it’s easy to understand. When you’re in your car and you’re driving from work back home, or vice versa, you don’t want to think too hard about what you’re listening to on the radio. You want to smile or have a moment when you go back to something in your life that you like to remember. I think with pop and rock these days the music gets away from that a little bit. Don’t get me wrong: I think there’s some great pop music overall. But I think there’s so much emphasis on the writing in country music. That’s the difference.

C&I: You’re now in your third season of The Voice and the magic seems to still be working. A large part of the show’s appeal is the camaraderie you appear to have developed with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, and Adam Levine ...

Shelton: I don’t think it was until about the end of the first season that it dawned on me that it had. I think that as much as country singers are stereotyped, I think I was as guilty of doing that with those three artists. Because I thought, Aw, they’re going to be all Hollywood. They’re all going to have their entourages. They’re going to be like people I’ve never met before. But as it turns out, we all have so much in common, it’s frightening.

I’d say we all let our guards down about halfway through season one. And now, especially that we’re into season three, I’ve never seen the four of us closer than we are now and working as well together. We really are all good friends off-camera. And there’s a reason why we all hang out together a lot and we have parties and stuff. Those aren’t requirements — those are things that happen because we’re friends and we like to be around each other. It’s fun. And we have a lot to talk about. Yeah, you do see us fight and argue a lot on-camera. And we do really get [mad] at each other — it’s not a joke. But I don’t know anybody who’s been friends with somebody who didn’t do that. It just so happens that we do it in front of the camera.

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