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Nothing Lasts Forever

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May 2015

Adam Levine let out a deep breath, his knuckles whitening from his death grip on the microphone. They were opening up with a song, as judges—God, judges—do. It was a Queen medley, which was great. It showcased his falsetto and guitar abilities. The judges’ rehearsal went off without a hitch. Yet here he was, having flashbacks to his very first concert to a crowd of maybe 11 people, including his mom, that he may have only gotten through by turning his back to the audience.

A cold sweat spread on his forehead when stagehands scrambled to the side of the stage as Carson was cued at the other side of the back drop. Adam didn’t belong here. The Voice’s secrecy about their new fourth judge built unnecessary suspense. No one was going to take him seriously as a judge. Why would they?

“Not nervous, are you, rock star?” a familiar country twang asked.

Adam turned to Blake Shelton with what he hoped was a cocky grin. Blake’s face told him it could optimistically labeled a grimace.

“They wouldn’t have asked you to judge if they doubted your ability,” Blake reassured. Again.

Adam released another slow breath. His heart continued to pound. “I’m their pet project. Of course they want me here.”

“If you believed that was their only motive, you wouldn't have signed the judge contract,” Blake scoffed. His eyes suddenly turned sincere. Adam couldn’t tear his gaze away. Damn earnest country boy. “Adam, you offer an edge none of us can even come close to offering. It’s not like you had your hand held your entire music career. You’ve made independent connections and smart decisions that have only helped your success. That’s what contestants want. Along with actual musical advice.”

“Yeah, but—”

“I’ve told you over and over you’re a skilled vocalist—my favorite actually,” Blake interrupted. “Even if we’re not supposed to pick favorites...You improve singers I already think are top-notch. You have a gift. You’ll make a great coach, Adam. Once everyone gets past the fact you’re an asshole.”

Adam snorted as the audience began cheering. “You only want me on The Voice for bragging rights.”

Blake’s eyes brightened. “It does make recruiting easier.”

“Welcome to season 10 of The Voice!” Carson Daly said as the camera zoomed in on The Voice’s lit up stage. “The only singing competition that uses today’s biggest voices to mentor hopeful singers. Each superstar coach is going to build a team of 20 singers. We have returning veterans 2 time winner Pharrell Williams, season 8 winner Gwen Stefani, and 4 time winner Blake Shelton. And, for the first time in The Voice’s history, our fourth judge will be a past Voice contestant. Everyone put your hands together for season 2’s Adam Levine!”

The backdrop rose to the audience’s cheers. A single spotlight shone down on Adam. He briefly closed his eyes, letting the audience’s cheers rush over him, trying not to twitch at the camera peering down at him. He felt like he was under a microscope. Only Blake’s solid presence next to him and his sheer determination to prove that he belonged kept him on the stage. He took a deep breath as the music started. It was time.

"Mama...just killed a man...”

 

March 2000

Adam’s leg jiggled up and down, rubbing against the leather couch. His fellow bandmates sat in tense silence around the formidable office. Jesse took deep breaths, James kept twisting his watch around his wrist, Ryan tapped his hands in a senseless rhythm against his lap, and Mickey stared straight ahead like he was preparing for the firing squad.

They were at Almatrax Records, a music production company that Kara’s Flowers didn’t even bleep the radar of. Which was understandable. Kara’s Flowers was a glorified high school garage band. Adam, Jesse, Ryan, and Mickey took their complete failure and came out stronger years later and with the addition of James on lead guitar. They rebranded as Maroon 5—which literally came from the James’ musings that maroon was a cool color, but fingers crossed that the origin of the band name was never a persistent question—and compiled a demo showcasing their new sound. Almatrax Records was the tenth musical production company Maroon 5 sent a demo to, but the first to call them in a second time.

The band was decidedly nervously. Almatrax was definitely the most well-known music studio  in Los Angeles. They consistently produced chart toppers and had many successful artists—hello Rhianna, Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West—in their company. Adam had no idea why Almatrax was so successful, but he, like other up and coming artists, was eager to jump abroad. Almatrax almost guaranteed success, but their turnover rate—like everywhere—was harsh.

Maroon 5 collectively straightened when Mr. Plaza, one of the head producers, waltzed into his office. He flashed a gleaming smile at them. “Thanks for coming on such short notice, boys. You know how the music industry is.”

“We’d like to find out,” Adam said.

Mr. Plaza laughed. Adam relaxed minutely. He laughed his joke. That certainly didn’t mean anything bad. Of course, Plaza specialized in deciding which new music to infuse with the bullet train that was Almatrax. He probably denied countless other singers in this office with a grin.

“Of course, of course!” Plaza said, leaning forward on his desk. “We deliberated a long time on you. I was torn over your demo. So I consulted some of my colleagues. You have a unique sound.”

Adam nodded. Shit why did he have to be frontman? Plaza’s eyes were drilling holes through the scrawny singer.

Plaza’s face drew into a grimace. Adam’s stomach dropped. “I’m sorry to say that Almatrax Records has to pass on Maroon 5.”

“Oh...” Adam said. Damn it, this could have been taken care of over the phone. His fist tightened as he thought back to the band’s buzzing excitement on the car ride over here. They thought they finally caught a break from their constant string of rejections.

“However,” Plaza said after a moment, “we have an offer.”

Adam raised an eyebrow.

“An offer?” James repeated.

Plaza nodded solemnly, his blonde hair remaining plastered to his skull as he turned his head to each band member before settling on Adam. “Yes, an offer. Almatrax isn’t interested in Maroon 5. But your songs have potential. We want to buy your songs for our other artists. All five of you will be equally—and generously—compensated.”

“We’re a band, not songwriters for hire,” Adam snapped. The words ‘Almatrax isn’t interested in Maroon 5’ ricochetted around his head. The music was great. Adam bit his lip as a weight dropped in his stomach. His voice wasn’t up to par.

“I realize you came in here with different expectations,” Plaza said. “You were the main songwriter, correct? Your bandmates mostly worked on the music?”

“We all contributed,” Adam said stiffly.

“Yet you wrote most of the lyrics?” Plaza repeated.

“Yes.”

“Well, Almatrax Records would like to extend a job offer to you, Mr. Levine,” Plaza said. “We want you to come on officially as a songwriter for our company.”

Adam’s head jerked back. He had been dreaming of being a musician ever since he was in middle school. Touring as Kara’s Flowers marked the beginning the best time of his life. Even the failure, which stung at the time, only served to reinvigorate the band. Making their new songs, with their new sound, was an extensive process, an exciting process. Adam felt possessive over the songs. He didn’t want some other artist singing his songs. He glanced at his bandmates. They were mostly shell-shocked. Except for Ryan. Ryan looked intrigued.

“I realize that you were not prepared to hear this offer,” Plaza said, letting some steel enter his voice, “but understand that this offer expires as soon as you leave this office. I’ll give you all a few minutes to talk this out.”

The door barely swung shut behind the producer as the band erupted into chaos.

Buy our songs?”

“We could probably find—”

“The rest of us wouldn’t even—”

“—much do you think they’d pay—”

“Fucking 'not interested.’ ”

“I think we should take it,” Ryan interrupted. The band fell into a startled silence as they turned to their drummer. “Almatrax was the last actual decent record company we’ve gone to. We tried to be musicians as Kara’s Flowers. We failed. You know what happened when we started writing serious music as Maroon 5? Big companies remain uninterested in us.”

“We still have—” Adam began.

“Small ass companies with maybe 2 other clients?” Ryan finished. “Yeah, last time we went with a company like that, we failed.”

Jesse frowned. “That was because we weren’t prepared as Kara’s Flowers—”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Ryan said. “Yet, here we are as Maroon 5 with even less fame than Kara’s Flowers. The only difference is that a successful studio is willing to pay us more money to use our songs. I say we go for it.”

Words vanished in Adam’s mouth as none of the other bandmates looked inclined to protest.

“We gave it a shot,” Ryan shrugged. “But I’m tired of not having a real job. They don’t tell you how much being a struggling musician sucks. I want to be able to pay my bills, eat out. I haven’t been able to do that in months. None of us have.”

“The paycheck could probably cover college,” Mickey mused.

“And then some,” Ryan agreed.

Adam’s mouth went dry. “Do...do you guys want to break up the band?”

“No offense, Adam,” Ryan said. “But what band? We haven’t toured, we haven’t played any venues. The only thing we've accomplished was make a demo tape.”

“You were offered a job, Adam,” Mickey said. “You could still be in the music industry.”

Adam flinched. Mickey was probably trying to comfort him. Being a songwriter was like aiming for pitcher and ending up the baseball mascot instead.

Almatrax isn’t interested...

Adam poured his everything into Maroon 5 and even that wasn't enough. 

“We could still try the smaller companies...” James said. “They’re more desperate.”

“Yeah, we might get on with one of those studios,” Ryan said. “But that won’t make us successful.”

“There’s more to music than being famous,” James said stiffly.

“Being famous certainly helps,” Ryan said. “This is our job. Jobs should earn us money. I can only love something and get nothing in return for so long. I feel like a year is a long enough time for that.”

“This is LA,” Adam said. “There are music studios literally created every day. We can—”

“This offer is going to expire soon,” Ryan interrupted. “I don’t want to blow our chance to actually get paid. They aren’t interested in the band. That’s fine. But they are interested in paying us...”

“But—” Adam said.

“Don’t be selfish, Adam,” Ryan said. “This isn’t about you.”

“I never said it was about me,” Adam snarled.

“You’re a good singer, but—”

Almatrax isn’t interested...

“Not good enough?” Adam finished cynically. The ringing silence made his heart pang. He blinked a few times, refusing to let his gaze drift to any of his bandmates. Jesse began a defense of Adam’s voice, but Adam ignored him. Jesse was his best friend and therefore bias. He didn’t count. “Let’s put it to a vote. All in favor of selling our songs to Almatrax, raise your hands.”

Ryan raised his immediately. Mickey studied the ground before slowly raising his hand. He shrugged apologetically to Adam. Adam’s gaze slipped to Jesse. Jesse gave him a small smile and shook his head, his hands resolutely clasped in his lap. Adam’s sigh of relief caught in his throat when he turned his attention to James. The guitarist frowned at Plaza’s chair.

James looked up from his own mental deliberation. “Really? I’m the swing vote?” His joke fell flat as the only response was a half-hearted grimace from Mickey. Adam’s stomach swooped. James held Adam’s future in his hands. Yes, Adam and Jesse could try to embark on their own musical career, but if the combined musical minds of Maroon 5—for however long the band lasted—couldn’t create the right mixture of music and lyrics to intrigue music studios, what hope did Adam and Jesse have? Adam was selfish. He wanted to make music for a living. He wanted to inspire others like how music inspired him growing up. He knew if James voted yes, he was going to sign on as a songwriter with Almatrax.

Because being the mascot was good enough for a baseball fanatic.

“I’m sorry Adam and Jesse,” James said finally. “I’m going to side with Ryan and Mickey.”

Jesse’s hand on Adam’s arm tightened. Adam slumped forward, burying his head in his hands. He had to go with the band. Even if the band’s decision gutted him.

 

April 2011

“I can’t believe you,” Adam spat, storming through the hallway. Other Almatrax employees scattered under his glare. He had gotten into plenty of arguments at work—thanks to his lack of filter and ADHD, he had a talent of spewing random shit—but he rarely was truly angry. Rage pulsed through Adam now.

“They want you!” James protested, walking quickly to keep up with Adam’s quick pace. James, ironically the only ex-Maroon 5 member who had a backup plan when they disbanded in Plaza’s office roughly a decade ago, signed on at Almatrax as a guitarist a couple months after that fateful meeting. James wrote music and floated to different Almatrax bands. The bands never seemed to last more than a couple years, but James was kept on because he was a fucking great guitar player. Adam also stole him every once in a while for musical advice. It reminded him of the old days, sue him.

The other ex-Maroon 5 members went their separate ways. Jesse briefly wrote music with Adam in the early years, but he soon gave into his hippie tendencies and floated around the country doing whatever job struck his fancy. Jesse moved back to LA last year and currently worked as a masseuse. Adam personally gave that current career another six months tops before Jesse grew bored. Mickey went to college and exited four years later as an engineer. He still played bass, according to James. But Adam was diligent in pretending that James and Mickey's jam sessions—that Jesse always infilitrated—didn’t exist. He went to one jam session years ago. They were decidedly too nostalgic and full of old hopes and dead dreams for Adam to return again. Ryan had also returned to college. He was now a middle school social studies teacher. He moved to Oregon and married Amber seven years ago. Ryan, like Adam, also never played with the band, except at Maroon 5's first and last venue, Ryan's wedding.

“I don’t fucking care,” Adam said, scowling at a door leading to one of Almatrax’s many recording studios. Damn James. Music calmed him and James still managed to ruin his mood. Adam had been in the middle of working on a song’s chorus when James waved the letter in his face. “If I wanted to be on a fucking singing show I would.”

“The Voice is different,” James protested. “The judges actually know what they’re talking about. They can listen to you sing and—”

“I literally have some of the biggest musical heads hearing me sing every week,” Adam interrupted. “I feel like if my voice was good enough, I would’ve been fucking ‘discovered’ by now.”

“Adam—”

“Stop living in the past, James,” Adam snapped, stopping in the hallway to turn and glare at the guitarist. “I’m not a vocalist. I’m a songwriter.”

“Adam, you should give this a shot,” James said.

“I’m not going on a fucking singing competition,” Adam hissed. “Leave it alone. How many times do I have to say it? I’m not a singer. Get your head out of your nostalgic ass.”

“You can make it far,” James said, in his I-know-all-things-music voice. “Your voice—”

“Isn’t good enough,” Adam snapped.  “As proven by your decision to break up the band.”

James flinched. “That isn’t fair.”

“The truth rarely is.”

“You know how much I regret—”

“Too little, too late,” Adam said. “Regrets only drag you down. I’ve moved on. Jesse has moved on. Everyone has moved on but you.”

James next words halted Adam’s retreat. “She Will Be Loved.”

Adam loathed how that song instantly rendered him frozen. “...What?”

“She Will Be Loved,” James said. “Otherwise known as Franz Ferdinand’s very poppy failure. Fans pretend that song doesn’t exist and everyone in 2001 used it as a punch line.”

“Yes, I know,” Adam said between gritted teeth. He turned and glowered at James. She Will Be Loved was the first of many times Almatrax demonstrated how little artistic liberty Adam held with his songs. Yes sometimes Almatrax’s changes improved the song, but monstrosities like Ferdinand’s She Will Be Loved existed because of it. “It doesn’t deserve that reputation.”

“Oh trust me, I know,” James said. “I love that song, but She Will Be Loved is your baby. And Almatrax turned it into a mutilated hip hop beast.”

“What’s your point?” Adam said.

“The Voice is easily the most popular singing show.”

“It’s only their second season,” Adam dismissed, his eyes narrowing on James’ line of thought.

“And they’ve already beat Idol in ratings,” James said. “What does that tell you?”

“Idol sucks.”

“It tells you that millions of people will be tuning into The Voice,” James said, long hair framing his face.

“So?” Adam asked petulantly.

So you can audition with She Will Be Loved,” James said, “and sing it how it’s supposed to for a large audience.”

Adam sneered at James. The guitarist stared back calmly. Damn it, this line of logic shouldn’t work. James shouldn’t be able to convince him to sing on the fucking Voice by telling him to sing a specific song. And yet...

Fuck. James knew how possessive he was (unrightly so) over his songs. Fucking James.

Damn it, people at Almatrax still mocked She Will Be Loved to this day.

Fucking James.

“I’ll do it,” Adam said.

James broke out with a victorious grin. Asshole.

“How did you get The Voice to accept me, anyway?” Adam asked.

“I sent them tapes of you singing.”

“You recorded me?”

“You realize that you sing every song you write,” James said. “I talked to Stacy from archives and copied some of your older recordings. I picked good ones, don’t worry.”

“You have no sense of privacy,” Adam said. “I don’t sing that well in demos.”

“First off, bullshit,” James said. “You would rather die than sing less than your best. And second off, if you weren’t trying hard on those recordings and The Voice still wants you, what does that say about your voice?”

“They’re desperate?”

A flicker of annoyance and melancholy crossed his face. “The Voice isn’t like Idol. They’re very picky about their initial core audition group. You have to be a great singer to even be considered.”

Adam scoffed. “Right.”

James pursed his lips. “You’ll see that I’m right.”

“We’ll see, Jamison,” Adam said. “Did you use any of my newer recordings? They seem more relevant.”

“I thought you didn’t care about the competition,” James said.

“I don’t.”

“I couldn’t send them any of your current songs,” James said after a moment where he looked unnecessarily smug. Adam refused to let James abuse his competitive streak along with his possessive nature. “Seeing as how most of them aren’t on the radio yet and are still under lock and key. The executives don’t want this summer’s hits leaking.”

Adam rolled his eyes, face flushing. “I don’t always write hits.”

“Where’s my cocky asshole friend?” James asked. “At least 2/3 of the songs you write turn into hits. And you write a shit ton.”

“Which further proves that I’m a successful songwriter, not singer,” Adam said.

“I can’t wait to see the judges’ faces when they find out that you’ve been working for the biggest music production company,” James said.

“Whatever, man,” Adam dismissed. He walked away pretending his mind wasn’t already racing, the lyrics of She Will Be Loved rising in his head.

 

May 2011

Adam refused to let himself be nervous.

He failed miserably. His leg twitched whenever he sat. So he tried standing, which led to pacing. He paced around the waiting room at least thirty times, passing other singers in a similar frazzled state. When he returned to his chair, his fidgeting came back with a vengance. Adam pointedly stopped drumming his fingers when he caught James’ knowing stare. James and Jesse joined Adam to his audition. James had to be here so he could finally stop pestering Adam to be more than a songwriter. Obviously if Adam was meant to be a singer, it would have happened already. Where was this faith when they were in Plaza’s office all those years ago? Almatrax isn’t interested...Adam forced his attention back into the present.  

He focused on a concerned mom comforting her crying daughter. She sang her heart out—Damn, Adam would’ve turned around for her if he was in one of those imposing red chairs—but she was rejected. The chairs and judges remained unaffected during her audition. Fuck, if she didn’t make it, what hope did Adam have? James was right. The Voice did have higher standards. So high that Adam imagined the tips of his fingers barely scrapping the bottom of them.

Jesse’s hand squeezed his as the next audition number appeared. Fuck, Adam was next. He tried to take a deep breath.

“At least you already did your interview with Carson Daly,” Jesse murmured.

Adam nodded mutely, tuning out James and Jesse’s reassurances and bad jokes. Daly interviewed each group individually hours before. It was extensive for Daly but The Voice didn’t know who would have an intro when it came time to air the episode. Adam briefly pictured his. Random close up of a tell of his anxiety, Daly’s voiceover introducing him as the thirty-one year old songwriter from LA—Adam breifly debated telling NBC his career before ultimately deciding it didn’t matter. Intros were generally only reserved for the actually talented singers. When Daly asked him which judge he would choose—optimistic question asked to everyone—Adam shrugged and said Usher. Not that his answer mattered anyway. But he figured Christina, Usher, and Cee Lo dabbled in music he was interested in (i.e. not country) so why not. Plus Usher was last season’s winning coach.

Almatrax didn’t know Adam was here. Adam chose to use his vacation time in favor of telling anyone about his Voice audition. Everyone, besides Jill, Almatrax's elderly HR manager. Because James continued to intrude on his life and dragged Adam down to Human Resources so he could explain his potential leave of absence. Jill prepared the appropriate papers with an encouraging word and promise to keep Adam’s audition quiet.

“Mr. Levine?” a bushy-haired assistant asked. “Please follow me. Your friends can stay here. Carson Daly will get them when it’s time.”

A brutal wave of nausea swept over Adam. What were the lyrics? Shit, what if he barfed on stage on national television? He’d definitely be aired if he caused a scene like that during his audition. Fuck fuck fuck. Why did he allow James to manipulate him? Allow Jesse’s hopeful eyes to force him here? Allow Mickey and Ryan’s calls of encouragement to make him practice more? Fucking why?

“Adam,” Jesse said, “breathe.”

“Unless it’s getting harder to breathe,” James said.

A snort escaped Adam. “Oh my God, are you serious right now?”

James smiled. “Do She Will Be Loved proud. I’ll be waiting to say I told you so whenever you’re finished.”

The assistant remained frowned as he led Adam through the double doors. “She Will Be Loved?”

Adam grinned at the assistant’s tone of faint disbelief. “Yep.”

“Well, it’s not like you can make that song any worse.”

Adam nervously gripped his guitar, listening as the coaches gushed and fought over the powerhouse voice that escaped from the miniscule sixteen year old girl. Fuck he was supposed to follow that performance with a pop culture punchline.

“My thoughts exactly,” Adam murmured.

“Good luck, Mr. Levine,” the assistant said.

Adam’s stomach dropped as the judges’ chairs all swung around, the imposing, emotionless backs facing him. He walked toward center stage at the assistant's prodding. Nothing Adam could do now. He knew that this stage could change his life, despite his original reluctance. He clamped down on his vague sense of hope. James was right. Whenever Adam sang, he sang his best. This would be the final trial to see if his voice was good enough.

He couldn’t bear to go through any more.

 


 

“Call it, Blake,” Christina said chirpily, still on high from snagging the starstruck sixteen year old that just left the stage. Blake had fought for her but the girl was obviously a fan of Christina’s.  “High heels, moccasins, boots...”

“Blake is probably hoping for cowboy boots,” Usher said, a couple seats down.

“Don’t be upset that no country singer wants y’all,” Blake said. “It just shows their good taste.”

“Quiet on set,” Heather said. Heather was The Voice director. Blake often wondered if she ever knew she’d eventually be in charge of babysitting professional singers. He somehow doubted it. He closed his eyes, secretly hoping he did hear cowboy boots. The last few singers he turned for picked another coach. He need a lock-in like a hopeful country singer. Even though he really did need more genre variety on his team...

The pluck of guitar filled the room. Blake nodded slightly at the bohemian sound. He didn’t recognize the tune, but his familiarity with non-country songs was lacking at best. Besides, he rarely initially recognized song’s acoustic version, which this obviously was.

Blake’s eyes remained closed, visibly jerking back when the singer crooned the beginning of the song.

“Beauty queen of only eighteen,

She had some trouble with herself,

He was always there to help her,

She always belonged to someone else...”

The voice filling the stage wasn’t a powerhouse, few rarely were, but just the sound of his tone and voice... Blake didn’t register slapping his button until the audience cheered and he whipped around to face the stage. A smile broke out on his face. Tattoos littered the singer’s arms, his spiky dark hair and sharp face looked more suited for a heavy metal rock star than someone crooning with a guitar.

The singer’s hazel eyes widened at Blake’s turned chair, but his fingers didn’t hesitate on the guitar, his voice didn’t quiver or flinch. Blake grinned when they made eye contact.

“I don’t mind spending every day,

Out on the corner in the pouring rain,

Look for the girl with the broken smile,

Ask her if she wants to stay awhile

And she will be loved...”

Blake’s grin widened at the singer’s effortless falsetto. His whoop was cut off by Christina and Usher’s almost simultaneous press of their buttons.

“No!” Blake protested. Usher shot him a shit-eating grin before turning his admiring eyes to the singer. Christina swayed her arms in the air.  Blake focused on the singer. He sang so effortlessly, hitting all the notes. This singer was fantastic, so talented Blake was honestly surprised he didn’t already have a record deal and a couple albums already out. Fuck he would go far in this competition. Blake frequently rained compliments on contestants, but he rarely had these thoughts so early in the competition.

Blake wasn’t even surprised when Cee Lo hit his button a few moments later. Cee Lo would’ve been a dumbass to pass on this singer. The contestant's eyes grew impossibly wider. First four chair turnaround of the day. He looked like he was in a daze.

Blake led a standing ovation when the singer let out his last note. He smiled at the cheering audience. A glance back at the singer showed he was still shocked. The singer gripped his guitar tightly.

“I have to say, all the girls in the audience thank you for coming out and singing today,” Christina said. Damn it, she had her flirty smile on. Her flirty smile worked nearly 70% of the time.

“He is very sexy, isn’t he?” Blake said. An audience member wolf whistled as the singer let out a startled laugh, running a hand through his hair.

“Some of us want to do more than just sexualize you,” Usher said. “What’s your name, man?”

“Uh, I’m Adam Levine,” the singer said, swinging the guitar to his back.

“Adam, your voice is so incredible,” Usher said.  “I knew within the first few notes that—”

“Why’d you wait so long, Usher?” Blake interrupted. “I turned my chair around for you first, Adam.”

“I was just waiting to see if his voice went where I wanted it to go,” Usher said. “It did that and then some. You blew me away, Adam.”

The audience clapped.

“You blew me away in a more profound way,” Cee Lo said. Adam laughed into the microphone. “Your voice...there’s a tone to it that’s different than any other singer that’s on the radio. I love it, man. I feel like you could sing the phone book and make it a single. I have the knowledge to get you far into this show. And I have the connections to help you succeed once it ends.”

“You’re such a seller, Cee Lo,” Christina said.

“I try hard to get the best team,” Cee Lo said. “I think Adam would benefit my team a great deal.”

“I don’t care about you benefiting my team,” Usher said. “I care about you, Adam. And your success as a singer.”

“I care about that too, man,” Cee Lo said. “I also care about winning this shit.”

That startled a laugh out of the audience and Adam.

“Adam, I feel like we’d be mutually beneficial to each other,” Christina said, fighting for his attention. “Your voice sounds like you could do any genre with ease—”

“—except for country,” Usher said. “You shouldn’t be interested in country.”

Adam chuckled. “No problem there.”

Blake pursed his lips.

“And I can transform you into a performer,” Christina continued, smile sharpening during the interruption. “I’ll help you maintain creative control when you venture out in the music industry, which I have no doubt that you will. Genre won’t offer a barrier to you and I don’t want the music industry to take advantage of you. You’re too good for that.”

Adam was genuinely touched in his overwhelmed state. It looked like Christina said exactly what Adam wanted to hear, what he needed to hear. Dang it.

“I’ll be honest, Adam,” Blake began.

“That’s a nice change for you,” Christina teased.

“I never heard that song before,” Blake said. “It happens sometimes. I’m not as familiar with some genres as I’d like to be. But that song, damn I don’t know the original, but your performance suited the song perfectly. I feel like the original would only disappoint me. You made that song your own and it worked beautifully. You made it sound like the song was written specifically for your voice.”

“Quick interjection, if you don’t mind,” Usher said. “Then you can go back to your spiel, Blake.”

“Adam, I think you’re awesome and you should step outside your comfort zone. Take a risk with me,” Blake said. “Just wanted to get that out before Usher stole the attention.”

“So you want me to pick you because we’re so different?” Adam asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, we have a lot to learn from each other,” Blake said, “and The Voice is all about learning.”

“I said you could get back to your spiel,” Usher said. Blake shrugged. “Why did you pick that song, Adam? It’s not a very popular song. Actually, it was probably one of the most infamous songs in the early 2000s. Your version worked beautifully—don’t get me wrong—but I don’t hear the original and decide that's a song I want to audition with.”

Adam hesitated, gripping his microphone. “I sang it because I wrote it.”

Blake frowned, glancing at his fellow judges. They looked equally befuddled.

“You’re a songwriter?” Blake asked.

“Yeah, now I am,” Adam said. “She Will Be Loved was originally a part of my band’s demo tape. We went to production company after production company, and the only one who seemed interested was...well I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say, honestly...but they weren’t interested in the band. They just wanted the songs. So, after a vote, the band decided to sell the songs and disband and I was hired on as a songwriter. The music studio made some alterations to She Will Be Loved and turned it into the joke it is today. I wanted people to hear what it was supposed to sound like.”

“You mean to tell me that multiple music studios heard you sing and weren’t interested?” Blake gaped. “You’re kidding.”

“Did you vote to separate your band?” Cee Lo asked.

Adam grimaced. “No, but I had to respect the band’s decision.”

“Damn...” Usher said.

“Adam, your voice is amazing,” Blake said. “I feel like if your band’s songs were half as good as She Will Be Loved then you would be sitting with us up here.”

The audience cheered.

“Wow, Blake,” Christina said. “You go big or go home.”

“I’m already a fan of yours,” Blake said. “I support your career no matter who you choose—because I have no doubt after this studios will be fighting to sign you on.”

“Who do you pick, man?” Usher asked.

Adam’s face turned thoughtful as he took in the judges. Blake pointed at himself, hoping the contestant could hear the sincerity in his voice during his pitch. He was done an injustice. He should’ve been signed on years ago—or whenever She Will Be Loved came out. Adam was a prime example that music producers didn’t always know what the fuck they were talking about.

All of the judges felt indignant on Adam’s behalf. Honestly, any judge would be a good coach for him. But the country singer knew Adam was special from the first note. He selfishly wanted to watch the tattooed contestant sing and grow as a performer under his careful guidance. Blake wanted to be able to say that he mentored Adam Levine.

Adam let out a breath, his eyes finding Blake’s. “I choose Blake.”

The audience cheered as Blake pumped his fist into the air. He got off his chair and met Adam halfway down the stage. “We’re going to do great things, rock star.”

Adam’s eyes were bright as he grinned back. “Don’t make me regret this.”

Blake pulled him in for a brief hug. Adam squirmed under his arms. He was so tiny. “Cocky little shit.”

Adam mock-bowed as he scampered down the rest of the stage. Blake turned to the judges with a triumphant “ha” and a smug grin. He sat in his chair with relief. Adam Levine was going far.

“You’re a lucky son of a bitch,” Cee Lo said.

“It’s okay,” Christina said. “I’ll get the next one.”

“There isn’t another singer like Adam,” Blake said.

“Such loyalty already,” Christina said.

Heather signaled for them to be quiet as the next singer was brought out. Blake smiled at Usher, who looked genuinely disappointed. Usher rolled his eyes and smirked at him. Blake was so happy Adam picked him. His mind was already racing with potential song ideas.