The Voice: Can Shakira and Usher replace Christina and Cee Lo?

NBC's hit singing competition is losing two of its biggest stars — and some fans worry that all the celebrity judges will start heading for the exits soon

Usher and Shakira sing at President Obama's inauguration on Jan. 18, 2009.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)

NBC's The Voice is about to change its tune. Judges Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green, currently serving out their third season on the hit reality series, have announced they'll be ceding their intimidating swivel chairs to Shakira and Usher for The Voice's fourth season, to air next spring. Aguilera and Green, who reportedly want to pump up their own music careers, have vowed to return as judges for the series' fifth season. In the meantime, this marks a big shakeup for the show, which relies heavily on the star power and semi-sparkling repartee of its four-judge panel (which still includes vets Adam Levine and Blake Shelton), and is facing competition from other singing shows. Increasing the stakes: Attention-getting new celeb judges at rivals The X Factor (Britney Spears and Demi Lovato) and American Idol (Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban). Will Shakira and Usher be acceptable Christina/Cee Lo surrogates?

The replacement judges are winners: It's unfortunate that NBC had to "change the chemistry of the quartet," says Rodney Ho at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. But if Christina and Cee Lo had to go, Shakira and Usher will fill their seats more than respectably. Sure, Shakira "isn't quite the vocalist" that Aguilera is, but she adds the "international appeal" that The Voice has been lacking. And Usher is "bigger in terms of chart success" than Cee Lo Green. Plus, the presence of Levine and Shelton will give fans reassuring continuity.

"Shakira, Usher to replace Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo on spring The Voice"

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But this is also a big risk: Other talent shows have had mixed success, at best, when casting (or recasting) their judging panels, says Bill Carter at The New York Times. American Idol has struggled to replace its original lineup, with short tenures for new judges like Ellen DeGeneres, Steven Tyler, and Jennifer Lopez. The X Factor eliminated half of its judging panel after a single season. And the impact will be even greater on The Voice, which has differentiated itself by making its celebrities "the focus of the format." They not only judge, but serve as mentors to contestants, and often perform themselves.

"Usher and Shakira to join The Voice next season"

And the other veteran judges might leave soon, too: This is what happens when you hire judges who are "still relevant hitmakers and have other important things to do with their time, like touring and recording," says Lyndsey Parker at Yahoo. It may not be long before Levine and Shelton, whose own singing careers need nurturing, decide to opt out, too. Usher and Shakira are passable replacements, but "will that old Voice magic" remain if the show begins to treat its judges' table like a game of (giant, Star Trek-like) musical chairs?

"Christina Aguilera and Cee Loo Green Taking Voice hiatus; Shakira and Usher to fill their chairs"

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