Keith Urban Talks Mentoring on ‘The Voice’ & Watching Country Music’s ‘Extraordinary’ Growth

At this point in his career, Keith Urban is a singing competition pro. He was a vocal coach on three seasons of the Australian edition of The Voice, and spent four seasons as a judge on American Idol.

That’s why he was the perfect selection for a mega mentor on season 25 of NBC’s The Voice, helping the contestants prepare for the Knockout Rounds starting on April 8. “It’s such a family vibe on The Voice,” the “Blue Ain’t Your Color” singer tells Billboard, noting that he loved working with coaches Chance the Rapper and John Legend, as well as his fellow country stars Reba McEntire and Dan + Shay.

As a veteran of the singing competition space, he knows that mentorship is personal, opting against “blanket advice” for the contestants. “You have to meet each artist where they’re at. What’s consistent is knowing what advice to take or to discard,” he explains. “I’m sure the coaches would agree that nobody has all the answers. Particularly, if you’re doing something unique, chances are that nobody understands yet. A lot of artists get a lot of ‘You have to change this and change that.’ Sometimes, you don’t have to change anything at all. You have to keep working and make a better version of what already is.”

Navigating advice from all directions is a “challenge” Urban himself experienced throughout his career, adding that it’s important to be selective with your inner circle. “You can be really stubborn and immovable on certain things but that’s going to keep you stuck. Then, other times, you’d hear someone’s advice and think maybe that’s what you should do and you do it and then you find yourself to be lost and that the advice didn’t work for you,” he says. “For me, the most important thing was having people around me that I trust. Honestly, even family and friends will often have a little bias — positive or negative. You can have some friends that are super jealous or they might have a bias and they’ll give you advice that’s actually not very good. Having people around me that I really, really trust their opinions helped the most in my career.”

As for McEntire and Dan + Shay’s country takeover on The Voice, Urban isn’t surprised. “It’s reflective of the growing popularity of country music as a genre, not just nationally but all around the world,” he says proudly. “It’s extraordinary watching it take off like it’s doing.”

While he’s helping aspiring artists at the beginning of their careers, the four-time Grammy winner is continuing his own illustrious career, as he’s slated to soon release a new album, which will include the songs “Straight Line” and “Messed Up As Me.” 

“It’s always fun for me,” he says when asked how he stays passionate about making music after all these years. “I know it sounds crazy, but I get more excited now to write a song than I ever did. Even making the current record was a crazy mix of fear, excitement, discovery, curiosity, passion — just everything. I went through everything with this record, because I’ve never made this record. I’ve never seen this day. We’ve had plenty of fun but we’ve never had this one. And that’s just how I live my life. Every single day is a brand new blank canvas.”

He also stressed the importance of staying in touch with how he felt when he was first beginning his journey in music. “A quick example is when I went into record company to play my new album the other day for about 50 people,” he recalls. “I wanted to print out the lyrics to every song and while it was a lot of work, I didn’t want to have somebody do it and I wanted to do it myself. So, I stapled all the lyrics together and put together this massive presentation. It felt like putting up my own posters at the beginning of my career. If you that feeling, you do start to become jaded and you get bored and your passion just disappears. For me, my passion stays so long as I keep doing the things I did at the beginning and it keeps it exciting.”

Catch Urban during The Voice Knockouts, which begin on Monday (April 8) at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, before it streams the following day on Peacock.

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