"I saw my first stripper here." Adam Levine, the frontman for Maroon 5, stands in the kitchen area of Los Angeles' Conway Recording Studios, reminiscing with the guitarist James Valentine, his longtime bandmate. Crew members of one of TV's top-rated programs, The Voice, scurry to prepare for this afternoon's taping. The 33-year-old Levine, one of the four coach-judges on the show, has brought Team Adam's six finalists to Conway for a history lesson of sorts: A native Angeleno, Levine has been making records here since he was earning D's and F's in high school. "We made our first demo at Conway, when I was 17," he says, referring to Kara's Flowers, the one-and-done band that eventually morphed into Maroon 5. "I've been recording here ever since." There are perks for such loyalty: The parking spot closest to the studio is marked RESERVED FOR ADAM LEVINE. There are perks, too, for selling 17 million albums, winning three Grammys, and stealing hearts as The Voice's lady-bait breakout star: A gleaming ink-black 1958 Porsche 1600 Speedster convertible sits in said spot.
Levine does not dress like the owner of a luxe vintage roadster. He's wearing black shit-kickers, blue Dickies work pants, and a long-sleeved charcoal-gray henley tee. His hair is closely cropped. His toned arms are blanketed in tattoos. If you still believe in rock stars, Levine fits that bill as well as anyone these days. For traditionalists, there's the ink, the car, the motorcycle collection, the house in the Hollywood Hills, and, until recently, the Victoria's Secret supermodel girlfriend, Anne Vyalitsyna.
"The first time I went to Adam's house," says the country singer and fellow Voice coach Blake Shelton, "I told him, 'Man, you're exactly the rock star I wanted you to be.' There's a grand piano in his bedroom. From his pool outside, you look up the hill and there's the Hollywood sign. I mean, there were models hanging around. It was badass."
But Levine is no nostalgia-glazed revivalist: In addition to the reality-TV gig, there are the collaborations with the Swedish hitmakers Max Martin and Shellback, the on-the-payroll yoga instructor, even the obligatory celebrity fragrance. "Nothing wrong with making money," Levine says. "I'm always quoting the part in Jerry Maguire when Cuba Gooding talks about the 'kwan': 'love, respect, community, and the dollars, too.' I love that shit. Nobody has it all, but for me to even come close is amazing."
Levine carries his stardom lightly; he's well raised, neurotically polite, discreet about his boldface dating, and self-aware enough to know that exchanging I love you, mans with his new BFF Shelton from comically oversize swivel chairs is not exactly Hammer of the Gods material. "I never got down with conveying a larger-than-life vibe," he explains. When talk turns to the "yachts and coke" lifestyle of the eighties-excess pinups Duran Duran, Levine smiles sheepishly. "I guess I'm more a houses-and-weed guy," he says, and he may be exaggerating the weed part.
As a makeup artist blots Levine's forehead free of moisture ("Thank you." Blot. "Thank you"), a Voice producer signals for him and Valentine to head to the studio next door, where Team Adam awaits. A camera crew rolls tape. Levine adjusts the mic pack clipped to his jeans. "By the way," he says as he steps onto the pathway outside, "the stripper wasn't mine."
Levine and Valentine sit in the middle of Studio C, sharing stories of Maroon 5's 10-year "journey," in reality-TV-speak, with the moon-eyed aspirants of Team Adam. It's part music-biz master class, part promo op for the band's upcoming album, Overexposed: Levine and Valentine wax romantic about their salad days ("James and I lived together until I was 27"), offer encouraging notes about the democratization of music, and field questions on everything from coping with paparazzi to overcoming stage fright. "Do I really have moves like Jagger?" Levine quips, referring to Maroon 5's career-rejuvenating smash. "Fucking A, no, I don't. But I was going to tell everybody that I did and hoped they believed me."
Nearly two hours later, the producers indicate that they have all the footage they need. Levine looks crestfallen; he asks his charges if they have any more questions, anything at all, and the segment winds on for another 20 minutes. Levine is a talker, and a good one, too, as viewers of The Voice have come to appreciate. The show's best episodes are the blind-audition rounds, where the coaches—Levine, Shelton, Christina Aguilera, and Cee-Lo Green—sit in front of a bunch of unknowns and attempt to sweet-talk them into joining their respective teams. It's a brilliant reproach to Simon Cowell's pompous bullying—a Trading Places–esque maneuver in which the power imbalance between the haves and the have-nots is reversed. Week after week, Levine kills it during these segments. Pitching his services as a mentor, he appears guileless: His insights are pinpoint-accurate, his praise believable, his desire to help these talented wannabes unquestionably heartfelt. Even his bro hugs ooze sincerity.
"So many times, when you meet somebody whose work you respect, they end up being a dickhead," Shelton says. "But Adam has to be the most real, honest, easy-to-talk-to person that I've met in all of show business. He's just a good dude with superhero powers."