The pop star got her start when she auditioned for The X Factor more than a decade ago, eventually being placed in the girl group Fifth Harmony and kick-starting her music career at age 15. So when the opportunity arrived to coach aspiring singers in the same position she was in 10 years ago — alongside returning coaches John Legend, Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton — she jumped at the chance.
Earlier this week, Cabello called Billboard from South America, following her set for tens of thousands of fans at Rock in Rio on Saturday, to talk about her full-circle new job, being in an “inspired season” of her life and career, and bringing some of Beyoncé’s “ENERGY” to Brazil.
You’re about to make your debut as the newest coach on The Voice. How did the opportunity come up, and why was it a yes for you?
The Voice reached out, and it’s so fulfilling and full-circle for me to be coaching people because I started on a singing competition show. And I just love that it’s a very equal-opportunity show, you know? You don’t have to have money, you don’t have to have any connections in the music industry. If you have a lot of talent, things are possible for you. And I think that’s really cool.
You’ve already been through your first batch of blind auditions. What were you listening for to make you turn your chair?
There’s a few different ways that I feel like somebody can stand out. Somebody that has a really special unique tone of voice. Sometimes it’s somebody taking a song and doing something unexpected with it. Sometimes it’s just, you know, a really amazing voice. There’s different ways that I feel like somebody can stand out.
You’re obviously no stranger to reality singing competitions, since you got your start on The X Factor. And previous The Voice coaches have included Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson, who came from American Idol. Do you think that gives you a different perspective from the rest of the coaches, knowing what being a contestant is like?
Yeah, I definitely do, especially because I kind of know what it’s like to be in that setting, which is different than, I think, just a normal — not normal, because none of it is normal — but different than, for example, what my career has been like for the past eight, nine years. The behind-the-scenes of these shows are kind of like a boot camp. They’re very extreme. It’s like an extreme version of everything, like everything is really fast-paced, you have to be on TV a few days a week and feels so high-stakes, because you can be sent home or the experience can be cut short at any moment. So I think I know specifically what it’s like to deal with the stress of that situation, especially at a really young age, and especially with no experience before.
Is being a Voice coach making you look at your own experience on The X Factor through new eyes, being on this side of things?
That’s an interesting question. I haven’t really thought about that, honestly, because it was so long ago. I mean, I was a kid. I was like 15. I think because I was so young, it’s kind of hard to compare. I literally had no idea what I was doing. I was just doing the best I can, you know?
You helped John out last season as an adviser on The Voice, but did you know Gwen or Blake before this season?
I hadn’t met Blake or Gwen before and now they’re like my The Voice parents. They’re my Voice family, all of them.
I know the show plays up the competition between the coaches, but what is it actually like coming in as the new coach with this crew?
It was awesome, honestly. We immediately had really good chemistry, the four of us. And I genuinely look forward to seeing them whenever we do press or when we do the show. We have a lot of fun together, and they’re really great people.
Coaches have famously performed together on the show and off the show too — like Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera with “Moves Like Jagger.” Are you planning anything like that with the other judges? Are we going to see you on a country duet with Blake soon?
You will have to stay tuned! [Editor’s note: After this interview, NBC released a video of all the coaches performing Cabello’s 2018 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit “Havana” together on The Voice stage.]
The coaches often talk about the contestants newly inspiring them musically – have you already felt that through the blind auditions?
Yeah, definitely. I feel like because we’re talking about performance and music and ways to make performance better literally for hours a day, it’s inevitable that you start thinking about it differently when you perform, and it gives you that opportunity to be objective because you’re being objective with other people, which is always easier than being objective with yourself. It gives you, I think, that muscle practice of being able to be more objective with your own work.
Your album Familia just came out in April, but having listened to all these new performers, are you already working on or thinking about what your next music might be?
I definitely am in a really inspired season of my life right now. I don’t know if it’s because of the show or just maybe my life in general, but I’m really in a happy place right now, and that always makes me feel more creative.
You’re currently in South America after playing Rock in Rio over the weekend, and you included Beyonce’s “ENERGY” from Renaissance in your set. Why that song and what was the fan response?
I love her album. And, specifically, that was one of my favorite songs on there. I have a lot of favorite songs on there, but that’s one of the songs I sent to my [music director], who we kind of brainstorm ideas about the show. And he found a really cool way to work it into one of my other songs [as an outro to 2018 Camila album cut “Inside Out”], and it was just a time for me to kind of have fun and freestyle and do whatever I wanted onstage. But I love the energy of that album and the energy of that song and that message of freedom and just kind of going crazy and, you know, not taking yourself too seriously.
The Voice season 22 premieres Monday (Sept. 19) at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.