New York, NY (written by Donna Freydkin/USA Today) -- Humility, blandness and an aw-shucks bashfulness are staples of the carefully calibrated celebrity interview.
Not so with Adam Levine. "I have a high self-opinion -- I don't need to hide that. I don't need to be self-deprecating," he says. "I do believe that I deserve what I have. I don't think I'm entitled to it. That's a big difference."
Levine, 33, doesn't pretend that he's dateless, or recovering from a tormented adolescence. Nor will you find him delivering homespun anecdotes about cleaning his kitchen in an attempt to connect with his audience. "It's ridiculous. It's too much. Can you just be a millionaire?" says Levine. "My mom told me a long time ago -- she didn't know she was giving me this advice -- but she said, 'All I know is, you'll never change, so you'd better get somebody to take care of your room and get a housekeeper.' That was burned into my skull. Must make money so I don't have to do my chores, because I wouldn't do them anyway. It's sweet that I don't have to do my laundry."
Whether that charming brashness is simply part and parcel of who he is, or happens to be a different but equally calculated aspect of a crafted image, depends on whether you're a fan of his cheerfully cocky persona. Chances are, you haven't been able to escape it.
He sings with his band Maroon 5, which has a new album, Overexposed, out today. He mentors on the reality talent competition The Voice that became a runaway hit for NBC; the second season premieres Sept. 10. He acts in Ryan Murphy's secretive second season of American Horror Story this fall, and he'll play Keira Knightley's boyfriend in Can A Song Save Your Life? And the hater of celebrity scents is creating a fragrance called 222.
Despite appearances to the contrary, Levine says he's not building a one-man brand.
"It's not about me thinking how I am going to build my empire. It's about trying new things. I don't want to be an actor, but why not take these opportunities when they come to you? I'm not killing myself auditioning, chasing that dream. They thought of me. That's cool. There's a certain ebb and flow to life and I'm trying to follow that. It's worked so far," says Levine, over lunch with bandmate James Valentine at the Mercer Hotel in Soho.
Even here, where celebrities are as common as food carts, Levine pulls a baseball cap down over his face. He's gone from being music-famous to famous-famous, with legions of admiring female fans who mob him. Like so many entertainers, Levine had no concept of how intense that level of fame was until he was knee-deep in it.
"The level of success the band had before the show was fine. I didn't do this with the idea or the designs to become more famous. That was never part of the plan. I thought it was different and I'd give it a shot. I had no idea what it was to be on television. I had no idea what I was getting myself into," says Levine. "And now that I'm there, I don't regret any of it. However, it takes a lot of adjustment. You do have to watch your back."
And it's put something of a crimp in his ability to imbibe with Valentine and the other band members: bassist Mickey Madden, drummer Matt Flynn and keyboardist PJ Morton.
"We can't go out for beers anymore, not really. That (expletive) sucks. It's not fun. But it ain't that big a deal. It's not cancer. It's an annoyance. It's nothing that will keep me up at night," says Levine.
What it will hopefully do is sell more of Maroon 5's music. The band's fourth album, Overexposed, has the formerly autonomous musicians working with hitmakers Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Shellback and Benny Blanco. The first single, Payphone (featuring Wiz Khalifa), is No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The timing is no accident.
"What was happening with The Voice, it felt like a moment we should take advantage of. We didn't want to rest on our laurels. We'd made three records in 10 years. Knowing ourselves, and that we get too (expletive) involved, working with outside writers and producers was going to make it work in the time frame we needed it to work. I couldn't be more thrilled. We tapped into something really special," says Levine. "We were very much involved in every decision that was made. We weren't going to let something slide by that we didn't believe in."
Levine is referring to the band's first full-length collaboration with outside writers and producers. Maroon 5 first shared writing credits on last year's omnipresent hit Moves Like Jagger. The experience was a fruitful one. "It updated what we were doing. We decided to stay on that path. It was really creative. This is the most contemporary record we ever made. But at the same point, it's the most flushed out, most precise record, most unified sound," says Levine.
'Nip it in the bud'
The title of the release is prescient as well. "In order to avoid being accused of overexposure, or of overexposing ourselves, we needed to nip it in the bud. Say it before everyone else did. We had a moment. And it doesn't look like it's slowing down anytime soon. At least we hope it won't," says Levine.
Valentine recalls driving around Los Angeles, where the band is based, and seeing billboards for The Voice all over town, featuring Levine, Christina Aguilera, Cee-Lo Green and Blake Shelton. "We just thought it was funny. Jagger was huge. You couldn't escape it. And then also with The Voice -- in LA, you're driving down the street and you see Adam. It was everywhere," he says.
But has the dynamic within the band changed as Levine's star has soared?
Both he and Valentine, 33, simultaneously says no. "We talked about it a long time ago and decided that I would step out, for us. Not for me or my own ego. We did it consciously. We wanted there to be a frontman... The only reason I became the singer in the band is because I sang the best. It wasn't out of some desire to be a star or be a famous singer. It's not like I love interviews," says Levine.
Plus, adds Valentine, "I would not want to do that stuff. There's a certain thing, a charisma, you have to have. I would not be on TV. I like hiding behind my guitar. It's very comfortable. Plus Adam has always had lead-singer disease. It wouldn't work if there were five of us trying to cling on to a chair. Although we do have a no-eye-contact rule. And I call him sir."
Levine: "And I say, 'It plays the guitar. It made a mistake tonight.'"
Yes, Levine has an abundance of self-confidence, but that doesn't translate into a desire to go out on his own. "There will never be a solo record. I would sooner have another band," he says.
In interviews, says Valentine, Levine always refers to himself as "Adam from Maroon 5. That makes me happy."
Levine says he's using his prime-time platform to connect with fans. And he's developed a kinder, gentler strategy for his show.
"I don't think it's important to win The Voice. It's important to choose a team of the best singers, not compete with anybody and make each person on your team the best they can be. I'm not going to play the game anymore. I'm just going to do right by my team," says Levine. "Every moment of the show, on my end, will be creative, fun and easy. It's a healthier attitude to have. The best way to win is by discarding the competition."
To stay sane, Levine says he does yoga. He's close to his family. And he says everything he develops, business-wise, is propelled by passion, not finance.
"I can't just phone anything in. That's why life is a little crazy at this point. I'm just not built that way," he says. "I absolutely loathe the idea of doing a fragrance simply as a moneymaker. Personal brand to make money? Vomit. I'm doing this because it makes sense. I love fashion. I love the idea of doing something really simple. How do you expand on something and do it properly? That's my attitude about everything."
Of course, there's also an upside to all that attention -- quite a bit of it comes from the fairer sex. Do women hit on Levine all the time? "No. Yes. But let me tell you, man, like I said, you just can't fake that it's for any good reason," says the single Levine. "It's really flattering. It makes you feel very confident. And it's a trip. But you can't let it go to your head. You can't fully believe it. You have to believe it's a silly thing that is flattering and funny. It's just a silly thing."