It’s been a big year for Carson Daly. For one thing, his late night talk show, Last Call with Carson Daly, is celebrating its tenth anniversary on NBC. Which is a pretty remarkable feat, not just for surviving ten years but for surviving ten years with almost nobody watching. I know a lot of insomniacs, and they regularly recount their favorite moments from Letterman, Kimmel, Fallon, et al. But not once in the last decade has anybody said to me, “Oh my god, you should’ve seen Last Call last night.” But being largely unnoticed may be Daly’s secret weapon. Who knows what he’s been up to on that show? It airs at the ungodly hour of 1:30am, where it competes with reruns of Cheers and psychic hotline infomercials, so he could be doing anything! When Daly does poke his head out during daylight hours, there’ve been hints that he’s only gotten better (and weirder) with age. At last January’s Golden Globes, he conducted some delightfully daffy interviews on the red carpet, at one point describing the venue as a “celebrity steakhouse.” And then came his recent hosting duties on The Voice, an American Idol-style music contest that’s become this year’s sleeper hit. Daly may not be the most entertaining part of The Voice, but the fact that he’s in any way involved with another hit music show just proves that Ryan Seacrest hasn’t completely co-opted his cultural identity. I called Daly to talk about the season finale of The Voice, which airs next Tuesday, June 28th, on NBC. For a guy I mostly remember introducing boy band videos in the late 90s on MTV’s Total Request Live, he was surprisingly droll and sardonic.
Eric Spitznagel: I’m shocked at how much I enjoy The Voice. I’m not much of a fan of TV singing contests in general.
Carson Daly: Neither am I. When NBC pitched the idea to me, my sentiment was pretty much as earnest as yours. It just didn’t sound like my sort of thing. I know that reality TV has definitely evolved and gotten more interesting over the last few years, but I was still reluctant. And then I watched the original Dutch version, and yadda yadda yadda, I just fell in love with the format.
The format may be different, but it’s the same basic genre as shows like American Idol and the X Factor. It’s still essentially karaoke, right?
Yeah, I’ve heard that before. And I know where you’re coming from. Listen, I’ve devoted my whole life since I was eighteen to a pursuit of music. I started out as a disc jockey. I lived in six cities over six years in a pickup truck. I lived in a Motel 6 when I was twenty years old just so I could be close to music, real music. I’m from the generation that grew up with bands that had to work for their career and had to spend time on the road, had to build a fan base, had to do anything to get signed. So when television became an outlet for bands, I was one of the first in line to be cynical about it because it didn’t feel authentic.
I don’t mean to knock on karaoke. There’s nothing wrong with getting loaded with friends and singing off a teleprompter. When was the last time you drunkenly busted out a little “Don’t Stop Believin’”?
Eric, as sure as I’m talking to you right now, in my life I have never sang a karaoke song.
You’re kidding. Not once?
Nope. Never. But I have friends who go all the time, and I know it’s a lot of fun. But I personally have never gotten up and sang karaoke. It’s kinda not my scene.
What about when you’re alone, in the shower or something? Do you sing at all?
Well sure, I’ll do that. I love the idea of singing, I’m just not very good at it. I can hold a note, and I might surprise you. But no one’s going to turn their chair around on me. I also play guitar, though like with singing, I’m not very good at it. I taught myself how to play with an Eagles Complete songbook, and one of those tablature books that were written for five year olds, where they show you where to put your fingers to do major chords and minor chords. I learned just enough to play a couple of Oasis songs pretty well.
And now I have this wonderful image of you in a skanky Motel 6, which smells like menthol cigarettes and hookers, and you’re siting on the edge of a stained mattress, strumming a cryptic and clumsy “Champagne Supernova” on a battered guitar.
That was about it, yeah. Also, the front door of my room was broken. This Motel 6 was one exit away from Tijuana — in National City, near Chula Vista — so it wasn’t the kinda place you just want to let the neighbors walk in unannounced. So I used to have to reverse my pickup truck so that the bed of my truck butted up against the door so no one would break in. I ended up staying there for several months. That’s some good times right there.
Let’s talk about your new gig on The Voice. Speaking of things that shocked me about this show, I found the judges to be shockingly likable.
Well, I mean no disrespect, but I don’t own a single song by any of them. But put them together on a judges panel and they’re like the cast of Cannonball Run. Are you as surprised as the rest of us?
Well, yes and no. I love them all individually and I know them all personally. But you don’t know what the sum of the parts is going to be on television. I know that’s not really an answer. People have often wrote that I’m lukewarm to everything, that I have a Switzerland-esqueness. That came from TRL, because we were a multi-genre pop culture show. We played Kid Rock and Eminem and Backstreet Boys. And I loved them all equally, the same way I love the judges on this show all equally.
For several episodes, Cee Lo has worn the same Misfits t-shirt. Does he really listen to the Misfits?
I honestly couldn’t tell you. I know that when we sit around in what we call our trailer village in the Warner Brothers lot, where it sometimes feels like we’re camping, Cee Lo and I will bullshit about music, and he has very eclectic tastes. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he was a big Misfits fan, though I’ve never asked him directly. He listens to my iPod all the time and I have everything from the Stooges to Ben Harper to Kings of Leon.
Do me a favor. During the live season finale, when you guys are hanging out in the green room, just casually mention to him, “I was listening to ‘Last Caress’ the other day. Awesome song, right?”
See if he bites on it?
I’m just curious. You know how sometimes you see a guy with a Ramones t-shirt and you’re like, “Hey, somebody’s been to Target.”
No, Cee Lo’s not that guy. He’s definitely not that guy. He did not go to Target or a vintage shop on Melrose and get a Misfits shirt. He never struck me as the kind of guy who’d be like, “I don’t know who these guys are but the shirt looks kinda cool.” He is as credible as they come, from my experience.
Speaking of the Misfits, why didn’t you pick Danzig to be a judge on the show?
Oh dude, you’re talking my language now. Are you kidding me? If I had any say in it, he’d be up there. Where is Glenn these days? That’s the real question.
I have no idea. My hope is that he’s touring Indian casinos and blowing minds.
Yeah, yeah, that could be true.