In the history of performance reality shows like NBC's The Voice and Fox's American Idol, it isn't uncommon for the programs to go rogue, switching up the rules at the last minute in hopes of adding some nail-biting suspense to otherwise predictable episodes.
In keeping with that tradition, The Voice decided last Monday during the live quarterfinals to call for instant eliminations, which required the celebrity coaches to immediately send a contestant home, taking the choice out of the hands of the voting public. And in a shocking turn of events, Christina Aguilera chose to oust soul singer Jesse Campbell, a fan and coach favorite.
"I was in total awe," Campbell said with heavy sigh in his second interview with The Root. "I was just as surprised and quieted as the audience and the public. I didn't know why and I was in disbelief."
For fans of the show, it was clear that this wasn't a simple case of eliminating the weakest link. On the contrary, this decision seemed to go against the general consensus that Campbell was, in fact, "the dude to beat," as Adam Levine had put it in a previous episode.
"It was very unbelievable … I was speechless," Cee Lo Green said of Aguilera's decision last Monday, according to Hollywood.com. "We definitely don't share the same strategies as coaches."
Fans even took to Change.org with a petition to have Campbell reinstated, which garnered nearly 2,000 signatures. One signee argued, "because America would never have eliminated him tonight! If ever!"
Recognizing the enormous response, Aguilera addressed her controversial decision last Tuesday on the second night of eliminations, saying that while Campbell was talented, she wanted to work with artists who could grow. But could a comment from host Carson Daly be read to mean something slightly different? "She wants people she wants to continue to work with," he explained.
So what gives? In his first print interview since his elimination, we spoke with Campbell about his run on The Voice and his true relationship with Aguilera. He also told us how his daughter Soraya took the news and gave us a hint as to where we might see him again.
The Root: When the decision was made, it felt as if viewers shared a collective "what just happened?" moment. Tell us how you felt the moment Christina chose to send you home.
Jesse Campbell: I immediately had to pick my heart up from the bottom of my being. I thought, what did I do wrong? What could I have done better? And all of this was happening right there onstage in that moment. I told myself that I don't have time to process this right now. Everything happens for a reason, so I chose to love on the other contestants [with hugs and farewells] and keep it moving. And I wanted desperately to be with my daughter, but they were rushing me out.
TR: How did your daughter, Soraya, take the news?
JC: She took it badly. She was hurt and confused. I went through a lot to get her to be OK with me showing the world our pictures during the Halo performance. She didn't want to do it. She said things like, "Those are our pictures, Dad. Our moments." I told her it was OK, because people want to know about our life and the challenges we've made it through. So for then for me to have been chosen to be removed from the show, you can only imagine how much of a shock it was to her.
TR: How were you feeling in the hours and days that followed your elimination?
JC: I chose to see it in as positive light as possible. I just want to focus on what I desire to [see] manifest as a result of being on that platform. But you know, I am still processing it. For the first two days, I was cool. I was like, everything happens for a reason. All things work together for good. Next day I woke up hurt and angry. Very emotionally upset because of the way that things happened.
It was the shock of being favored by the coaches, including my coach, who said she would fight for me. But then one day she chose not to fight for me, but to fight against me. I chose to be on her team based upon her saying, "I will fight for you." That bothered me the most. She did not keep her word. And from that I said, I don't put my trust in man or woman, but [rather in being] true to God in me and what it is I believe I am here to do.
TR: Do you have any idea why you were eliminated? Do you think age or race had anything to do with it?
JC: I did think about a lot of those things. I try not to make assumptions, but you just never know. But your guess is as good as mine. No warning, no indication [given]. But, I don't believe that anybody owes me an explanation. It's a reality show. And you sign on not knowing what's going to happen.
So therefore, Christina Aguilera doesn't have to say anything to me, neither does The Voice or any of the parties involved. I did what I was born to do for the time that I was given that platform. And they made a choice, not via the public's vote, but they made a choice to remove me from that stage and eliminate me, so therefore, what more is to be asked? It is what it is.
[After this story was published Campbell contacted The Root to say that while he stands by this statement as it relates to age, he does not believe that race played any role in Aguilera’s decision.]
TR: What was and is your relationship with Christina Aguilera?
JC: Our relationship with the coaches is always monitored. We have no alone time with the coach. Always on a professional level and that's it.
TR: Do you think that Christina has favorites?
JC: Yes. They all do, and I believed I was a favorite of all of them, which is why the elimination was so shocking.
TR: Aguilera said she wanted to stick with a team comprised of contestants who have potential for growth, which can be read as she didn't think you were one of them. How do you feel about her comments?
JC: I take it as a big compliment. If she feels as though I was not growing, it's only because I had already grown in those areas. Maybe she could not assist me as she could the others. So, I see that in a positive way. But at the same time, I look at it as, how can I be more diverse? How can I grow? When I came on that show, I told all four judges that I am here to learn. If there is something to learn that will help me grow, give it to me and I will grow.
TR: Do you feel that you got that advice?
JC: No comment.
TR: What's next for Jesse Campbell? When will the public get to hear and see you again?
JC: I really want to speak about the possibilities that are being weighed at this point, but until I can find out how much I can actually divulge [according to the contract with The Voice], please know that the future is very, very bright. It is so good to know that.
My daughter is doing well because she understands the possibilities. Eventually she'll get that puppy she desires and hopefully that will happen sooner. Who knows, it may be something that the world can very well witness as it happens.
Akoto Ofori-Atta is The Root's assistant editor.