Grammy winners Shakira and Usher have been on a roll since joining country crooner Blake Shelton and Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine as judges this season on NBC’s hit singing competition “The Voice.”
“I just feel like hugging him all the time,” Shakira, 36, said of Usher during an exclusive interview with the Daily News.
“I agree. I always want to let her,” Usher, 34, replied with a laugh.
“The Voice” is arguably the hottest show on TV right now.
It recently hit a year-long high of 14.4 million viewers — no doubt a huge relief to network executives who fretted over the departures of Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green. Season-four reviews, meanwhile, have been mostly glowing, with MTV calling the new quartet of coaches a “natural fit.”
Compare that with the state of affairs at former ratings juggernaut “American Idol,” now in its 12th season on Fox.
New “Idol” judge Nicki Minaj gamely assumed the meanie mantle left by Simon Cowell, but her fireworks often come at the expense of her fellow judges, especially Mariah Carey, who comes across as schmaltzy and humorless by comparison.
Once considered unstoppable, “Idol” pulled in about 12.7 million viewers on a recent Wednesday (April 17), and even fewer the following night, when it was bested for the first time ever by a repeat of “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS.
“The Voice” is also upsetting the applecart at ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
With episodes of both competitions airing opposite each other, “The Voice” is beating the ballroom dance show by a hair in total viewers and — to ABC’s horror — crushing “DWTS” with younger viewers.
The situation prompted “DWTS” judge Bruno Tonioli to complain to the Daily News last week that pitting “The Voice” directly against his show is “not fair.”
He added: “If we were on alone, then we would have 5 million more viewers. Our [show] is really good.”
Usher isn’t modest about “The Voice’s” success.
“This show has by far the greatest mixture of people you’ll ever see together on one stage,” he gushed in a suite at the picturesque Langham Huntington in Pasadena. “This is the type of shared moment and beautiful diversity that every show wants. And we’re all just so comfortable with it.”
The comfort level was apparent when Shakira leaned over and sweetly pulled one of her long blond hairs out of Usher’s short-cropped beard, where it had landed during a playful photo shoot minutes earlier.
“What’s surprised me most is how tough she is. She’s so nice, but man, at the same time she will chop you into little pieces,” he said of the hip-shaking, hit-making hottie.
“Yes, but I do it with a silk glove,” joked Shakira, who gave birth to her first child in January.
The Colombian-born singer’s competitive streak was on full display in the season’s first “battle round,” when she fought Usher to steal New York-born soul singer Sasha Allen from Levine’s team.
“Sasha is more of my type of artist, but to see Shakira really understand soul music and go after her as hard as she did made me love her even more,” Usher recalled.
Both said they’re excited about the faster-paced, off-the-cuff live shows that start May 6.
“I’m not nervous. We’ll figure it out as we go,” Shakira said.
“I really don’t know what to expect, since it’s my first time, but that’s the beautiful part,” Usher said. “I don’t come to the set concerned. I never dread going to work. Sometimes the days go long, but it’s still worth it. You’re laughing until the last moment.”
One big laugh came when Usher called Nashville a “state,” drawing rapid ribbings from Shelton and Levine.
“One of the 60 states !” Levine teased as Usher grinned good-naturedly.
Remarkably, the current crop of judges almost didn’t happen.
“I first said no to NBC because I was pregnant and they told me I had to stay in Los Angeles for six months,” Shakira explained. “I said, ‘There’s no way. I want to still have my boyfriend when it’s all over.’ ”
Her boyfriend is Spanish soccer stud Gerard Piqué , the father of her 3-month-old son, Milan.
“He’s anchored to [Futbol Club] Barcelona, so I had to say no at first. But NBC came back and asked me to reconsider because they’d be willing to accommodate me,” she said.
Indeed, she’s currently on a 10-day break in Barcelona even though the show is in full swing. And little Milan — a regular on the “Voice” set — was with Shakira Monday for an impromptu feeding minutes after she ended her News interview.
“I would have liked a longer maternity leave, but this has been the greatest experience,” she said. “No matter who wins, the world gets to see something about us that it didn’t know.”