Chart stars chased to replace Urban on The Voice

The seat vacated by Keith Urban on Australia's smash hit talent show The Voice has become the most hotly contested seat in Australia.

But despite speculation that Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin has managed to grasp the seat's signature red button with both hands, well-placed sources suggest the field is still wide open.

A string of high-profile names have been attached to the gig, including the American singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz and Matchbox Twenty's songwriter and lead singer, Rob Thomas.

Both Kravitz and Thomas were in the mix as possible coaches last year during the development phase of the first series of The Voice but Channel Nine and the show's production company, Shine, eventually settled on Seal, Joel Madden, Delta Goodrem and Keith Urban.

In a curious twist, Thomas has since signed on to the American version of The Voice as a mentor, working with Cee Lo Green, who is a coach on their version of the show.

Sources say Kravitz and Thomas are still on the shortlist for Australia as possible replacements for Urban.

Two other names said to be seriously in the mix are the English singer-songwriter James Blunt and the American singer-songwriter Jason Mraz.

Blunt is an MTV Award-winning and Grammy-nominated artist who has sold more than 18 million albums worldwide. He is also a former soldier in the British Army.

Mraz has won two Grammy Awards but does not have the same profile in Australia as some of the other potential contenders.

Interestingly, sources say that lack of a profile is not a hindrance: both Nine and Shine are more inclined to make a decision that sits best with the show's tone, not just chase high-profile names for the sake of it.

The feeling is that the success of The Voice in Australia is strong enough to carry the show and that its audience would respond more positively to the right choice for a coach, rather than one seen as an excessively commercial choice.

Other names mentioned in conversations about the gig include Savage Garden's Darren Hayes and the Paris-based Australian singer Tina Arena.

Sources say Hayes is not a likely starter and that Arena, despite her popularity, is not likely to crack the shortlist either. It is also possible that Arena's potential has been bruised by the failure of Ten's Young Talent Time reboot earlier this year, on which she served as a judge.

A number of other high-profile contenders for the first season of The Voice, notably the American singer-songwriters Usher and Pink, have been ruled out.

Sources say Pink's schedule next year is full and Usher has been signed as a coach for the US version of The Voice, which effectively rules him out of contention. (Usher and Shakira are replacing Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera on that show's fourth season, which will air next year.)

As well, it is most likely Urban's replacement will be a male coach, so the balance of personalities on the existing panel is not altered dramatically.

The Australian version of The Voice featured only one female coach in its first season, Delta Goodrem.

It also featured two female mentors: Ricki-Lee Coulter, who worked with Seal, and Megan Washington, who worked with Urban. (The other mentors were Darren Hayes, who worked with Goodrem, and Benji Madden, who worked with his brother, Joel Madden.)

One of the emerging hurdles to a casting process like this is the popularity of talent shows worldwide and their collective dependence on a shallow pool of A-list international recording artists to populate the "superstar" coaching and judging panels.

As a result, programs such as The X Factor, The Voice and the Idol and Got Talent franchises in countries such as the US, Britain and Australia are fiercely competitive in securing talent.

The problem has been amplified in the last few years. Idol and The X Factor, in particular, are ageing franchises and have, particularly in Britain and the US, depended on changing their judging panels to generate media and audience interest in each new season. Losing Keith Urban to American Idol illustrated that point.

A rumoured $US4 million ($3.9 million) paycheck secured Urban's talents, alongside a largely re-assembled panel comprising veteran Randy Jackson and newcomers Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey.

In contention

Lenny Kravitz
Rob Thomas
James Blunt
Jason Mraz

Unlikely

Chris Martin
Darren Hayes
Tina Arena

Ruled out

Usher
Pink

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