Niall Horan’s ‘The Voice’ Coaching Gig Is a Full-Circle Moment

As the newest star to sit in the hallowed chair, he’s offering up his expertise to the next generation of musicians while preparing for the world to hear The Show.

Niall Horan NBC's 'The Voice'

Evans Vestal Ward/NBC

If the Niall Horan of today (newly minted coach on The Voice, chart-topping musician, and One Direction alum) had encountered the Niall Horan of 2010 (16-years-old, “upbeat,” and “ready to fill arenas around the world,” according to his X-Factor audition) during The Voice’s Blind Auditions earlier this spring, there’s not even a sliver of a chance that he would’ve turned his chair around. His words, not mine.

“I definitely wouldn't turn for me, if that's what you're asking,” Horan tells InStyle when asked if his coaching experience on The Voice has changed the way he now looks at his original X Factor audition all those years ago. “I was probably a year or two early, but then, luck was on my side. I was in the right place at the right time with the right people, and Katy Perry saved my ass and the rest is history.” (Yet another reason to stan Katy Perry.) 

For the unacquainted, Horan has gone through quite the transformation since that fateful life-changing audition-slash-Katy Perry meet-cute first landed him a spot in One Direction, effectively skyrocketing his career into the stratosphere over a decade prior, and yet? Multiple world tours, a boy-band breakup, and a pair of successful solo albums later (with his latest offering, The Show, set to release June 9), and Horan has found himself in the deliciously full-circle position to appear on a singing competition series yet again — the main difference being that this time, the power is in his hands.

Niall Horan nbc the voice

Trae Patton/NBC

“The decision-making in terms of who on my team stays and who goes when it comes to Battles and Knockouts and Playoffs, it's just a brain melt. Found that very tough,” Horan says of the most difficult part of joining fellow The Voice coaches, Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, and Chance the Rapper for the show’s 23rd season. “Apart from that, it's just been the most fun experience.”

That much is apparent. Whether pleading for singers to join Team Niall — “The first day of my auditions process was a disaster. I think I got like one person out of the twentysomething we’d seen” — coaching contestants through the season, or bantering with his fellow coaches (usually all at once), there’s rarely any doubt that Horan is having an absolute blast — and he credits it all to real-life friendships with his on-screen co-workers

“We got very lucky early, we could very easily have had to force some relationship on camera because we don't actually get on and all of that fake stuff,” Horan says. “We just instantly got on really well on and off-camera … But I was obviously worried. You meet new people, you don't know what their personalities are going to be like.”

niall horan blake shelton kelly clarkson and chance the rapper 'the voice'

Trae Patton/NBC

So, what are his fellow coaches' personalities really like, exactly? Chance is “a good laugh,” Shelton is “a good man,” and Kelly Clarkson is, well … Kelly Clarkson.

“I think the biggest shock of The Voice was, I knew Kelly Clarkson was one of the best singers in the world. And then I met her, and now she's 50 times better than I thought. Every time she opened her mouth, I was like, ‘Huh?’” Horan laughs.

Beyond just being an incredible singer, Horan adds that Clarkson is also one of his biggest hype(wo)men: “I did this thing where I was going around to all of the judges and I was playing ‘Heaven’ for them on my phone,” he says. “Then I came back to them a week later to see if they remembered anything, and Kelly knew the whole thing inside-out after one 30-second listen.” 

With the release of Horan’s third studio album just weeks away (and his second single from The Show, “Meltdown,” out now), it’s no question that Clarkson — and the rest of the world — is going to have more than enough new music to enjoy. As for if we can expect to see any of his songs on the next installment of Kellyoke? Horan says that’s still TBD.

“I'd love to hear her sing ‘Heaven.’ Well, or ‘Slow Hands,’ but none of my other stuff would challenge her,” he says. “Actually, none of them would challenge her! ‘Heaven’’s probably the one that would challenge her a little bit, but it's Kelly Clarkson we're talking about. So, she probably wouldn't be challenged at all. She’d be about 10 octaves above.”

Read on as InStyle chats with Horan about his bromance with Blake Shelton, how life has changed since releasing Heartbreak Weather, and The Voice coach’s team 2010 Niall would’ve most likely joined.

Watching you on The Voice this season has been so much fun. What have you found most difficult about the new gig?

Pitching yourself to pick up an artist for your team — found that difficult. Apart from that, it's just been the most fun experience. Picking songs for the artists, having chats with them, and becoming close with those guys. And then, it's all about the banter between myself and the rest of the coaches. We just instantly got on really well on and off-camera. Around the dressing room corridor and just the kind of stuff that goes on behind the scenes is just a really good laugh and I didn't have to worry about that in the end. 

How would you describe your dynamics with each of the coaches? Is there a certain coach you'll go to for certain things?

Me and Chance get on really well. We speak a lot about music together — obviously, we're musicians — but you'd be surprised. We chat a lot about music and the kind of stuff he's been working on because he’s not like your regular artist. He's very much an independent artist with an independent feel. And the way his music brain works is just completely different to most artists that I've ever met. So I just find him really interesting and he's a good laugh. We can, you know, shoot the shit and have a bit of a laugh. 

What about Kelly?

With Kelly, she is… Kelly's Kelly. What you see is what you get. She's like a big sister. She's so full of energy all the time. That woman is so busy with kids and a talk show and The Voice and she's just everywhere hosting things left, right, and center. But she still has so much energy and it's so funny all the time. 

And Blake?

Blake. Yeah, it was fate that we met. We got on like a house on fire very early, and just day one straightaway made me feel very welcome. They all did, to be honest, but especially with Kelly and Blake, because they were there for a long time and we just got on really well. Got very similar senses of humor. Even outside of The Voice, we’ll try to meet up for a beer or whatever. He's just a good man.

Are there any clips from your time on The X Factor that make you look back and cringe?

Oh, yeah. Most of my career [laughs]. No, there were definitely clips that I watched back and thought, “What was I talking about? Why did I do that? Why did I sing that?” All the things I said, like you just get, it's not overconfidence, it's just like an awkwardness, and you've ended up just looking like an idiot — and it’s all on YouTube.

I know you said you wouldn’t turn for your 16-year-old self, but let’s say you auditioned for The Voice and got a three-chair turn. Who would 2010 Niall have picked as his coach? 

All of them for different reasons, obviously, but I feel I’d go Kelly. I think her song choices are always very good, and coming from a show like that, too [with American Idol], she gets it. And she won hers. She won the damn thing.

A lot has changed since you dropped your last studio album, Heartbreak Weather, the same week as the COVID shutdown. In what ways does your life look different heading into the release of The Show?

I've matured in some ways … not all of them. I think that we've all changed because of that pandemic, we're probably a bit more grateful too. It just kind of opened up my mind to bigger thoughts and things that feel more settled because I've been in one place for a long time. So, I feel more comfortable, and that probably reflects in the music too. I think you can probably hear that. I think you can also hear the time that it took me to make the record, which I think is a good thing.

You can hear the consideration that I put into the record. I guess just growing up a little bit has probably changed my perspective on a few things. My outlook on things and just general growth is always going to affect your music. When I first wrote my first album, I was probably 22 and I'm heading into 30 now. Things change, interests change, outlooks change. 

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