Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Voice makes itself heard

You know, what Britain really needs is a talent show. Some kind of weekly broadcast that would enable undiscovered singers to showcase their love of Adele songs, perhaps including a panel of industry mentors and the prize of a recording contract with a major label. So hurrah for the BBC, which has spotted this egregious shortcoming in the schedules, and commissioned its own version of US smash hit The Voice.

As the name implies, this one's all about what you sound like, rather than frippery like appearance and stage presence. So the auditions are 'blind', with wannabes performing to a panel of "Four of the biggest names in music" who have their backs turned until they decide that they want to mentor the artist. It's also a handy bit of wish-fulfilment for anyone that's keen to see the back of Jessie J.

Joining Jessie on the coaching panel are, Danny O'Donoghue and Tom Jones, who has almost completed his transformation into Morgan Freeman. Will weighs in on the concept to declare that this is "not a traditional karaoke talent show" - unlike the one he happily appeared on two weeks ago. Before they take to their big red pilot seats (high-backed, so as not to distract the singers with the size of Tom's bald spot), the coaches team up to perform 'I Gotta Feeling'. They sound OK, but visually it's a mess - more Addams Family than Black Eyed Peas.

The coaches take their seats, giving us the chance to check in with our aspiring hopefuls. It's cliche o'clock as they rattle through some of their favourites - This is the moment, It's now or never, Many a mickle makes a muckle.

Seventeen year-old Jessica from Belfast is up first. She's got enormous hair and too much makeup - because remember, it's all about the voice. She's singing Price Tag, by Jessie J. Now, can anyone guess whether Jessie's going to spin her chair? Actually, all four coaches opt in, which means that Jessica can take her pick. She'd probably be more excited if she could actually see them, but it's going to take a couple of production runners to lift those false eyelashes. tries to impress her by naming all the countries he could launch her in, but it starts to sound like a Eurovision roll-call. Tom's pitch wouldn't get him through the screening stages of Dragon's Den, and Danny can only offer the fact that he can play guitar. But he's raised one of his legs and he's winking at her, can we get a close-up on camera 2 please?

Sean Conlon is from boyband 5ive. He's on a personal journey to find out "Who Sean Conlon is." Hopefully, his destination will be a town called "Don't speak about yourself in the third person." None of the judges spin their chair, but it's hardly surprising, because it's all unimaginably bland. Still, Reggie Yates is on hand to tell him "That was a step in the right direction." I'm not sure he's grasped the concept of the show yet.

Samuel Buttery is "jolly", which he admits is just a nice way of saying fat. Looking like Amy Lame in man-drag, he should be popping up on any day now. He's singing an Adele song, giving this underrated artist some much needed exposure. His idol is Tom Jones, so it's probably just as well that Welsh wonder picked him for his team.

Toni is 34 and has alopecia, giving us our first taste of the tearful sob stories that we like from our talent shows. She's an attractive woman, and looks stunning with her bald head shining in the spotlight - thank God she ditched the headscarf, which made her look like Bib Fortuna. Her voice has a great tone, but some of her phrasing is a little cabaret. Weirdly, Jessie J commends her for not over-singing, which is like Nigella Lawson giving someone props for cooking with Elmlea.

Aundrea, is a backing singer who's worked with some of the biggest names in R&B. She's got a big personality (polite euphemism alert), and when she gets her sass on, she sounds like Rusty Lee without the mangos. She bellows Crazy, and although it's big and loud, it's like she's trying to parallel park a JCB. Tom's a fan though, so after picking Aundrea and Sam, let's hope the producers have given him the biggest dressing room.

Alan is described as an 'indie guitarist', which is enough to get me humming ABBA in my head. He looks like Russell Howard, and he's doing The Stereophonics, but without the gravel. likes him, because "You remind me of the cats I hang out with at home." Someone get Office Dibble on the phone. Alan has to choose between Will and Tom, who tells him a lengthy anecdote about the fact that he spent time in Elvis' house, then Will responds with a house-share story about Michael Jackson. If time spent in other celebrities' homes is enough to qualify you for this show, Lloyd Grossman would be a shoo-in.

Sadly, the BBC has also caught the 'coming up next' bug, trailing what's going to happen later in the show, without any commercial breaks to justify the technique. After that pointless detour, we meet a couple called Max and Twinnielee (no, me neither), who have applied to the competition separately. Up first is Max, who's rocking his best busker chic, and sings like Adam Levine. Will and Danny both like it, spinning their chairs like they ought to be nursing a white cat on their laps. Jessie joins in, by hitting the button with her ankle, giving the unsuspecting singer a glimpse of her price tag as her chair rotates. Danny keeps plugging the Irish connection, effectively casting himself as the Louis Walsh in this show. And who wouldn't relish that kind of comparison?

Before we get to see Twinilee fail to wow any of the judges, we meet Ben, who's already something of an internet phenomenon, and not just because he could take pride of place on His curious ensemble is topped off with a bow-tie, that gives him the look of a 17 year-old amateur magician. He's got a great voice, think Jake Shears without the post-disco affectations, and he scores approval from all four coaches. Jessie tells him "Your licks are mad clean," as though he's an attentive housecat. Jessie scores yet another mentee, leaving Will to wonder why no-one's picking him. It's probably because the show's called The Voice, and they all think he's going to get them in the studio and say "Hey, check out this cool software that makes you sound like Stephen Hawking."

Phil is a delivery driver and he's brought his Nan to weep all over Holly Willoughby in the green room. The voice isn't bad, but his diction makes him sound like his mouth is full of Marlon Brando's cotton wool balls. Closing tonight's show is J Marie, who's picked another Jessie J song. She's got lots of power in her voice, but there a touch too much theatrical anger and shoutiness in her delivery. I keep expecting her to burst into 'He Had It Comin' from Chicago. Will complements her on making him feel the pain. I think it's called tinnitus. Once again, the judges take it in turns to give their sales pitch, and she finally chooses Will because he turned round first. So after an hour and a quarter, we finally get our first surprise of the night. Roll on episode two.

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