Sunday, 21 April 2013

Tom croons, Jessie's tunes and depressed spoons - Week 4 of The Voice

Today, two things made me momentarily contemplate the existence of a supreme being. The sun came out, which meant I got to drive home from work with the roof down. And the BBC has shaved half an hour off its broadcast of The Voice, which means I might actually make it through tonight’s edition without stabbing a soup spoon into my eye-socket. No promises. They’re still trying to push the show’s dedicated smartphone app, on the promise that you can play along with the show. Not that such technology is really necessary, since the same contact high can be accomplished by pulling an angry sex face and masturbating furiously whilst spinning on an office chair.

Kicking off tonight’s show is Alice Fredenham, who’s threatening to cause a rift in the space time continuum by appearing on The Voice just seven days after bringing down the house on Britain’s Got Talent. Not that we’re supposed to know that, since her BGT appearance was all about how shy and insecure she is. Tonight’s a very different matter, as she’s all confidence and curiously prominent breasts. She’s thought a lot about her style since, “I love Rita Hayworth and those old Hollywood glamour type people.” Presumably because speaking at good were they all.

Ordinarily, this backstage interview would be followed by Alice’s actual performance, but the BBC is trying desperately to add some variety to the repetitive format. So we cut back to the holding area to meet part-time model Sarah Cassidy, who just has time to remind us of the fact that she’s a part-time model, before we go back to see Alice’s performance. That was an edifying editorial decision.

Alice is doing her best to give a sexy performance, as she breezes through The Lady is A Tramp, but the Hilda Ogden headscarf isn’t helping. None of the judges turn around, which means poor Alice has to stand there with her life in tatters as Jessie burbles incoherently about singers who just sing because they’re singing. Danny has little to add, except repeatedly commenting on how hot she is. As a despondent Alice trudges off stage, Danny growls “Smokin’!” at her, reminding us all of the dangers of invoking twenty year-old catchphrases, and how easy it is to get an honorary mention on @everydaysexism.

Now it’s back to part-time model Sarah, who’s singing voice sounds exactly like what I imagine Katie Price hears in her head, whenever she picks up a microphone. It’s high and pitchy, and all the mellifluous bits have about as much control as a drunk driver trying to commandeer a tractor. Still nursing a painful boner over the girl that got away, Danny’s busy asking Jessie what Sarah looks like, once again undermining the whole concept of a blind audition. As Jessie tells him that she’s gorgeous, he waits until the very last note to hit the button and rotates with his feet up on the front panel. His legs remain there throughout the post-performance chatter, to disguise the telltale dribble down his thigh. Tom’s also complimentary, telling her  “You did some wonderful, wonderful things with your voice.” It’s called singing Tom, I’ll send you a pamphlet. Once again, Jessie is trying to position herself as a contemporary Jeanne d’Arc, making a big deal about how difficult it is for females on the show. Even Danny seems incredulous at this, and he has a point. It’s not as if the women are hooked up to a giant dairy machine and forced to express milk as they tackle Celine Dion. Since he didn’t turn around, Will is trying to send signals to Sarah, encouraging her to choose Tom. When the lip reading doesn’t work, he starts spelling Tom’s name by waving his arms over his head, but there’s a danger a 747 could end up taxiing through the studio.

Emily’s up next, and she’s a little concerned that the coaches won’t be able to see her. She does understand that’s the point of the show, right? Anyway, she sounds a lot like Diana Vickers, in that most of the notes seem to be hitting a sleeping policeman on their way out of her throat. When the tempo speeds up, it loses some of its charm, and sounds more like a regular singer trying to hold a tune whilst perched on a washer on spin cycle. Will’s the only one who turns around, which doesn’t bode too well, since folksy acoustic strumming isn’t really his wheelhouse. Danny helpfully observes that Will turned round because he hears things that Danny doesn’t. In this case, it’s probably laughter and spontaneous applause.

Nick Tate is a Tourette’s sufferer, but since this is going out before 9 o’clock, we’re not going to see him call anyone a cunt or spit in their face. Double shame. His family are very encouraging, especially his dad who looks alarmingly like Michael Winner. Nick’s doing an acoustic version of Footloose, with a dash of improvised beat-boxing. It’s pretty good, so of course no-one turns around. One of his family members has the saddest face I’ve ever seen, like a clinically depressed teaspoon. Jessie asks Nick to sing something else, and they all start punching their buttons, which suggests it might be time for the producers to intervene and remind them of how the show works. Still, that’s one less Christmas card that Kenny Loggins will be getting this year. 

The next compilation segment is all about contestants performing songs made famous by the judges. Or songs by The Script. Case in point - Tom Gregory is doing one of Danny’s masterpieces, but even the lanky Irish rocker seems to be struggling to follow the lyrics. Jessie says song choice is really important, which is a passive-aggressive way of saying  “…and that was fucking awful.” Laura Prescott does Jessie J, but her voice is so far off the mark, she may as well have performed it in the car park. Jessie says “I’m gonna forget that was my song.” If only it was that easy. Finally, there’s LB Robinson, who’s doing a chilled-out take on Tom’s She’s A Lady. Tom’s twinkling like a kindly granddad who’s just been presented with a birthday card festooned with glitter and macaroni, and turns around with seconds to spare. LB is a support worker with the homeless, which prompts Danny to give him a standing ovation. Meanwhile, Tom feels proud that someone would be willing to come on and do one of his songs in front of him. Technically they’re behind him, but let’s not quibble.

A change of pace now, as we’re introduced to two middle-aged biker chicks; Barbara and Carla. One of them comments that there’s a perception that “Women our age ought to be mothers,” but most OB/GYNs would advise against it once they’re in their fifties. They come out on stage in matching bedazzled green jackets, and look like half of The Corrs in about twenty years’ time. Of course, having seen the VT we’re expecting something rocky, not a note perfect rendition of The Flower Duet. All four judges turn around, and Jessie yells “They’re so cute” because every fifty year old wants to be patronized by a woman half their age. Their voices are fantastic and the harmonies are great, but I’m distracted by the weeping man in a Stetson in the green room. Shouldn’t he be presenting an expose of cowboy builders on Channel 5? Will says he wants them to educate the youth on the importance of classical music and proper singing, because Rock That Body can only do so much. The judges all admit that they don’t have a fucking clue what to do with them – the best Will can offer is matching jackets. At least he’s honest, and it’s enough to win their fealty.

David Kidd is a Tom Jones vocal impersonator. There’s a lovely shot of him performing in a club with a pair of knickers hanging off his sleeve, but it’s not clear whether they were thrown by a fan, or if he’s just giving them an airing because the clothes horse was full. Everything about his stage presence suggests David Brent not being able to take a hint, but that doesn’t stop the camera from slowly panning down Tom’s front to focus on his giant red throbbing button. Sadly, it’s not enough to get the judges to respond. In fact, even once the singing’s finished, the rotation of their chairs seems decidedly grudging. When he admits he’s a Tom Jones cover act, he’s encouraged to launch into an impromptu rendition. Let’s accept that for what it is, and try not to question why the producers just happened to have the backing music on standby. David invites the elderly crooner to join him, but it looks as though the elastic bands holding his expression in place are giving him some trouble.

Time for our second pair of interwoven stories tonight, as Laura and Jessica both lack confidence but come alive when they sing. Laura’s up first, and flares her nostrils dramatically as she waits for Florence and the Machine’s Spectrum to kick in. In the end, it wasn’t really worth the wait - the big notes sound as if she’s having trouble swallowing a runny egg. Danny turns around, presumably because it’s getting late and he’s already let two hot women get away. But as Will cleverly observes, Danny’s enthusiasm seemed to wane once he’d had a look at the young hopeful.

Jessica points out that she really, really wants it, which instantly distinguishes her from everyone else who’s ever auditioned on a talent show. She’s doing an interesting version of Don’t You Want Me, but the Amy Winehouse affectations start to become a little wearying. Backstage, Holly appears to be cheering more emphatically than any of the family. None of the judges turn around, which leaves Jessica looking as though she’s chewing off her own face from the inside. Will tells her that she has a unique star quality voice, but sounds too much like someone else on his team. Jessica seems OK with that feedback, even though it has me wondering if Will knows what ‘unique’ means. Tom and Jessie tell her to come back next year, expressing far more confidence in the show’s future than any of its viewers.

Tonight’s final performance is from Karl Michael. Six months he was recording an album, only for the record label to pull out without any warning. Now he’s cleaning windows and working in a bar, just to pay his rent. Let’s all feel sorry for him, because he’s been forced to live in the real world. He even seems to blame the record label’s fickleness for the fact that he doesn’t have a girlfriend. He’s singing No More I Love You’s, but without any of the melody from Annie Lennox’s version, and straining his throat so hard that it’s got me needing a lozenge. All four judges turn, and Jessie kicks things off by making it all about her: “If you want to learn technique, and about what it’s like to be an artist right now, I’m your girl.” Danny, on the other hand, tells Karl “I’ve been in those exact same shoes.” Dolcis, £34.99. Sounding philosophical, O’Donoghue remarks “One singer comes along that you see a lot of yourself in.” But I think he’s just licking his wounds because he missed the chance to see himself in Alice. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Loud, not Proud

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably point out that I rushed home from a friend’s album launch tonight, in order to review The Voice. He wrote the songs himself, used friends around the world to provide accompaniment, and even crowd-sourced the funding. So having heard the not inconsiderable fruits of The President Lincoln’s labour, the prospect of ninety minutes of over-earnest ‘authenticity’ feels like something of a come-down.

The show’s opening comments are a craven attempt at positioning The Voice as something unique and worthwhile on the TV landscape. To be honest, it would have been more effective if they’d just cut to the Director General’s office, so he could say “I’ll give each of you a fiver if you promise not to switch over to Britain’s Got Talent.” Jessie points out  “We’re holding our hands up for people who are singers. That’s why this show is different,” giving us a poignant reminder of the year that Leona Lewis won the X-Factor by playing the spoons.

Reggie jumps in to announce that “This week, The Voice is louder than ever,” but it’s already deafening enough to give Lou Ferrigno a headache. Contributing to the cacophony this week, will be another former nineties star who’s hoping for a warmer reception than the four cold shoulders that greeted Kym Mazelle. At this rate, the show is running the risk of turning into a reprise of ITV’s Reborn In The USA, but without the excitement of seeing Peter Cox trying to fuck Gina G on a Greyhound to Alabama. King of Wishful Thinking indeed.

Anyway, tonight’s first performer is the former pop star in question – Cleo Higgins. As a prodigious teenager, she and her two sisters formed Cleopatra (Comin’ Atcha) and had a short run of success whilst signed to Madonna’ Maverick label. Now she’s a mum of two and trained pastry chef, but she’s “so tired of people recognising me for my history,” so perhaps she should have kept her girl band past out of it. Still, she’s here now, and “I’ve grown up, just like everybody else,” to which her unbuttoned blouse can happily attest. Her performance of Beyoncé’s Love On Top is pretty good, but feels decidedly lackluster after Amber Holcomb’s rendition on this week’s American Idol. Jessie turns round within seconds of Cleo starting, and Danny isn’t too far behind. Unfortunately, the poor thing doesn’t know the song like Jessie does, so he just tries to mouth the “You-ou-ou” bits. There are a lot of them. As the judges give their feedback, Will remains standing on his chair, as though the studio is slowly filling with raw sewage. And I’ve sat through enough of this show to know that might not be too far off. Danny commends the fact that she’s been in the music industry for a long time, although I’ve a sneaking suspicion she’s been making mille feuille for far longer than she ever spent in a recording studio. He doesn’t care though – he too has known the harsh sting of failure, and the feeling that people are trying to keep him down. I’m just wishing they’d used stronger restraints. In the end, Cleo chooses Will, so Jessie pretends she’s upset and moans that no-one is believing her this year. And so the theme of tonight’s show is established.

Barry James Thomas is the uncle of those two twins off Corrie, and the kindest thing I can say is that the boys clearly didn’t get their looks from his side of the family. Looking like the bastard offspring of James May and Heather off EastEnders, he’s busy making sure that nephew Ryan Thomas is in every piece of VT footage to help his profile. They’re all doing lots of forced laughing, as Ryan proudly admits that he styled his uncle for his big moment. It’s safe to say that Edith Head’s legendary reputation remains uncontested. Singing The Boys Are Back In Town he sounds every inch the pub singer. And, to be clear, we’re talking a knackered Wetherspoons on a depressed high street, not The Cavern. None of the judges turn round, and Danny helpfully explains that he remained unmoved because he didn’t get hit in the gut. If that’s all it takes, I’d happily have him spinning like a Lazy Susan.

Another rocker follows Barry’s unsuccessful bid – this time it’s Mitchel Emms, who once performed as Kurt Cobain on Stars In Their Eyes when he was ten. His dad is very supportive and keeps getting emotional, which takes some of the edge off Mitchel’s rocker vibe. The voice is fine, if a little overstretched, and he looks the part, even if he does worryingly remind me of The People Under The Stairs. Making a bid for this series’ most obnoxious moment (and there’ll be some stiff competition, I imagine) Danny stands on his chair, kicks the button with his boot, and rotates whilst playing air guitar. At this point, Simon Cowell’s returning talent show got such a ratings boost that the National Grid must have thought North Korea was attacking. Danny tells his newest protégé that he’s going to be a big star. This from a man whose own family think his last name is From-The-Script.

Elise Evans is from The Valleys, which comes as a surprise, since I didn’t think there’d be anyone left. She wants to come on The Voice for her Nan who is not dead. Looks like someone didn’t read the rulebook. She’s a lovely girl, who excitedly tells us that the judges have inspired her since forever, but I have an inkling that there’s only one mentor she’s got in mind. And he seems happy because someone’s finally picked a song he knows. They all turn around with just seconds to spare. Danny appears to be post-coital, and Will offers to help her out even if she doesn’t pick him, which scores a big “aaawwwwwww” from the audience. Tom stands up, largely to prove that he still can, and makes a final bid to recruit another footsoldier to his Welsh army. Perhaps they’re planning to secede from Great Britain and establish a nation founded on power ballads and slate mining.   

Emma Louise Jackson joins us from a long-lost Smack The Pony sketch; all eight foot of her. She’s got her hair up in an enormous bun that seems stuck on the side, like it’s threatening to tip her over.  The performance is so cabaret that Liza Minelli would be making a cutting gesture across her throat. It doesn’t help matters that she’s covering Ike and Tina with less soul than a Daniel O’Donnell Christmas album.  Will puts on his pretend glasses to applaud her sense of fun, and she responds by offering to eat some fire. Grinning like a lunatic, Emma Louise keeps telling is that she’s looking for a party, but I have a feeling that all over the country, people have doused the volume and switched off the lights to pretend that no-one’s home.

Connor Scott joins us from the front cover of Mad Magazine, where he’s spent the last sixty years asking ‘What, Me Worry?’ His mother needs to learn to let go a little, since she’s fussing about clean underwear when he’s trying to psyche himself up for his big break. Backstage, she gets very excited when Connor appears on the screen, as if she’s experiencing TV for the first time. He’s doing a very angry version of Ellie Goulding’s Starry Eyed, and tells the judges he learned his craft as a busker. Danny nods sagely, “Yeah, like me” because busking is the same as being in a boyband. This segment is really all about the lanky Irish pillock who keeps repeating everything Connor says, as if he needs a minute to process each soundbite. Finally, Connor admits that his sister really fancies his new mentor and is waiting in the green room. Danny perks up at this, as Connor offers to take him backstage. But I think he ought to let the sister make those kinds of offers.

Amy Wilkinson was going to audition last year, but chickened out because her nerves got the better of her. She spent three years in a girl band, but it’s not one that ever troubled the inside of a recording studio. Most of the pictures of the girls seem to suggest an act that was clothes-optional. Apparently, the other two band members were massive bitches – she doesn’t tell us that explicitly, but ‘personal differences’ is all we need. She’s picked She Wolf by David Guetta and Sia, but it’s so out of tune, she may as well have howled at the moon and then chewed at her arse for the rest of the performance. She tells the judges this is the first time she’s sung in four years, so I’m not sure how she got through the first round of auditions. Jessie leaps out of her chair to hug Amy, because she just can’t stand to see girls cry. Bless her, it’s been at least ten minutes since it was all about her, so she needed to do something to secure another close up. 

Time for a double act now, as Shelley and Maxine (also known as ‘Diva’) take to the stage. They’re two brassy old birds from the North East, one of which looks alarmingly like Tim Healy in drag on Benidorm. When they’re not bellowing Streisand hits to indifferent Working Men’s Clubs, they’re serving up steak bakes. They also appear to find the word ‘pasty’ utterly hilarious, which would probably grow tiresome for the other women on the Greggs counter. They’re clearly the life and soul of every party you ever left early saying you had to check on the kids. Their duet is actually pretty good, even if it does invite some unfavourable comparisons with the Barbra and Celine original. Tom and Jessie turn around, whereas Will is content to flirt with them, which actually pips that documentary about dogging for the title of ‘least sexy TV broadcast of the week’. In the end, they choose Tom, so at least Jessie didn’t have to pretend she knew what to do with them.

Leah McFall is from Belfast, but now lives in Camden and looks every inch of it. She’s nervous about performing in front of four big megastars, which makes me worry that she’s wandered into the wrong studio by mistake. In the first half of her song, she sounds like Larry the Lamb doing a Britney Spears tribute, but she comes into her own as the warbling and trilling gets more pronounced. Jessie says she’s “honoured to be part of your journey,” whereas Will starts talking about ducks and eagles. I have no idea. Jessie’s final pitch involves a piss-poor declaration of “girl power,” so it’s no wonder that she opts for Mr Am.  This leads into a glorious bit of schadenfreude, as we see a compilation of all the times Jessie has been rejected – it’s like You’ve Been Framed, but without the trampolines.

Lovelle is from South East London and works in one of those posh burger joints where the chips come in a galvanized steel bucket. After some carefully stage-managed impromptu kitchen singing, she’s ready for her big moment. She’s singing Rihanna’s Diamonds, and looks the part, except for the wooly hat. Jessie tells Lovelle that she’s hardcore, and only turns around for acts that she really believes in. But the clips we’ve just seen have reminded us that she’s spun around so many times it’s a wonder her nose isn’t bleeding.

Tonight’s final act is Lem Knights, who claims to have been following Jessie J since she first set up her YouTube channel. She’s even the alarm tone on his phone. Come on – admit it – we’ve all woken up screaming at the thought of Jessie J, right? He looks like an enormous troll doll, and is singing a hideous version of Do It Like A Dude. By some remarkable coincidence, playing to Jessie’s ego is precisely what it takes to win her patronage. Who knew? She offers Lem the ultimate prize – a chance to sing with her. For some people, that would be like getting the bag of lemons, but it’s enough to prompt a joyous flurry of gay hands. They duet on an improvised reprise of his performance, which acts as a stark warning of what’s to come on this series. Finally, the tension mounts as the lifelong Jessie J fan deliberates over which mentor to pick. Seriously.

All that remains is for Holly to remind us that we’re only halfway through the blind auditions, as I spontaneously develop an anxiety rash across my upper body. Pass the Savlon. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

28 reasons I won't mourn the Iron Lady

An elderly woman has died. And although she lived to the ripe old age of 87, she still leaves behind a grieving family, who are no doubt wishing they’d had just a little more time to say their goodbyes.

Tributes are flooding in, as one might expect. So, too, are the condemnatory opinion pieces. And this may well be one of them. Because when you’re as divisive a figure as Margaret Thatcher, your death is as likely to be celebrated as the life you led up to that point.

There will be countless writers, I’m sure, who possess a much more comprehensive understanding of the political climate that emerged around Thatcher’s election and took hold during her three terms in power. They’ll speak eloquently and persuasively about her gradual disassembling of this country’s heavy industries. They’ll explain in detail how she attempted to take apart the NHS. And they’ll probably have a pop at her about the milk.

The fact is, communities all over the UK still bear the scars of her eleven years in power, a circumstance made all the worse by the fact that the coalition seems determined to finish what she started. Which leaves the rest of the country feeling like the battered wife who finally breaks free, only to eventually settle down with another serial abuser.

Growing up in 1980s South Yorkshire, I was fully aware of the impact that Maggie’s leadership was having in the region. Whole villages suddenly found themselves out of work, and once the industry died, so too did the communities that fueled them.

But there was another area of life where her cast iron grip really hit home. But unlike the miners and steelworkers, who at least had each other to rally around, this was one we had to endure alone. And it’s the reason I walked home with a spring in my step this evening.

Clause 28 was originally introduced into local government in 1987 by Tory MP Dame Jill Knight, under the auspices of protecting children from homosexual propaganda. By May of the following year, the legislation was passed into law as Section 28, and explicitly forbade the “promotion of homosexuality in schools.” It was, predictably, trumpeted by those on the right as a triumph of common sense and old-fashioned values, over the needs of militant homosexuals.

Had anyone bothered to raise much of an objection at the time, any one of Maggie’s cabinet would have been primed to talk about how they were just thinking of the children. A fine principle, in theory, but for the fact that it was the kids who suffered as a direct consequence. Whilst the Tories loved to scapegoat and scaremonger, creating the illusion of an extended homosexual recruitment drive in our nation’s classrooms, the fact remains that the only children who needed protection were the ones at risk from bullying. And more often than not, they were the gay kids. Kids who wind up homeless, because they’re kicked out by intolerant parents. Kids for whom verbal abuse and beatings are a daily occurrence. Or kids like the one I knew, who bled to death on his bedroom floor after sticking a kitchen knife in his stomach, because he was worried he might be gay.

No-one knows the true extent of gay teenage suicide, partly because many of the cases go undocumented. Even so, a number of studies indicate that gay kids are around 40% more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. These days, there are a lot more resources available to young people, so suicide no longer seems like the only option. And yet the statistics are still depressingly high.

Now, think back to the late eighties, and consider the options. With most teenagers lacking the internal fortitude to broach such a taboo subject with family or friends, it stands to reason that they’d turn to their teachers or student counselors for advice. They, in turn, should be able to explain to them that liking the same sex doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Except that the government effectively issued them with a gagging order. 

As if the cruelty of the clause itself wasn’t toxic enough, the wording was even more heinous. You see, the Tories were smart enough to recognise that most people are inherently tolerant, so they phrased their noxious Clause in such a way as to be virtually inarguable. Faced with the question “Do you think that homosexuality should be promoted in schools?” it stands to reason that most people would answer no. Largely because the notion of promoting something as innate as sexuality, is nonsensical at best. Now, let’s try that again, only from the point of view of the kids Clause 28 was supposed to be protecting. “Do you think children who are being bullied or are unsure of their sexuality should be able to approach their teacher for support and guidance?” Put that to a referendum, and see how phrasing can skew the results.

Clause 28 was finally repealed by the Labour government in 2003. Because no criminal act was created, not a single prosecution ever took place. Instead, schools dramatically limited their activities and, by extension, the support they were willing or able to offer. Many people argue that Clause 28 was largely symbolic, however its legacy can still be felt today. Homosexuality may finally have been legalised in Scotland and Northern Ireland under Margaret’s rule, but that does nothing to excuse the fact that her government still found a way to actively write discrimination into British law. They made bigotry acceptable. And they demonstrated that if you want to push through divisive and objectionable legislation, you can get pretty much anything passed, just as long as you word it carefully.

No doubt someone’s already attempting to calculate the number of elderly people who’ve died in fuel poverty, since Mrs Thatcher spearheaded the privatisation of all those vital utilities. But I hope they’ll also spare a thought for the other victims of her callous policies – the unknown number who died long before they’d ever have to choose between heat and food. They heard our country’s elected leader rallying against “positive images” of gay people at the Conservative Party Conference in 1987, complaining that “children are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.” It’s no wonder they felt they had nowhere else to turn. 

Mrs Thatcher, I’m sure you’ll understand why I won’t be paying my respects, since you never afforded me the same privilege. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Highs, The Lows, and The Valleys In The Middle

After last week’s ignominious start, the pressure’s on for the BBC to bring in an audience for its flagship Saturday night spectacular.  They’ve even rolled out the new Voice Predictor Game, which enables the viewers at home to play along and try to match contestants with their celebrity mentors. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that Tom’s portion of the game has one giant button that just says ‘WELSH’ on it.

The continuity announcer gravely cautions us to “Take a deep breath, as the auditions continue,” and we’re left wishing that Jessie J would follow similar advice. Especially since she manages to be even more overbearingly self-absorbed than in last week’s show. It doesn’t matter whether she’s drawing attention to her quick-on-the-trigger button pushing, fine ear for vocal talent, or simply the fact that she has a uterus, there’s nothing she won’t say to keep the camera on her.

The show opens with our friendly ‘superstar judges’ back in cryogenic suspension, as their echo-chamber voice-overs compete for this week’s ‘Stating The Obvious’ award. In the end, it’s an even split between Will (“Somewhere out there is the winner of The Voice”) and Tom (“We just need to find them.”) Holly and Reggie are here too, if only to remind the viewers how these early stages of the show work. If nothing else, you have to admire the blind confidence in assuming that the universally negative coverage has prompted any uninitiated viewers to tune in for the first time tonight.

The first of tonight’s twelve contestants is Trevor, a personal trainer from Romford. Having worked as a backing singer for P Diddy, Mariah Carey and Florence and the Machine, he’s ready to take his place at the front of the stage. At this point, a floor manager taps him gingerly on the shoulder and tells him he’s going to be singing to the back of four chairs. Not sure that counts as a step up. Seven notes into Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and Jessie’s already turned around, with Will and Danny following suit, moments later. This leaves Tom staring blankly out at the audience, seemingly imploring them to help him figure out how the spinning chair works. Jessie gives Trevor a standing ovation before he’s even finished, which triggers the feeling that maybe her reaction isn’t entirely about the singer she’s supposed to be celebrating. Trevor gets a random round of applause for being thirty, leaving me to wonder whether the studio audience has been replaced with the machine that provided the laugh track for ‘Allo ‘Allo. Once Jessie’s finished talking about herself, Will offers to go to the ends of the Earth, and I’m considering whether it’s worth popping onto Twitter to organize a whip-round. In the end, Trevor picks Jessie, who thanks him for his belief in her. It’s going to be one of those nights.  

Emma from Doncaster is a beauty consultant, and sings country music. She even went to Nashville last year, to confuse the shit out of 3,000 people with her Last of the Summer Wine between-song patter. Taking to the stage looking like Catherine Tate doing a sketch about Pixie Lott, she showcases her twangy, Kellie Pickler-style take on Guns ‘n’ Roses. And it’s just strange enough to work. The voice is convincingly country but she lacks any substantial presence, like a fart Dolly Parton might leave behind in a dressing room. Tom is the only judge to turn around, and he leaves it to the very last minute. Not to worry; he’s made an 18 year-old beautician very happy, and I don’t imagine she’s the first.

17 year-old Sam was signed up by him Mum, who’s nothing if not persistent. When he was fifteen, she staged a sit-in protest at a Michael Buble concert until he agreed to let her boy perform with him. The original clip went viral and had over 2 million views, so we might consider an appearance on The Voice as something of a backward step. Not to worry – Buble has even sent a good luck message via Reggie’s iPad, which has nothing to do with the fact that the Canadian crooner’s comeback album is out in a week’s time. Sadly, none of the judges turn around, so Sam’s mum is probably kicking herself for staying in the Green Room. As they offer their expert feedback, Will announces that he had issues with Sam’s tonality and emotion. And let’s face it, when the composer of Boom Boom Pow gives you that kind of feedback, you’re going to take it on board.

Alex is the star of Thriller Live, but now he’s keen to step out from Michael Jackson’s shadow and become a solo artist. He tells us that he’s very close to his dad, but he’s wearing his jeans so low that the hug he gives him in the bar area could trigger an Operation Yewtree investigation. His rendition of Chris Brown’s Don’t Wake Me Up has been supplemented with a ridiculous echo effect, so he may as well be auditioning in Wookie Hole. On the high notes his voice is pure but he also takes on an annoying vibrato. Nonetheless, it’s very dancey and would no doubt give David Guetta a raging baguette-on. Danny thinks they can work together because they’re a similar age, completely overlooking the fact that they both also have a thing for cheap leatherette bangles. But, despite the fact that Will is clearly his best option, he goes for Jessie.

Next up is a familiar face. Not for you, maybe, but this is Lorraine Crosby who was the entertainment at my friend Cassie’s wedding. Apparently, she also sang the female vocals on I’ll Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t Do That. Not that you’d know, since she hardly ever mentions it. Unless her mouth happens to be open. She does a great job of Midnight Train to Georgia, but she seems more suited to an empty bar-stool on the Loose Women panel. It doesn’t take her long to bring up the Meatloaf connection again, once the judges try to explain why none of them turned around while she was singing. Poor old Danny is clearly struggling with the concept of a duet, blathering to Tom “She sang with Meatfloaf. That was her on that song.”

Following Lorraine’s unsuccessful audition, it’s time to meet a man who calls himself Ragsy. He tells a story about where his name came from, but I can’t understand a word of it. Let’s hope his diction improves when he’s singing. As if the eco-warrior name wasn’t bad enough, the styling is also problematic – he has the scruffy hair and dead-eyed look of a Victorian doll that’s been fished out of a puddle. Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered how to make Coldplay more annoying, try getting a scruffy chef from The Valleys to sing one of their songs to Danny from The Script. Tom turns around, but even he seems to be having trouble understanding whatever Ragsy is saying. Every time someone speaks, Ragsy says, “Aww, fantastic, thank you very much. That’s brilliant, that is.” which certainly won’t get annoying. Tom offers him the chance to have some fun together. Ordinarily, I’d pick up on the latent homoerotic innuendo there, but to be honest, Tom’s more likely to take him for a spray tan and some veneers. In the end, the boy from The Valleys picks Tom - the biggest twist since Bruce Willis realised he hadn’t changed his shirt in 18 months.

Time to meet the first duo of the series, as Harry Smith and Katie Jones announce themselves: “Together we are Smith and Jones.” They’re introduced to the strains of One Direction, which seems a little like the musical equivalent of Jim Bowen telling them “Here’s what you could have won.” Only instead of a four-berth caravan, it’d be a record contract worth the paper it’s printed on. They’re a real life couple, but she’s way more into it than he is, as evidenced by the sight of him wiping away her kiss. As a pair, their voices blend nicely and they’re well suited, although neither would be especially strong as a solo. I’m trying to think of another comparable act, but their rendition of Paulo Nutini’s Candy sounds more like The Beautiful South than anything else. Will gives them some relationship counseling, and Tom can’t wait to let Danny pick up the slack.

Liam performs in Les Miserables, and he’ll be singing This Woman’s Work (yay!) for his Nan who died last year (boo!). He starts to gets all emotional, but decides to try and reign it in when he remembers that Cowell won’t be in the editing suite. He tells us that he wants to finally put her to rest, which has me picturing the desiccated corpse in Norman Bates’ fruit cellar. His falsetto is great, but his rendition of the song isn’t a patch on Maxwell’s version (or Kate’s original, for that matter). All four judges turn and give him a standing ovation, ignoring the safety rules about not standing while the ride is in motion. “You sound like so many singers that I listen to, and that’s rare,” says Jessie in a moment of contradictory surrealism. After a lot of deliberating, which certainly didn’t help these ninety minutes pass any faster, Liam goes for Will.

Last year we had Denise from Five Star. This year’s contestant who missed the casting call for The Big Reunion, is 52 year-old Kym Mazelle. Stalking into the studio looking like a murder of crows that flew into a disco ball, she announces that she “pioneered House music and was on Top of the Pops every week.” I don’t mind admitting that I have fond memories of Kym, but her suggestion that “Maybe the coaches will recognise my voice…” seems like something of an over-reach. She even waves at the audience, as if to say “I know, it’s me, can you believe it?” If this was the X-Factor, we’d be focusing on the crowd’s bemused gurning. Her erratic presentation of Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire sounds like something you might hear at Happy Hour in a casino. None of the judges turn around, but this doesn’t stop her demanding that Will help her down the stairs. As she regales them with the story of how she brought house music to the UK, Will’s surprised face says more about the cruel fickleness of fame than it does about his respect for her contribution to modern music. In the end, he’s pressured into thanking her for all that she’s done, so at least she can leave the studio without the need for staging a hunger strike.

Nadeem Leigh has instantly trumped Liam with a moving ‘dead mum’ story. Even better, he manages to spin his grief into a homeless and substance abuse tragedy. But he’s pulling his life together again, telling us that “the past is in the past”, and now he channels his hard life experiences into his music. It’s safe to say that he won’t be doing the Cheeky Girls.  He starts the first line of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for, which prompts Danny to do a weird lip wobble. This is either a sign of appreciation or a garlic burp. The voice is good in an Adam Duritz sort of way, but he’s dressed like one of the teenagers in Jaws 2. Danny offers to text “the lads in U2” about him, but I hope he’s not too upset if Bono and the boys are screening their calls.

Nick Dixon is 16 and first sang at a Butlins camp. Don’t worry, that was as a guest rather than a redcoat. He has confidence issues, and has been working with a self-help charity to get his self-esteem up. It’s obviously worked, since he’s not even fazed by the prospect of feeding a flock of Canada geese out of his pocket. And they’re vicious fuckers. The audience whoop their appreciation of I Won’t Give Up – it’s fine in his upper register, but the low notes are almost non-existent. None of the judges turn around though, so it’s back to the confidence classes for Nick. And to think – I made it all the way through this paragraph without saying “Hey look Ma, I caught a Fraggle.”

Alys Williams is the first repeat Voice contestant. And that’s quite an accomplishment, when you consider the fact that most of last year’s viewers didn’t even bother to come back again this year. She’s about the Welshest person I’ve ever heard, with the tone of Adele, and the phrasing of Will Quack Quack. All four judges turn around this time, and Danny complements them all on giving her such great advice. But I’m not sure how much credit they can really take for simply telling her not to fuck up next time. Alys is struggling to make a decision about which mentor to pick; telling the judges “I respect you all the same.” That’s either a massive complement to Danny, or an enormous insult to Tom. Backstage, Holly flops on a couch and says “Argh, I can’t watch, let me know when it’s all over.” And let’s be honest, she’s speaking for the entire nation.