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. 

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