Sunday, 23 June 2013

Time to give The Voice a laryngectomy

When the second series of The Voice started, I was fully prepared to give it a fair hearing, in spite of how the last one turned out. In Voice parlance, I was prepared to spin my chair again, if I liked what I heard. I lasted four weeks.

Coming back to the show for its needlessly padded-out final, I feel a lot like Cillian Murphy regaining consciousness at the start of 28 Days Later. But with better hair. The world has moved on, and I just running around screaming, “Can someone please explain what the hell is going on?” Holly and Reggie are talking about the amazing voices competing for the grand prize, as if it’s worth the paper it’s printed on. And the contestants are marvelling at having got this far, despite only apparently facing the public vote once. It’s confusing, disorienting and loud, and makes me want to blow up a petrol station.

Think I’m overegging the horror analogy? Then you clearly didn’t witness the coaches’ group sing-a-long version of Get Lucky – everything that is wrong with the show distilled into three minutes of half-hearted trend-chasing. Will’s rocking a keytar like it’s 1987, Danny sounds like a nervous eight year-old at his first yodelling lesson, and Tom’s off his meds again. Meanwhile Jessie is dancing like a bored aunt at a wedding she disapproves of. Holly points out that “Everything has led to right here, right now,” helpfully reminding us of her latest white paper on the theory of relativity.
Speaking of Holly; she and Reggie have been struggling for two years now to present as a cohesive unit and they’re not getting any better. There’s an embarrassing moment as they both accidentally read the same autocue. Amateurish and shoddy maybe, but at least they’re more coordinated than the judges’ opening performance. The most telling thing to come out of all this introductory preamble, is Holly’s admission that “Your vote will give one of them their first guaranteed recording contract.” That’s a judicious use of the word ‘first’ there, which implies that the underlings at Universal are still frantically drying the Tip-Ex on their Ts & Cs paperwork.

Representing Team Tom, Mike is a nice enough guy but he’s got all the stage presence of a low-calorie vinaigrette. He’s doing his best to sound excited, curiously adding “I feel like I jumped off the top bunk of my bed and landed in The Voice final.” Does he live in a hostel? His homecoming sees him visiting his local, which looks like the sort of place that puts out sandwiches on a Saturday night so the red-faced regulars don’t die of malnourishment. It’s full of women who show all their fillings when they laugh, and Mike has a touching reunion with his brother – a proud graduate of the Brian Harvey school (non-accredited) of hat-wearing. For his first song of the night, he’s chosen Suspicious Minds and it’s a bit of a mess. It’s probably not helping matters that someone decided to put a 50’s-Elvis shirt on someone with a 70s-Elvis body type. The buttons are straining harder than his vocal chords. The feedback is equally lacklustre, with Jessie winning ego points for commending Mike’s “improvement as a person,” because who doesn’t want their basic humanity arbitrated by the writer of Party In The USA?

Andrea is up next, with the voice of an angel and the perm of a depressed librarian. Despite the wearying condescension of the hosts and coaches, Andrea’s maintained her sparky sense of humour throughout the competition. At first, I assumed that her perpetual eye-rolling was just a side-effect of the glaucoma that took her sight, then I remembered that she’s had to spend the last couple of months with Danny O’Donoghue. There’s a nice bit of blarney as she visits home, but she’s missing a Louis Walsh to exhort the whole of Ireland to vote for her. Credit where credit’s due – the stylists have had a good go at her, and she sounds great. Of course, Danny’s doing his best Foghorn Leghorn posing and is gesturing at her like a drunk conductor, oblivious to the fact that she can’t fucking see him. By the time a pair of animated wings unfurls on the screen behind her, turning her into a giant singing sanitary towel, Twitter explodes with indignant rage. Danny says there wasn’t a hair on his body that wasn’t standing on end, and Tom says that Andrea gets him right in the pacemaker.

Jessie is waxing lyrical about Matt who’s a real ar’ist, because she really likes a good ar’ist, but it sounds as if Holly’s already bored and just wants her to get on with it. They’ve taken him to a barn where assorted friends and family have gathered. For a joyous homecoming, this all seems a little sad and under attended. He talks about a “sea of faces” when, in all honesty, there’s barely enough to fill a paddling pool. His performance begins with him sitting backstage on a production box – which is the kind of trick Kermit the Frog used to pull. As he makes his way towards the stage, a bunch of backstage staff are clearly counting down their carefully rehearsed cues, before walking in front of him like the world’s most self-conscious extras. Matt’s version of Babylon is a lot more dynamic than David Gray’s version, but he seems to have misplaced the melody on his way to the stage. Most of the judges offer indeterminate variations on “Yeah, I thought it was great,” whereas Will goes for the downright incomprehensible “Whatever happens, happens. And what happened there was something that was happening.” The Taxpayers’ Alliance are going to have a field day with this.

Will begins by commending Leah on her extra-curricular activities, but is contractually obliged to sing Jessie’s praises first. Leah is another in a long line of talent show contestants to misinterpret I Will Always Love You as a beautiful love song, and I’m getting tired of pointing out how wrong they are. She tells us that the people in Ireland have shaped her and made her into who she is today, which I guess is her way of giving a shout-out to her colourists. Sadly, the other people who made her what she is today, are the stylists who thought a hot pink blouse, leather hotpants and clumpy black trainers would suit a jazzy rendition of the Dolly classic. The key change is a shouty mess, and by the end of it she sounds like she’s been possessed by Pazuzu. Holly tells her that she always puts her own twist on a song, when in fact she garrotted this one with a bootlace. Tom calls her a freak, but forgets to qualify it with a compliment, and Danny says “God didn’t just kiss your throat, he made out with it.” That kind of sacrilege could get him excommunicated.

After a brief but painful catch-up with the finalists, hosted by Reggie in one of Shakin’ Stevens’ old suits, our host tells us “For the first time tonight, you are in control.” If that was true, we’d be watching repeats of Hi-De-Hi. Not to worry, let’s see what Tom and Mike got up to on Denmark Street. They’re in a little music shop where Tom first kicked-off his career in the in the days following Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. Overcome with emotion, and oblivious to the reaction of bystanders caught in the crossfire, Tom launches into It’s Not Unusual. Mike looks like he’d rather be anywhere but here – but I guess that’s just life as a Voice contestant. I’m wondering whether Tom makes a habit of this – did he get kicked out of Morrisons last week for having a crack at Delilah in the cheese aisle? Their duet is the Green, Green Grass of Home, and they manage to make a relatively brisk three minutes feel like one of those experimental Giorgio Moroder 12-inchers.

Danny whisks Andrea off to the Isle of Wight, ostensibly to join him on stage at a festival. I don’t know if she was expecting to sing with the band, but she spends the entire time in the wings, washing the roadies’ tea mugs. Back in the studio now, and they’re doing Hall of Fame. To be honest, it’s less a proper duet, more like one of those ‘meet your idol’ things that Jim’ll Fix It used to do, pairing Kim Wilde with an awkward nine year-old from Cardiff. Final word goes to Danny, who says “That was great, it’s like the Script wasn’t my band anymore.” Meanwhile, the rest of the group are in his dressing room, shitting on his vanity unit. At least Jessie lets Matt join her on stage when they head out on her tour bus. For their duet, they’re mangling Never Too Much, which is an ironic choice given that, where Jessie J is concerned, it’s always too much. Leah doesn’t get to sing with her coach, but I don’t think she’s too worried, since he’s flying her out to Cannes on a private jet. Tonight they’re doing Bang, Bang – Will’s contribution to the Great Gatsby soundtrack. It’s a big old mess, fusing Charleston, Nancy Sinatra, big band and rap music, and it’s been staged like a two-tone cheese nightmare. Still, there’s production value to spare and at least it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves. As all four finalists and their mentors return to the stage, Will’s the only one who even looks as if he’s met his act before. The rest of them are shuffling awkwardly in place, like they’re awaiting a blood test.

Time for a quick guest appearance now from Robbie Williams and Dizzee Rascal. As they roll around the stage on their modified mobility scooters, like the bloated baby people from Wall*E, it’s hard to tell which one of them wants to be here the least. Eventually, Robbie stands up to reveal the giant Megaupload sign he’s painted onto the back of his jacket. It’s always nice to see a multi-millionaire industry puppet striking such a powerful blow for freedom of the internet. Where once Robbie seemed refreshingly unpredictable, he now has the depressing air of those middle aged men who spend all day at bus-stops, hoping to strike up a conversation with any passing teenagers.

This is the last show of the series, so it’s time for the BBC to put its blinders on, and stick fingers firmly in its ears, as it presents a highlights reel that blithely ignores the public’s widespread indifference to this failing format. According to the video, the whole country has gone Voice-crazy, spinning their chairs at home and playing along with the blind auditions. They’re supposed to be everyday viewers, but the contrived nature of their comments suggests they all came straight from Central Casting. 

The votes are in, and Matt is the first to leave tonight’s final. “I never thought I’d get this far,” he tells Holly, which is precisely why he was never going to win. “This has allowed me to work with the best artists in the world,” he adds, as Jessie nods sagely, assuming that he’s talking about her.

Trying to drum up the last few votes, Holly asks the audience “Who’s your winner. Whose album would you buy? Whose concert would you go to?” as if those three things were, in some way, connected.

Onto the final performances, and Mike sings Don’t Close Your Eyes dressed like a vicar. He’s really cranking up the Garth Brooks comparisons now, and it’s the best he’s sung all evening, but I’m afraid I’m damning him with faint praise. Andrea sings Angel in another dress that’s a foot and a half too short, but her voice sounds lovely. Although, I’m wondering whether the technical crew ran the angel-wings footage on the wrong track. Finally, Will threatens to come round to everyone’s house if they don’t vote for Leah. She’s doing Loving You, which is one of the most annoying records ever made, but it’s a great showcase for her multiple personality disorder vocal stylings.

Don’t worry folks, it’s almost over. Jessie points out “We’ve learned over two series what’s worked and what hasn’t worked,” but neglects to mention the disparity in size between those two lists. Holly reflects back on the series and comments “The talent has all been so high,” so maybe Tulisa’s been helping out backstage, now that she’s out of her X-Factor contract. 

After a quick guest performance by Michael ‘sponsored by Greggs’ Buble, Reggie and Holly make a final call for next year’s contestants. Holly reminds us that the lines close tomorrow, which Reggie helpfully explains by saying “You’ve only got one more day” for those of us struggling with the concept.

There’s just time for one more upset, as Will’s extensive Twitter campaign falls flat and Andrea is announced as the winner. Making yet another accidental sight reference, Holly comments “She was the one we were looking for the whole time.” Danny weighs in, adding “With a great song you can smash down anything we put in front of you.” Which sounds like a particularly cruel way of amusing yourself with a blind girl. Not to worry – no matter what happens with her recording contract, at least Andrea can take comfort in the fact that she won’t have to watch The Voice when it returns in 2014.

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