Sunday, 16 February 2014

I'd Rather Go Deaf - The Voice, Week 6

Time is running out on The Voice. Not only for the judges, who’ve still got a number of performers to recruit for their respective teams, but also for the viewers, who are looking at their EPGs and thinking “Well, maybe Take Me Out isn’t so bad.” These are dark times indeed.

Six weeks in and the four judges have comfortably settled into their roles now. Will is still grinning like he just grew a second dick, Kylie has extended her flirting to inanimate objects (and it appears to be working), Tom still looks as confused as a camel trying to understand shortwave radio frequencies, and Ricky’s wondering why he didn’t try clear mascara sooner. “This is the hardest bit for me,” moans Tom, but he could be trying to unscrew the lid off a jar of pickled cabbage.

Tonight’s first young hopeful is Emily Adams, whose family run one of those hotels in Blackpool that looks like the smoking lounge on a P&O ferry.  “There’s a lot of pressure for people my age to get their A-levels and go off to uni. That’s not really what I want to do.” She’d rather pin her hopes and dreams on an ineffective TV talent show instead – someone’s careers advisor won’t be getting a Christmas card this year. She’s singing this year’s go-to standard: I’d Rather Go Blind, and it’s a strong, if rather mannered vocal performance. Ricky gets his first team-member of the night, and Will finds a nice way of telling Emily she sounds like a fat old woman. He also thinks that she needs to go to church, but given the severity of her perm, I’d be calling into a hairdresser’s first.

Keen to “put his favourite musical style on the map,” John Rafferty is a shapeless pile of man who used to impersonate Garth Brooks when he was skinnier. Poor syntax means it’s hard to tell whether he means when he was slim, or when Garth himself was more svelte. To be honest, they’d both struggle to squeeze onto the Nemesis at Alton Towers. He ambles out onto the stage as if he knows there’s a sniper in the audience, and proceeds to perform a woefully pedestrian John Denver cover. It’s a little better at the end, but in terms of star quality, he made Andrea Begley sound like Whitney Houston. No-one turns, because they didn’t think he lived the lyric. Then again, I’m not paying too much attention – I’m too distracted by the tattoo in his arm that’s the size of a crop circle.

Continuing the country theme, here’s Talia Smith, who looks like Liz Jones without the aging effects of misanthropy. She’s singing Hell on High Heels, which is also a fairly apt description of the performance; the high notes are rough and the low notes are worse. Ricky didn’t like the fact she sang in an accent, whereas I’m more put off by the fact that she sang at all.

Having dispensed with the country theme, we’re now in Family Hour, as we see a bunch of genetically linked pairings. Buheiji are a brother and sister duo, who mangle Dog Days Are Over and disappear almost as quickly as they appeared. Leanne and Natalie are a pair of sisters who look like they were booked for Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, but wandered into the wrong production office. We only see about ten seconds of their performance, but it’s enough to know why no-one turned. Their Dad’s a big Tom Jones fan, so they drag him all the way to the green room as the audience sit and twiddle their fingers.

The next family affair is Shenton and Bizzi Dixon. Bizzi had a record contract, but “it didn’t go as well as we all hoped,” he explains diplomatically. Shenton, on the other hand, does a load of terrible impressions, none of which look or sound like the person he’s supposed to be. They’re not performing as a pair; they’ll be going up as individuals. Helping to facilitate peaceful family relations, Mum says “May the best son win.” Shenton is up first and sounds like the kind of tribute act you’ll see at a million company Christmas dos. You know the sort - throwing down a couple of half-decent Kool and the Gang covers, before parking himself by the vodka luge and making a move on the interns.

Shenton is upbeat and implores Bizzi to do what he always does. But since the only thing we know he’s able to do is fail, that doesn’t sound like total encouragement. He’s going to close his eyes and give it his best shot, not realising that the term ‘blind audition’ is supposed to refer to the judges being unable to see. His version of Use Somebody is rougher than his brother’s performance, but Kylie and Tom turn anyway. Tom wants to hear what else he can do, hoping that he’s saving ‘singing in tune’ for the duels.  

Nathan Amzi can do the splits and has the least convincing moustache since Baldrick befriended a slug. The vocal is under par, but Ricky’s got four spaces to fill so hits his button anyway. Kiki deVille is a burlesque performer. She shows off her nipple tassels to a bemused Marvin, who asks “Where do they go?” She offers an inconsequential version of Paloma Faith’s Stone Cold Sober, with some very weird pronunciation and a dress that looks like Joshua Allen Harris’ bin-bag sculptures. With the judges playing it hard to get, she screams the last note to win Will’s support.

Callum Crowley is described by him mother as “very theatrical,” and we all know what that means. Having rolled his eyes and pursed his lips, he comes out in a beanie and a pair of ridiculous glasses that would make Joe 90 think twice. His voice is a nasal falsetto and the song is unlistenably shrill. Nonetheless, three judges turn, leaving Tom gurning like he’s forgotten how the button works. “You know all about sexy,” Callum says to Kylie, unconvincingly. Will wants to fine-tune his areas, and Ricky hopes he’s a Kaiser Chiefs fan. To be honest, he’s more likely to pick Ricky for the volumised eyelashes. “I’m all about the commercialised pop music,” he admits, then throws a curve ball by picking Will instead of Kylie. “We’ve waited so long for this,” says his mum, as if she’s talking about finally getting the spare room back.

The next pair are a couple of stage school graduates, who are whinging about the fact that they studied alongside Pixie Lott, Adele and Katy B. Marc William performs Whole Lotta Love in an outfit that makes me want to turn my back to the TV. The shirt’s bad enough, but sandals, in February? Bitch, please.  Tom tells him he has an incredible voice, and Will implores him to sing as if he was planning an outfit. On the strength of tonight’s ensemble, that’s the worst possible advice. Paul Raj is a nice looking lad, with strange Irn Bru-coloured hair. He’s got too much of an echo effect on his microphone, and his vocal is a tuneless falsetto. Still, at least he’s answered his own question about why his classmates hit the big-time instead of him.

Amrick Channa was raised as a Sikh, but loves “going out clubbing with friends and blinging it up.” Looking a little like Boy George, before he lost all that weight on the vegan diet, he says “Yes I’m an Indian guy in a turban but don’t stereotype me.” I guess this means he’d prefer us to think of him as a brash, vulgar prick. The less said about his version of Pride (A Deeper Love), the better, although now I’ve got the nickname Urethra Franklin stuck in my head. “Don’t worry son,” shouts his emotionless mum when none of the judges turn.

Jazz Bates Chambers loves nail varnish, and has one of those mums that tries to convince people they’re sisters. She also has a fringe so severe that it probably needed planning permission. Jazz is a pretty girl, although she’s wearing an unflattering powder blue outfit that’s too high on the waist and too short on the leg. The vocal is good, but way too affected, and bears no resemblance whatsoever to her speaking voice. Her phrasing and diction is awful; it’s like listening to Fran Drescher throw up into a milk bottle. Even so, Ricky turns because, well, time’s running out.

Amelia O’Connell has some fetching Scouse brows and is the daughter of a Tom Jones tribute act. There’s lots of talk about the surgery she had when she was seven, none of which has anything to do with anything. And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with The Voice. It may talk the talk about being fresh and different, but it’s quite willing to play all the same derivative, exploitative games as its fellow TV talent shows. As for Amelia – her version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is far too melismatic, but three of the four judges turn anyway. Maybe it sounded better through a well padded leather headrest. Tom tells her to focus on her education and being on his team, while he’s busy focusing on counting out his blood pressure pills.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Kylie's still Spinning Around - Week 5 of The Voice

It doesn’t take long for sparkly newness to be replaced with flaccid familiarity, does it? We’re less than six hours into this make-or-break series of The Voice, and already I’m greeting it with a sense of tired resignation. The blind auditions are a great concept, but five weeks in, I feel I’ve seen enough button pushing and chair spinning to last a lifetime.

Tonight’s first auditionee is Steven Alexander, whose Auntie Max was on the last series as one half of a pair of overweight middle-aged women. They’re giving him loads of advice, presumably on how to get quickly voted off the show. Steven’s performance is as breathless as it is tuneless, but it’s enough to get Kylie and Tom to turn. Tom doesn’t so much offer feedback, as talk through the last few minutes of his life. Then, when Steven name-checks his Auntie, Tom’s eyes widen like he just sat on a proctologist’s ice-cold speculum. In the end, Steven picks Kylie because, well, he looks like he knows all the words to Step Back In Time.  

Fiona Kelly gives us an extended skit about cheating on her husband with a horse. It’s supposed to be a cute and daffy portrayal of a middle-aged woman, but I’ve seen enough grainy VHS in my life to envisage a far more grim scenario. As for performing in the studio, Fiona wants to “Grab it with both hands and make one of those chairs turn,” although I think she might struggle with the mechanics. Her voice is thinner than one of Kate Moss’ shits, and she sings in a weird semi- operatic style. That would be bad enough, but paired with Gary Barlow’s insipid Rule The World, it’s downright wretched. None of the judges turn, so we’re forced to listen to them as they take it in turns to patronise her. Ricky tells her he could lead her down a very dark path, and she gets momentarily excited – sounds like Bob the packhorse might have some competition after all.

Chris Royal is Toadfish off Neighbours in a bobble hat. “I’m not working no more,” he tells us, explaining that he moved to Walthamstow from Manchester to pursue his dreams. He does a slow, mournful version of Wake Me Up, but until the beat kicks in halfway through, it’s more likely to trigger narcolopsy. The tuning is all over the place, but several of the judges turn anyway. Kylie’s surprised: “You seriously didn’t expect anyone to turn around?” which begs the question, why the fuck did he show up in the first place? She offers to sit and go through his record collection with him. Maybe it’s because he’s from Manchester, she feels she needs to go the Tracy Barlow seduction route. Ricky compares The Voice to a catapult (don’t ask) and Chris decides that the Kaiser frontman is his best option: “Maybe he can pull something out of me that I don’t even know is there.” I’m not sure, but he could be talking about a Guinea worm. Marvin’s on hand to ask him whether it was worth packing up and moving to London, oblivious to the fact that he had to come back up to Manchester for the fucking audition.

The next two acts were on last year’s show and are back for a second chance. Nick Dixon talks about his heart pounding and hitting rock bottom – dramatic stuff for a man who resembles a tarpaulin thrown over a pile of dumped tires. In fact, his performance is pretty good; he’s singing Home Again and there’s a lovely tone to his voice, but he projects zero charisma when he sings. None of the judges turn for him, but they happily accept one of his business cards, that looks as though it was printed in a batch of 100 for a fiver at a petrol station.

Elesha Paul Moses was formerly part of a duet, and made it as far as the duels. She wants to establish her own identity as a singer, but it would help if she could find the right key. After the judges spend half her performance complaining that it’s too low, she switches it up, and it doesn’t really help matters. As she stands on the stage in her denim shirt and leggings, she looks less like a pop star, and more like a company member in the touring production of Prisoner Cell Block H The Musical.

Lucy Winter’s based in Cyprus, where her husband is in the armed forces. Apparently she used to sing in the Cypriot bars which helps to set our expectations suitably low. As it happens, she’s surprisingly rocky with a nice throaty edge. She pushes her voice without ever losing the melody, but it’s all a bit incongruous with her image – like one of the Andrew Sisters in a cocktail dress and denim jacket. The judges all thought she was trying to hard, but she takes it well.

Max Murphy is a full-time judo athlete, which has me picturing him trying to enjoy a drink down the pub without punching someone in the neck. With his sturdy build and monotonous voice, he’s a bit like a sentient tree, but he’s being cheered on by his coaches Brian and Gary (think the Mitchell Brothers with mild head injuries). His rendition of Electric Feel is like a volcano belching, but it seems to work for Ricky. Kylie sees him, and hitches down the shoulder straps of her top. Subtle work, Minogue. Ricky  explains “We’re gonna pick songs you want to sing,” making this coaching lark sound like a piece of piss.

Joe Keegan has been Irish dancing for more than half his life, and looks like he can’t wait to escape his controlling Dad. As he makes his way to the stage, he manages to look like Ant and Dec all at once, before squinting like Michael Sheen eating a grapefruit. He starts out pretty weak, but he gets better in time to win a spin from Kylie and Ricky. Kylie falls back on her slightly contrived seduction technique, but things get confusing when she crosses streams and directs her full force flirting at Ricky by mistake. At this rate it’s going to be like the orgy at the end of Perfume.

There are confused faces all round when it comes to our next act. The VT is designed to make us think we’re getting another female singer, until the rug is pulled Crying Game-style (without the cock shot, thank goodness) to reveal that our young hopeful is James Byron. It’s unclear whether he identifies as transgendered – he certainly dresses and acts like a woman, but answers to James and is referred to as ‘he’ by his family. When he starts singing (very well, as it happens) Tom’s asks his fellow mentors, “Is it a boy or a girl?” If he thinks he’s confused now, they’ll have to up his dosage once he’s facing the stage. Will turns just in time, and manages to recover from his initial shock by pretending his wide-eyed reaction was because he thought his latest team member was called James BOND.

As if to hammer home the ‘appearances don’t matter’ message, we get a quick montage of pretty singers who failed to make the grade, before finally moving onto one who does.  “This is about the voice,” warns Sir Tom, “It’s not about the way you look,” he says, sneaking  a peek down Kylie’s top. Here’s Jade Mayjean Peters, wearing a dress slashed so high you can see her shoulder blade. Looking like the dictionary definition of sophisticated, circa 1987, she’s here to remind us that Gabriella Cilmi once happened. The judges all turn, and react predictably to her leggy loveliness. The boys are all staring at her, like she’s a large cartoon ham, and Kylie comments “You’re kind of like me, but curvier.” Since Jade obviously left her mace in her handbag, she picks Kylie just to be on the safe side. 

Because this is the good old BBC, we have to end on an uplifting note. Femi Santiago tells a tragic tale of homelessness and suicidal thoughts, before revealing that he’s now happily married with a baby. He’s doing My Cherie Amour and he’s got probably the most straightforwardly appealing singing voice and richest tone we’ve heard all series. Although the last note wobbles,  Will turns on it anyway. Meanwhile, Tom says he almost went for his button, but he could well be talking about the medical alert one, in case he has a nasty fall.