Monday, 31 March 2014

Shakira's fit, Kylie's hit, and Will's shit. The Voice Semi Final.

For a moment, I dared to think it was almost over. Unfortunately, my initial relief at the fact that I’d made it as far as the semi-final, was instantly tempered by the news that The Voice has been commissioned for another two years.  It’s a little like finding a crumpled tenner in a jacket pocket, only to realise that it’s a Scottish note.

Tom tells us that Sally is really funny, which comes as quite a revelation, given her coldly impersonal onscreen persona. She has all the presence of a local councillor, and struggles to come alive whenever she’s not singing.  Given her thirty-plus years of performing experience, you’d think she’d have worked up a bit more of a presence. As it is, she makes Leona Lewis look like Joan Rivers. In a brief interview segment, Sally’s elderly mum tells us that she can’t wait for Saturday night as if she’s hoping for a slot on Ant & Dec’s Takeaway. The stylists have thankfully been paying attention, and have decked Sally out in a pleather two-piece, along with what Sally refers to as Fearne Cotton’s hair. But all of this is academic, since she still manages to sing rings around everyone else on the show. Including the judges. Tom congratulates her “on singing that song the way you sang it.” That’s some quality feedback, right there.

Bizzi is pointing at the sky again, like he’s directing aircraft into a maintenance hanger, while Tom talks about getting to the semi-final as being like making it to number 2 in the charts. As if that’s a relevant frame of reference for anyone who’s ever competed on this show. There’s also an extended riff on Bizzi getting the people of Leicester behind him, in a piss-poor pastiche of 24. Tonight, he’s singing Everything Must Change, and I’m beginning to wish it would. The performance is so dull that it could be used to test for narcolepsy, but there’s a falsetto note at the end that gets the audience screaming. Probably because they know it means the song’s almost finished. Bizzi reckons he enjoyed it so much that he’d like to do it again, and I momentarily contemplate refusing to pay my licence fee on moral grounds. Will’s trying to get a new hashtag trending, Tom’s off on one again, and Emma’s desperately clinging to any hint that someone involved in the show might display a trace of human emotion.

Christina Marie moans about not having any friends, which doesn’t say much for her personality, and Ricky seems to have found some particularly harsh lighting that’s bleached out his facial features, making him look like he should be communicating with Richard Dreyfuss through hand gestures. Christina Marie’s bellowing an over-the-top version of Bang Bang, with a bunch of ninjas and a random panther head at the back of the stage. None of it makes any sense, but this is the Voice semi-final, so narrative coherence is hardly a priority. Emma confuses feeding a contestant her thoughts as a closed question, with actual interview technique, then implores us to “get behind Christina Marie” which is certainly one way of scoring some extra votes.

Chris reveals the shocking news that his dad passed away two days before the battle round. As tragic as this is, his comment “I didn’t really mention it before,” makes me wonder why he’s bringing it up now, right before taking to the stage for the semi-final. Tonight he’s selected a loungey version of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, and I’m sorry to say that even Westlife did it better. I’m guessing that the show’s production budget must have been blown on Christina Marie’s ninja formation and beaded epaulettes, because all Chris gets is an old red lampshade. Post-performance, he claims to be speechless, before wobbling on about the joy of performing for “four lovely people.” Family members in the crowd, maybe? Will’s feedback has become so esoteric that he now has to offer notes at the end of each comment, to indicate the wordplay and rhyming couplets.

Emma suddenly remembers that Marvin’s been stuck in the V-Room for the entire show, like a dog left in a hot car. Not to worry – he’s been amusing himself by looking at the show’s webpage. “Ricky’s fan wall is the most rock and roll. There’s someone in sunglasses,” he adds, cryptically. Someone clearly thought it was a good idea to get him to hold a microphone and an iPad at the same time, as well as trying to read an autocue.

Lee says that “the pressure is really starting to show,” as are Kylie’s wrinkles in that harsh white studio light. She tries to motivate him with a patchy American accent, and Lee obligingly fake-laughs his way through it. Once again, Lee’s performing another mournful song, only this time he’s standing on the remains of an old car wreck, with the rest of the stage done up like an old junkyard. I think there’s a metaphor in here that’s fighting to get out. As his performance ends, I can’t tell whether he’s genuinely emotional, or if all that straining has given him a tension headache. Tom reckons he’s seen Lee “more nervous than that,” as if he’s personally given him a prostate exam. Will accidentally lets out a little shit. By which I mean, he said the word, not that he left something behind on the red upholstery.

Kylie has replaced Jamie’s sister as his roadie, which means she gets the death seat in his little yellow mini. He’s singing I Can’t Make You Love Me, which seems to be contractually obliged to make at least one appearance in every single talent show. There’s a rich, soulful quality to his voice that helps him sell it in, and the stylists have done a half decent job with him. It’s a little like watching Gary Barlow’s current wardrobe on Gary Barlow’s old body. He ends with an emotional wobble, because Lee set the precedent, and this is a competition, after all. “All four coaches on their feet again,” says Emma, oblivious to the fact that it no longer means anything when every performance seems to warrant one. “Kylie, you gave Jamie a fast pass last week, has he completely confirmed why he deserved it?” Another leading question from Emma there.  Tom’s reckons he’s heard a “couple of versions of that song” but he must be rounding it down to the nearest thousand.

Jermain has gone home to visit his family, and tell us all that he’s a mummy’s boy. When he’s not sniffing mangoes in the corner shop, he’s doing complicated handshakes in the kitchen with his brother. Having tried to position him as an ordinary Hackney boy, it’s one step forward, two steps back; since now he’s singing a desperately uncool version of David Guetta’s Without You, dressed like a hospital orderly. The baritone in his voice doesn’t work with this song, making it sound like it can’t settle on which genre it wants to represent, and near the end some carefully placed pyrotechnics make it look as though Tom and Kylie just burst into flames. Finally, Jermain ends with an extravagantly long note that shows off the kind of microphone technique that’s normally demonstrated by performers with lots of XXXs in their twitter handles. Will might have got a text from his mother expressing her disappointment at his little swear, but my phone would be ringing off the hook if mine ever saw me leaping about on the furniture like that.

Sophie May wants to do something modern, and make it retro. To test out her era-straddling style, she decides to try it out on some different audiences. First she heads off to the pub to perform to a dozen drunks, then visits an old folks home to make them thankful for their failing hearing. One old dear comments “Everyone was enjoying themselves and we’d have her back any day of the week,” but I’m sure the randy old bugger is just thinking about Bed-Bath Tuesdays. The retro-futuristic style that Will was aiming for, has manifested itself  in an outfit that suggests she should be negotiating with her “fadder” for Flash Gordon’s life.

Before we get onto the mentor performances, there’s just time for Marvin to get excited about trending worldwide, and Emma to ask us whose album we’d buy? This is The Voice, when has that ever translated into the need to buy music?

Sophie May and Jermain have gone to the Savoy to meet “Mr Will.I.Am,” drink pissy tea, and have scones with their mums. Back to the live show, and the three of them do a horribly awkward version of Bowie’s Let’s Dance. Jermain appears to have come as a low ranking knave from the Queen of Hearts’ army, and Sophie May is so desperately out of tune, it’s no wonder Jermain decides to sing “I’m so in love with you…” at Will instead.

Ricky takes Chris and Christina to Manchester to see how hard it is having to appear on children’s TV. In the evening they head off to the Brixton Academy, where Ricky wears his new Blue Peter badge for the NME awards. Rock and roll indeed. The three of them sing You Really Got Me, and it’s the kind of performance that you almost don’t need to hear, to know exactly how it sounds.

Tom has chosen Dancing In The Street for his team. He’s still getting mileage out using the word ‘fresh’ and attempting uninpsired wordplay with Bizzi’s name. The group try out their new dynamic with an impromptu busk in Covent Garden, as a series of voxpops shows us tedious tourists who are happy to state the obvious for the camera. The performance is like Glee for the Countryfile set, and the lyric “It don’t matter what you wear” hangs in the air like a palpable threat.  

Kylie’s taken her boys to GAY, and they’re both trying to look comfortable about it. Lee’s amazed to be standing by Kylie as she sings, and he’s “Just in awe.” That, or he just said something massive disrespectful about her. They’re singing Kylie’s new single, and although she equips herself well enough, the boys struggle to make the key work for their voices. As Ricky and Tom give a standing O, Will looks as if he’s just had another terse text from his mum.

With time to kill, Emma and Marvin attempt to get each of the judges to say which artist they’d put through if it was up to them. Unsurprisingly, they all rebel, but since our presenters are dependent on the autocue, we have to go through the same rigmarole four times as each successive judge refuses to play along. Attempting to salvage the moment, Emma comments “You guys are all too nice, which is testament to the show.” Actually it’s a condemnation of the show, but it’s late, so we won’t argue the point. Meanwhile, over in the V Room, Marvin is managing some painful ‘bantz’ with the contestant about who’s the craziest judge. As they all single out Tom, dementia awareness campaigners across the country plan a BBC boycott. As for the rest of the conversation, it’s so painfully pointless it makes Loose Women look like a compilation of TED talks.

Before the result, there’s just time for two special guest performances. The first is from Shakira, whose English might have improved in the decade since Whenever, Wherever, but her lyrics certainly haven’t. The song sounds epic enough, in fact it’s reminiscent of Kate Bush in places, but it explodes into a load of uninspiring And I’m like, woo-hoo-hoo” for most of the chorus.

Our other special appearance is from Enrique Iglesias. You know Enrique - he went from doe-eyed balladeer to foul-mouthed fuck-monkey in the space of one album; in the process achieving the most unlikely makeover since the Krankies outed themselves as a pair of swingers. The song sounds like Crazy Frog doing a cover of Gotta Go Home by Boney M, and I’m just glad that we’re spared a surprise cameo from Pitbull.

Finally, time to reveal the entirely unsurprising line-up for next week’s grand final. Ladies and gentlemen – I give you Sally, Christina Marie, Jamie and Jermain.

Monday, 24 March 2014

The word 'amazing' takes another hammering - The Voice Quarter-Final

After an extensive build up that made Ben Hur look like a Tom & Jerry cartoon, we’re finally here. Someone’s thrown a kettle of water over the Dancing On Ice rink, and they’ve thrown in some raked seating to create The Voice Arena. Ricky’s smouldering like Ryan Gosling tied to a chiminea, and Tom is introduced as “The legend with the lungs,” as if he’s got them in a carrier bag backstage.

The pressure must be on to choreograph the logistics of a massive live show like this, so it’s a shame they didn’t put their rehearsal time to better use. The acts are all doing their awkward on-the-spot dancing, like Thunderbirds with half their strings cut. Then we’re treated to a bewildering overhead shot as the judges head for their seats, the contestants disappear into the audience, and Emma and Marvin take to the stage. With so many people moving in different directions, it’s like watching that intersection in Tokyo that always gets shown, whenever a director wants to make a point about Japanese overpopulation.

Emma is still a breath of fresh air in a show that often feels more like a stale burp, but her tendency to go off script causes some painful delays as Marvin waits for the autocue to catch up.

The show kicks off properly with performances from Team Will. They’re marvelling that “He’s done so much, he’s got a song in space,” which gets me wondering why we can’t stick them all up there. Leading the charge is Jermain, who’s “already big in Westminster,” which seems to translate as “he was on the radio with Ed Milliband.” The Labour leader does his best to sound supportive, and sticks a little green ‘Vote Jermain’ rosette to his jacket. It’s a nice sentiment, even though it just looks like someone sneezed on his lapel. To really hammer home the political theme, we get lots of footage of him on Westminster bridge, staring meaningfully at Parliament enveloped in a scarf that’s the size of a beach towel. He sings Bruno Mars’ Treasure like a Vandross tribute act, and it works perfectly. Meanwhile, Will takes a picture on his iPad, as a production runner hides in the wings with a roll of masking tape to try and hide the Apple logo. Speaking as if he’s campaigning in a local election, he tells Emma “I’m so privileged to be here and opening up the first live show of season three of the Voice.” Kylie fails to sell in a simple pun, and Tom has a nasty case of pinkeye. Meanwhile, Ricky suggests “You could sing us the budget and we’d take it,” but I think ‘Beer and Bingo’ sounds more like a Lucy Spraggan song.

Sophie May feels like she’s won Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, so let’s just hope she doesn’t end up wedged into someone’s chocolate chute. A few weeks ago, she was “just an ordinary teenager living at home.”  Now she’s an ordinary teenager drinking coffee from a polystyrene cup at Elstree. Plus ça change. She does a big band version of Moondance, but sings so much of it in her low register, that all the high notes sound particularly sharp. Thankfully the arrangement is loud enough to drown most of it out and I’m browsing iTunes for the instrumental. After a quick burst of “Ermagerd, I’m like absolutely buzzin’” there’s a bit of desperately banal patter about her learning to cook.
Iesher is cute and perky but dead behind the eyes, as if she was programmed, rather than raised. She wants to take a break so she and her mates head off to the cinema, which is a bit of a busman’s holiday for her. Will interrupts the screening to boost her confidence, but I’m not sure how making 200 impatient moviegoers hate her is going to help. She’s singing Rather Be, and it’s nice to see her sing something contemporary and age appropriate. Having said that, it’s a little shrill in places and she occasionally sounds out of breath. Oh, and that joke I made earlier about the tape on Will’s iPad? Turns out, that’s exactly what happened. Will gets her to redo the adlibs she felt she missed in her performance, and Tom growls something about her “built-in, natural rhythm.” Well, this is awkward.

There’s yet another contrived wrinkle in the format, on a show that’s already reinvented itself more times than Cher. This time it’s the Fast Pass. Each mentor gets to choose one act to go straight through to the semi-final, while the audience votes on the other two. Will rambles for ages about how his acts were “Freakin’ mega-dope super fresh” and complements Jermain on his harmonic vernaculars. And on a family show? Anyway, by the time he finally makes a decision, Emma almost misses it. Then Jermain heads off to the V-Room, where Marvin asks him “How does it feel to be in the semi-final?” Moments later, he asks Iesher, “Your fate is in the public’s hands, how does that make you feel right now?” I’m beginning to spot a theme.

The verdict is that “Will’s team has set the bar.” And I think I need to hit one. But there’s no time for that. We’re straight into Team Kylie now. Or we would be if the judges would stop taking pointless selfies. Everyone’s trying so hard to be current, that I’ve got money on Tom and Ricky Instagraming their #CockInASock pictures by the results show.

Jamie drives around his hometown with his overly keen sister, while she terrifies pedestrians with a battery-operated loudhailer. Tonight he’s singing 1000 Miles, which is all very middle of the road until the final 30 seconds. He’s left his coat on, so I guess he’s not staying. The post-performance banter is getting painful, and all anyone can say is “You look really fantastic.” I get the sense that a lot of editing went into the footage of those early rounds. Emma complements Jamie on his Mini Cooper, saying “It’s a lovely car, it’s the colour of my dress,” before sticking her microphone in his face for a reaction.  

Lee gets props for the intensity he brings to every performance. He’s certainly a dab hand at taking a great pop song and making it sound like a Japanese whale cull. He’s quit his job, and thrown his meager possessions in a little blue plastic basket, so he can focus his energies on Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night. It’s been rearranged like something Bryan Adams might stick on a film soundtrack, and the staging involves a weird combination of creeping tree branches and silhouetted dancers. The effect is not unlike a performance in Sherwood Forest’s first strip club. 

Rachael has a shouty dad who doesn’t want her seeing any boys. At least, I think that’s what he said, since he sounds like Jim MacDonald with a mouthful of marbles. Rachael’s come dressed as an oven ready chicken in a tinfoil skirt, and there are way too many neon colours on display throughout her song. It doesn’t help matters that the dancers seem to be performing to a completely different track. Rachael’s verdict is that this is more fun than doing homework. Halfway through the show, and I’d rather be doing double maths.

Tom’s moaning about young people again. Next he’ll be fishing a lint-covered boiled sweet from his pocket and reading the paper with a magnifying glass.
Kylie says she’s had a change and doesn’t know if she’s hot or cold. What an awkward time to become menopausal. In the end, she picks Jamie, who heads to the V Room for another inspiring exchange with Marvin: “Come and join us in the V Room. How are you feeling? Back to you Emma.”

Apparently, “Tom’s done it all. Seen it all. Sung it all.” And there’s a good chance that he’s fucked it all too. As we cut back to the studio, the old legend seems to be making a move on Emma.  He’s remembering his first Royal Variety Show when he was in his twenties, presumably at the request of Queen Victoria herself.

Bizzi tells us he was born and raised in a church, so I hope they washed the pews before the next Sunday service. He’s over the moon to be here, saying “It was my dream to be in the final twelve.” I think he could probably afford to aim a little higher. His performance of If You Really Love Me sounds fine, but the animated checkerboard motif looks like Mary Quant’s idea of a vertigo attack. Ricky describes it as a big party song, but it’s was more of a wedding performance. Will and Kylie have switched right off, and they’re busy taking stupid pictures of each other.

Sally’s talking about her sad life again, and as much as I love her voice, I do wish she’d retire this perpetual recapping of her widowhood. She’s doing To Love Somebody, and this time, she has a hint of Sandy Denny to her voice, which works incredibly well. The thing is, she’s had enough time to learn what her voice can and can’t do, as well as which songs serve it best.  Emma calls out “Tom, she’s got you again, Your eyes are full of tears.” And he resists the urge to shout “It’s glaucoma you insensitive bitch.” Ricky muses that “There’s a dark and fragile quality to your voice that I can’t put my finger on.” Even though he just did.

Georgia used to be fat, and now she isn’t. As origin stories go, it’s not exactly Spider-Man. She starts way out of time with her arrangement, and there’s a very distracting photographic effect on the performance. Everything’s in black and white, with the camera only picking up elements of red. It works pretty well until we pan past a row of matronly women, whose rubicund faces trigger the effect as well, making them all look as if they’ve just finished a cross-country run.  Georgia’s performance is a little too shouty and tuneless for me, and I’m not sure about the outfit, which looks like Minnie Mouse has gone on the game.

Tom chooses Sally and they’re obviously in a rush, because her sons are left hanging about after racing to the stage to congratulate her. Bizzy and Georgia wander off like disorientated ducklings, before a floor manager shepherds them back onto the stage. And Marvin reminds us that tonight’s performances are all on iTunes, with a promise of “Music to download and keep forever.” Just like those JLS albums.

Over on Ricky’s team, we’re starting things off with Chris. He’s a reserved and shy person, so thank goodness for the shot of him crouched in an alley writing poetry against a brick wall. Ricky says “I think we need a popstar like Chris, someone who comes from nowhere and blows you away.” That’s how we ended up with James Arthur, and look how that turned out. Chris gives a great performance of One Day Like This, and it’s nice to see the effort the stylists have made. It’s just a shame they couldn’t persuade him to ditch the Oliver Hardy moustache.

Emily’s dad is really missing her, because the hotel’s going to be dead busy at Easter. Still, she’s been helping out, serving bowls of grey soup, but now she’s focused on channeling Christina Aguilera for a surprisingly effective version of Happy. She even looks like a star, apart from the perm which is still a bit too Page 3 circa 1987. Kylie and Emma rave about Emily’s legs as if they were both Bella Emberg from the hips down.

Christina Marie tells us how she got an office job to support her single mum and help raise her little sister, then quit in order to chase her dream on The Voice. She seems to be slowly transforming into Katy Perry, but at least she can sing. Everlong is the perfect choice for her powerful voice, and hers is one of the best performances of the night. Tom and Ricky talk about the vocals, and Kylie gets asked for her opinion on the dress. It’s no surprise that Ricky chooses to save Christina Marie, who’s treated to another inane exchange with Marvin, before being hugged like he’s trying to pop her dislocated shoulder back in.

By the time the results show rolls around, the stars seem as exhausted as I am. There’s a listless group performance of the mentors’ own songs, which leaves poor Sally looking like she’s been abducted by a group of Satanists. Jason Derulo runs through two of his latest hits and reminds us why we all miss Michael Jackson so much. One Republic also pop up for a low key performance drenched in cold blue light. The energy is fading fast, so thankfully, Emma doesn’t waste too much time revealing that Sophie May, Lee, Bizzi and Chris have already made it to the semi-final. Now, I’m off to freebase some Berocca.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Knockout round deals a fatal blow to The Voice

First it was the battle rounds; now we’re onto the knockouts. It’s no wonder I’m finding these weekly reviews such hard going – one week out from the live quarterfinals and I’m starting to develop a nasty case of cauliflower ear. And yet, no matter how aggressive the terminology used to describe the various rounds, the show itself is still a bit like being licked to death by a tiresomely attentive beagle. It doesn’t so much knock you out, as gradually wear you down with its boundless enthusiasm.

This weekend, we’re treated to a double bill – almost three hours of relentless over singing, and judges who refuse to pass anything like a damning verdict. The mild-mannered niceness is overwhelming, which can make sitting through such extensive coverage feel like something of a marathon. By the end of this review, I fully expect to be wrapped in one of those tinfoil blankets as someone throws a cup of Lucozade into my face.

Since there are only three more episodes left in the series, it’s clear where the problems lie with the format. Far too much weighting is given to the blind auditions; half of the entire run, in fact. Which leaves just seven episodes to get down from 56 singers to the winner. It’s no wonder, then, that previous champions have slipped into anonymity quicker than Lord Lucan at a moustache aficionados’ conference.

Needless to say, I don’t plan to laboriously recap every performance that occurs this weekend. For a start, I don’t plan on rivaling JK Rowling in the word count stakes, and if it’s painful to watch, I can only imagine the discomfort involved in reading about it. So fasten yourself in for a whistle-stop tour of the highlights, and lowlights. And if you really care about everything in the middle – there’s always iPlayer.

The key theme of the Knockout round seems to be song choice. The contestants are now responsible for their own pick, and they’re all determined to take a risk, and then worry about it. Eagle-eyed viewers will also notice that budget cuts seem to have reduced the performers down to sharing a single microphone; which gets passed on at the end of each performance like a sweat-soaked relay baton. Not that it’s stopped the producers from planting random mic’s elsewhere around the studio. For some reason, we need to hear the comments of random family members in the audience, as well as sotto voce commentary by the other contestants, who’ve been forced to stand uncomfortably in the wings as their teammates perform. Sally’s awkward dancing during her fellow competitors’ songs was a particular low point.

Finally, there’s all the hugging. If it’s not Marvin, commanding people to embrace each other like he’s directing amateur porn, it’s everyone else piling on whenever the camera turns in their direction. If the editors cut out all the shots of people hugging it out, there’d only be about half an hour of footage.

Team Kylie

Kylie’s on the lookout for “Charisma, talent, amazingness,” only narrowly managing to avoid copyright infringement of RuPaul’s more memorable “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent.” As for the contestants; they’ve all been reaching into the cliché bran tub and pulling out their random bon mots:
“I need to be in the finals, so much,” “It is a competition at the end of the day,” and “It’s make or break, it’s as simple as that.” As she gees them up for their big moment, Kylie intimates that the judging process isn’t quite as hands-on as the producers would have us believe, “I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know you, a little bit, throughout this process.” Word to the wise – when you get rejected, don’t bother asking the mentors if you’ll still be friends.

Leo describes the “most cringiest situation I’ve ever been in,” before immediately besting it with a falsetto-heavy version of I Wanna Know What Love Is. Jai is described as “unlike anyone else,” excluding all the other second rate Winehouse impersonators out there, and squawks her way through Take Your Mama Out Tonight like an angry penguin. Jade wants “to show Kylie that I don’t just do pop and commercial,” just in case The Voice was in danger of discovering a commercially viable recording artist, and performs a sultry version of Blue Moon that about as authentically seductive as a sex scene with Frank Drebin. Lee stands on stage as if he’s awaiting sentencing in a magistrate’s court, before making Careless Whisper sound like a Nick Drake b-side. Femi gives us Bobby Womack’s version of California Dreaming, and struggles to stay in the right key. Rachael does New York by Paloma Faith, having reminded us she’s just a small-town girl from Northern Ireland. In fact, every shot in her VT has a tractor in it, like the ubiquitous penny-farthing in French & Saunders’ House of Idiot. Jamie wants to show us his sexy side, but even Ryan Gosling would struggle in a wool waistcoat. Ricky describes Kylie’s decision as being “like picking lobsters in a restaurant,” which has me imagining a far more interesting task for the quarter finals. Someone fire up the hot-tub. In the end, La Minogue picks Lee, Jamie and Rachael, as we’re treated to more hugs than Christmas on Waltons Mountain.

Team Tom

“Kylie’s made her decision, mine’s to come. And like her, I’m dreading it,” growls Tom. With an hour and a half still to go, I’m hardly cock-a-hoop either. Celestine kicks things off with You Might Need Somebody, and I’m thinking that the bus fare home might be of more use to her. Melissa’s sole characteristic is her pink hair, which is just as well, since her performance was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It was supposed to be the Joan Jett classic, but she might as well have renamed it I Don’t Really Like Rock n Roll, How About a Weird Swing Hybrid Instead? Gary has “got that soul thing,” which sounds like a medical affliction, and his odd rendition of George Michael’s Freedom isn’t helped by the weird vocal twitch that suggests he caught himself in his zip. Bizzi is having a go at Leo Sayer and promises to get “Bizzi with it.” Sigh. Tom warns him not to get too “Oobly oobly,” which is Tom’s way of describing an overly melismatic performance. In the end, it’s as dull and lifeless as a deflated sex doll dressed as an accountant. Georgia is still Adele’s cousin, but struggling to find her own voice. She surprises everyone with her version of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, but I’m more taken aback by her outfit, which looks like a cross between L’il orphan Annie and Olive Oyl. Steven unwisely attempts to tackle Mika’s Grace Kelly, once Kylie and Ricky have finished flirting, and Will’s done writing in his diary. The falsetto bits sound like Mister Punch getting ready to beat his wife. Finally, there’s a touch of class as Sally take the stage and softly tells us “You don’t have to bash ten bells out of something.” She maintains that she’s really enjoying the experience, but I guess her face didn’t get the memo. When she sings, she’s dynamite, like a blend of Beverly Craven and Christine McVie, but she has the body-language of an argumentative traffic warden.
Tom gets it mostly right, picking Sally, Georgia and Bizzi.

Team Ricky

Ricky’s got something up his sleeve and promises give us the full monty. Let’s just say, if he can tuck it into his sleeve, I’ll be watching closely. We’re reminded that 45,000 people auditioned to be on this show, and yet it feels like half of them are still on it. And there’s only three shows left.

Jessica screws up everything in her audition and would probably be a nightmare to manage. Her version of La La La is pitchy and tuneless, but in that sense, it’s not too far from the original. Chris has an unusual quality: “He walks in a room and you think, ah right, Chris is here.” So his special skill is that he’s corporeal? He seems to think that the world needs yet another version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, then delivers a performance which proves, once and for all, that it didn’t. Beth is the youngest in the competition, and looks like Michaela Strachan in Worzel Gummidge’s wig. She’s singing Teenage Dirtbag, but without any consonants. It’s such a lazy way of singing, she’d probably enunciate better if she was spitting out bubble gum. Christina Marie tries to do Mariah’s Vision of Love with her brassy belter of a voice, which is a little like trying to parallel park a JCB. Relieved that it’s all over, she puts her hands in her hair, and I’m beginning to think that sleeves might have been a good idea. Jazz worships Beyonce, and has picked Work It Out for her big performance. Ricky’s unimpressed with the choice, and I can see his point – it’s a song that lacks any discernible melody, so coupled with her shrill vocal style, it’s like a mid-tempo migraine made out of funk. Max is cool, confident, and way out of his league. His version of Home by Gabrielle Aplin sounds as if he’s attending his first post-stroke speech therapy session. Last of the bunch is Emily, who’s picked a Stooshe song to show that she’s young and fresh, despite being a sixties pastiche. It’s a bit like watching Sheridan Smith on karaoke, and makes for a very long 80 seconds.
Ricky chooses Chris, Christina Marie and Emily to go through to the live shows.

Team Will

Will’s rhyming again about his pristine team with “vocals to the extreme,” whilst Tom’s still practicing using the word ‘fresh’ in conversation. Iesher says “I think Will is gonna have a tough time choosing,” when what she actually means is, “…the other two.” As all seven members of Team Will line up on stage, they make Guardians of the Galaxy look normal.

James is still struggling with his confidence, typified by an awkward high-five-cum-handshake that Will initiates. Iesher makes everyone feel ancient, by picking a Whitney Houston song her mum used to sing when she was little, only to reveal that it’s from the legendary diva’s final album. The performance is disappointingly shrill and nasal, but her other performances may yet save her. Callum is wearing another ridiculous outfit that looks as if he just crawled out of a tumble dryer and threw on whatever stuck to his leg.  Jermain makes up for his ice-wash denim shirt with a great vocal on A House Is Not A Home. He has a rich baritone that really works on this song, but it’s far from the definitive talent show version (for that, you’ll have to Google Tamyra Gray).  Anna’s harping on again, so Will plays producer and desperately tries to add a little oomph to her somnambulistic performance. Her voice is pretty enough, but the moment is spoiled by a hilarious shot of her dad’s wobbling bottom lip as he attempts to hold back the tears. Nomakhosi yelps and screams all over a Bruno Mars song, and looks as though she was enjoying herself. I guess the law of averages dictates that someone had to. “That was great,” adds Ricky, unconvincingly. Sophie appears to be trapped in time - Will thinks she’s from the 1920s, she’s dressed like 1940s, and she’s obsessing about 1960s Audrey Hepburn. Will thinks she’s a unicorn that takes him to Wonderland, but her version of Moon River is so drowsy, I’m beginning to suspect that Wonderland is a bedding store.
Bringing this week’s excitement to a close, Will chooses Iesher, Jermain and Sophie.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Voice Battles Audience Apathy

You know, people love to blame Simon Cowell for killing the music industry. They seem to think that his various talent show franchises are creating a disposable, soulless brand of music that leaves real creativity out of the mix. But on the strength of this series of The Voice, I’d argue that there’s an even more insidious threat to originality. A whole generation of girls who think that, in order to be taken seriously, they need to offer up a second rate impersonation of Amy Winehouse’s most self-indulgent ticks. But we’ll get to that shortly. For now, let’s say hello to our judges, and get this week’s contractually obliged reference to Tom’s legendary status out of the way. There’s another 24 singers to get through, so we should dispense with the pleasantries and dive straight in.

Team Ricky - Chris vs Jamie

Ricky’s happy to have Katy B as his advisor, because “she knows what she’s talking about,” which doesn’t display too much confidence in his own guidance. He’s picked Rolling In The Deep, for these two to sing, because Adele doesn’t get nearly enough coverage on shows like this. Chris talks about pulling out his “little falsetto” like he’s got a kitten in his coat pocket, and I’m just glad that Jamie has toned down the “rubs the lotion on its skin” aesthetic from his previous appearance. The rehearsal sounds nightmarish, and despite Ricky’s best efforts to big up their pairing, it’s less “serpent versus a lion,” and more “tinnitus vs perforated eardrum.” In the close-ups, Chris looks like Oliver Hardy in a backwards baseball cap, but at least that takes my mind off the awful falsetto ad libs. The song’s melody has been entirely discarded, and replaced with a nervous breakdown set to a drum beat. Tom says he wasn’t expecting the falsetto, which just means that he wasn’t paying attention to the VT. Ricky chooses Chris, and says of his protégé, “You feel like you’re in the presence of someone who should be doing something.” Spoken less like a mentor, and more like a frustrated Middle Manager.

Team Kylie – Rachael vs Amelia

Jake Shears is boasting that “Performance is really where I shine,” whilst wearing a sweater that suggests dress sense comes a lot further down his list of skills. Amelia wants to tear up the vocals, but Kylie advises her to dial it down. I think this is less in service to the song, and more out of sympathy to the audience, who’ve got twelve over-sung yelling matches to get through. Both girls keep bursting into tears, but it makes sense when we’re reminded that they’re only sixteen – if they weren’t here, they’d probably be nicking scrunchees from Claire’s Accessories. During their duet, they aim for chemistry, but it looks more like a playground rumble that’s about to kick off. Rachael’s good from the start, but Amelia doesn’t get going until halfway through. While Kylie deliberates, Emma asks Tom what it was like performing at 16, as if he should be able to remember the Cretacious period. Having chosen Rachael, Kylie gets up for yet another hug – she’d have less body contact if she went to an osteopath.
Team Will – Kiki vs James

Will’s picked two of the most memorable acts for his first duet of the night – burlesque singer Kiki, and James who often gets mistaken for a woman. There are lots of tactful remarks about Kiki’s big ‘personality’ – “When Kiki walks into a room, you know she’s there.” Also known as Archimedes’ displacement principle. Will attempts to coach James through his shyness, but he looks so disinterested, he could be sorting safety pins in a drycleaners. Kiki’s introduced with the line: “She knows what she wants and she’s here to take it,” and I’m sorry to say that I’m picturing her at a hot fork buffet. James appears to have taken styling tips from Diana Vickers, whereas Kiki looks like a sexy, 1940s weather balloon. Kiki seems a little overconfident, and Will hides in the toilet to avoid making a decision. After much sitting around, he finally returns and picks James.

Team Tom – Melissa vs Vicky

The next showdown is between two girls with fake red hair. Initially, Tom wants them to perform Keep Me Hanging On, but when neither singer connects with it, Tom’s forced to pull out a Pink song instead. Vicky’s concerned that “I’m never gonna get away from who my brother is,” so she should probably stop mentioning it every time she enters a room. Melissa wipes the floor with her, mostly because she finds the right key and sticks with it, whereas Vicky is all over the place. After a bit of confusion over Will’s reference to plaid, Tom picks Melissa and Kylie avoids eye contact with Vicky until the lighting state returns to normal.  

Team Ricky – Myles vs Max

Ricky mentions how he loves the Beatles, and has no time for anyone who doesn’t. So it’s the perfect time for Myles to mention that he’s not really au fais with Eleanor Rigby. The Kaiser Chief tells us that “Myles doesn’t even have a comfort zone,” and by the looks of those skintight pleather leggings, neither does Katy B. The song gets off to a less than auspicious start - Myles is too gravelly and Max sounds more like a four-minute warning siren. The two of them go so far from the melody that even their families look embarrassed, but in the end Ricky makes the first wrong decision of the night by picking Max.

Team Will – Sophie May and Cherri

Will’s selected Love Cats for his two jazzy singers, but by the look on their face, you’d think he’d given them Touch My Bum by the Cheeky Girls. They spend most of their rehearsal time practicing scat, which means five minutes of “scoobedy boobedy, yabba dabba boop-oop-ee-doo.” Despite that, the arrangement works well, and both singers do an interesting job. Sophie May has less stage presence, but Will chooses her anyway. As the vanquished Cherri congratulates her rival backstage, there’s a less-than-sincere edge to her wishes of “good luck.”  

Team Kylie – Jamie vs Joe

Speaking about Kylie, Marvin comments “Jamie went the way of most young men,” which sounds vaguely disrespectful to the pop princess. Jamie and Joe are newfound bezzies, and spend much of their rehearsal time hugging and adding each other to their speed dial. On the night, Jamie’s voice is too big and Joe is too inconsequential, so it’s a tough one to call for all the wrong reasons. Jamie can’t stop grinning, whereas Joe constantly looks as if he’s going to burst into tears. As the two are finally wrenched apart by Kylie’s decision to keep Jamie, she seems genuinely moved. In the audience, Joe’s dad is shaking his head and wondering why the lad didn’t break out some wobbly-legged Irish dancing moves.

Team Will – Iesher vs Femi

Will’s picked two of the best singers on the show to go head-to-head, which is likely to make for a great duet, but a piss-poor result. Femi seems to think his family’s life depend on his performance, so I hope someone points out that he’s in The Voice, not one of Jigsaw’s traps. He has a cool, classic Atlantic Soul sound to his voice, whereas Iesher loses it on the adlibs a little. Will picks Iesher, to the delight of her pushy parents, and Femi sings a pitch to Kylie, in the hope that she’ll steal him. It’s pretty cringey stuff, but his voice is undeniably great. Kylie says she was going to steal him anyway, so I guess everyone’s happy. As Kylie approaches Will from behind, he comments “Someone smells nice, I know that’s not Tom.”

Team Tom – Leverne vs Georgia

After all the huggy nonsense, it’s nice to see two singers admitting that they couldn’t give a shit if the other went home. They’re doing Taylor Swift’s 22, and Georgia can really connect with it, because when she was that age, it was also her dress size. Tom picks up on the girls’ nerves backstage, but tells them “I’m gonna try and relax myself.” Let’s hope he keeps his back to the audience. Georgia has it in the bag from the first line, and the awkward harmonies do nothing to help Leverne’s case. While the mother of four now has to contend with being a loser, and portrayed as a bit of a bitch, Georgia throws herself at a pile of meat in a tight sweater.

Team Kylie – Gemyni vs Jade

Time for the weird lookalikes round now, as we get to see what would happen if Katherine Jenkins went up against two Leona Lewises, after they’d all had a cartoon safe dropped on them. Jade’s struggling to make an impression up against the twins, so she’s going to have to do more than put another long split in her skirt. The twins do a weird slow motion run, instead of dancing, and all three of them manage to make a complete hash of Baby, One More Time. In the end, Kylie picks Jade, leaving the twins’ boyfriends to regret having those Gemyni t-shirts printed.

Team Tom – Gary vs Elesha

There’s just time for a few more scenes of people straining themselves against a piano, before Gary and Elesha give the penultimate performance of the evening. The studio lights make the sparkles in Gary’s jacket look more like dandruff, which is unfortunate. Together, they give a remarkably tuneless rendition of Usher’s Caught Up, which feels more like a three-day audit than a two-minute pop song. Tom wishes they could sing together all the time, which kind of contradicts Will’s earlier point that Elesha sings better alone, then picks Gary.

Team Ricky – Luciee Marie vs Jazz

So here we are. Tonight’s last song. The last duet in the battle round. And the last time I’ll have to freeze-frame the recording to catch another ridiculous spelling of a perfectly ordinary name. “I’ve loved Katy B for, like, ever.” gushes Luciee Marie about Ricky’s advisor who’s only been in the industry for a couple of years. Katy B reciprocates by lying that she really likes the tone of the girls’ voices – because who doesn’t love an affected Winehouse impersonator?  The performance is almost unlistenable, with neither singer using their real voice, but Will seems impressed regardless. Ricky picks Jazz, leaving Luciee Marie’s mum to wonder if she’s going to be stuck carrying that banner round for the rest of the day.