The Voice 2014: Like 'Take Me Out' With Key Changes

The smug judges are gone, and with only a lacklustre diving show to compete with on the other channel, it was The Voice's time to shine.
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The smug judges are gone, and with only a lacklustre diving show to compete with on the other channel, it was The Voice's time to shine.

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It’s make-or-break time for The Voice. Despite the format’s unrivalled popularity in other markets, there’s something about the BBC’s Voice that always sounded a little flat. The first two series squandered its enormous potential, by casting insufferably smug judges, and forgetting that Saturday night TV audiences couldn’t give the first shit about musical authenticity. Now, with two new presenters, and a pair of new mentors in the spinning hot seats, we get to see whether this Voice is about to breathe its last. It probably helps that its main TV competition tonight sees Tom Daley teaching reality stars how to fall into water.

Of course, with two new high-profile signings, there’s a bit of business with new line-up. All the old clichés are present and correct – bland statements like “He is the performer” (That’s Tom on Kaiser Chiefs front man Ricky Wilson) and “Season three is the bees’ knees,” (as if you needed to guess). There’s also a quick rundown of Kylie’s accomplishments, ending with an OBE, that makes her sound like Dame Vera Lynn in a pair of sparkly micro-shorts. With the introductions over with, there’s just time for a quick live performance with all four mentors doing their thing. It’s a mashup of Can’t Get You Out Of My Riot, with lots of close ups on an ecstatic audience, who were probably tricked into the studio with the promise of a Dale Winton game show.

There’s barely a mention made of the fact that Reggie and Holly have also been unceremoniously dumped from the line-up. In their place, we have the ubiquitous Emma Willis, and Marvin Humes, 25% of JLS. He may have all the interpersonal dynamism of a claims adjuster with a spastic colon, but he still makes presenting look effortless in comparison with his predecessor. There’s just time for a close-up on Kylie’s handbag, which has been carelessly jammed underneath her rotating seat. Let’s hope that wasn’t one of those establishing shots they use in disaster movies to foreshadow a calamity. This show has already endured enough misfortune, without the nation’s adopted sweetheart being dragged into the whirring cogs of a mechanical armchair.

31 year old sales manager Lee Glasson eats paninis on park benches, and suffers from an unfortunate case of Gove-mouth. He’s taking a gamble of one of the judges’ songs, and his sleeveless denim shirt and tattoos are supposed to make us think we’ll be hearing some Kaiser Chiefs. In fact, he’s doing a mournful version of Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, that sounds like what might have happened if Nick Cave and Kylie had swapped personalities, Freaky Friday-style, on Where The Wild Roses Grow. Kylie waits until the last note to turn, as does Will, who looks like he’s never heard the song before. Tom didn’t recognise the song until halfway through, despite the first line of the lyrics being a pretty major spoiler. Lee takes far too long to decide, reminding us that, without the pointless deliberation footage, this show would only be about 20 minutes long.

Christina Marie makes a big deal about being the child of a single mother, so much so that I worry I’ve Sky-Plussed Benefits Street by mistake. The poor thing grew up singing into a hairbrush – I guess they had to sell their microphone for food. As the piano notes of I Have Nothing begin, there’s a big intake of breath as the studio prepares itself for someone having a pop at Whitney. Kylie leads the lip-syncing, and soon Will and Ricky have joined, the latter reluctantly. Kylie says “I don’t wanna sit down, I am not sitting down,” because she knows that her best angle is bent over that chair. Ricky makes a bold pitch for Christina, which comes across like a slightly desperate pick-up; think ‘Take Me Out’ with key changes.

Danielle has a precocious six year-old, who grills Marvin on whether he’s met Peter Andre. This is all fascinating stuff, but it’s hardly filling in the blanks on the woman who’s come here to sing. Apparently, she’s feeling a thousand and one emotions, but can only reel off anxious and nervous as she takes to the stage. Eight notes in and Kylie already looks disinterested. Ultimately, no-one turns because, whilst the vocal was solid, it lacked colour and lost the melody a few too many times. Danielle’s adorable little girl sums up her disappointment with an exclamation of “Sweet niblets.” Well, quite. The judges are desperately trying to change the subject, rather than pick apart why none of them turned, so thankfully the whole segment becomes all about Anaya coming to meet them. Everyone gets to carry her around, as if they’re entering a Guess the Weight competition, until it all starts to feel like the drawn-out farewells at the end of a wedding reception.

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Anna McLuckie is a quirky Scottish pixie in denim dungaree dress, who’s wandering around backstage, lugging her own harp, like a Pickfords work experience girl. She must have had to scour every music shop in Britain bookshops to find Daft Punk arranged for the harp, but her effort seems to have paid off. Next week, we’ll be seeing Megadeath rearranged for the kazoo. In the meantime, Will talks about pushing her out of her comfort zone, which seems to be exactly what she was looking for, so she picks the Big I.Am.

Tara Lewis is a sizeable lass – evidenced most clearly in the close-up of her stairs bowing as she walks down them. She’s a professional Nessa impersonator, presumably because there’s a big demand for out-of-date local stereotypes in South Wales. She gives us a nice countrified version of Hall & Oates’ You Make My Dreams Come True, but no-one turns around, because it wasn’t particularly commercial. “I was almost there,” lies Tom. “He was,” concurs Marvin backstage, “he was almost there,” confirming that the former JLS’er was hired for his psychic link to the mentors.

Ryan Green is a sixteen year-old who lives at home, with a super-encouraging family who sit at the dining table to eat bagels. He’s been playing football since nine, and the piano since he was ten; so he’s either going to come onstage and sit at a baby grand, or thrill us with some keepy-uppies. His performance is good but not great – there’s no real magic in it, which might just be a consequence of his age. Kylie’s mad at not turning around, “If we could turn back time,” says Ryan, not realising that “step back in time” is Kylie’s preferred term for clock-altering. “You’re sixteen, you’ve got a lot more time ahead of you than any of us,” says Ricky, jabbing his thumb pointedly at Tom.

Beth McCarthy is from York, where she’s been gigging since she was thirteen. Her Mum and Dad are exactly like the ‘dirty evil robbing bastards’ on Catherine Tate. Beth is pretty in a Diana Vickers sort of way, and has a pleasing Dolores O’Riordan warble to her voice, which sounds perfectly suited to her reinterpretation of Sexy And I Know It. She’s even managed to unearth a never-before-heard melody in the irritating novelty record. Ricky turns quickly, followed by Kylie who holds out for the last note again. Beth thinks Tom sounds like God, but I think she’s getting him mixed up with Morgan Freeman, then she and Ricky talk for ages about Yorkshire toilet-flushing techniques, as Will boasts about his sensor-activated space bog. Ricky makes an impassioned pitch for Beth’s vote, which works primarily because they’re both from York. Tom says “You have everything you need to become a star.” Except maybe the right TV platform – the jury’s still out.

Sally Barker is 54, so I reckon that Tom’s complaint that he has no acts yet is about to be put to bed. She’s been in the industry for thirty years and supported Bob Dylan and Robert Plant. Her story is undeniably sad, but this is a talent show, not Surprise Surprise. Her version of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood is pared back and haunting, but there’s a lack of strength in her voice that won’t help when it comes to the duels. However, her diction and phrasing are exceptional. When Tom turns and connects with Sally, it’s like Sleepless In Seattle for the Saga crowd. His eyes are leaking, so he’s either visibly moved or he needs his drops in. Still, I’m not entirely sure he needed to help her off the stage as if she was due for a bed-bath.

Leo Ihenacho was in The Streets, and got tired of being the sidekick in the band. Tonight, he’s performing a Simply Red song, which in my eyes makes him worse than Hitler. The rendition is pleasantly jazzy, if a little lacking in fireworks. “I used to be in a band thing. Yeah, a band,” he says, confusingly. Tom thinks they can smash it, but Kylie’s getting reading to hitch up her dress to win him over. Will points out that he and Leo have to verbalise it when they blush, but no-one seems to mention that Kylie’s the same problem with a variety of facial emotions. Leo’s delighted to have the pint-sized pop princess as his mentor, but doesn’t get off to the best start when he mentions “I’ve fancied Charlene since I was little.”

Ninety minutes into the third series, it might too soon to call this a victory for the BBC. But we can at least applaud the decision to replace Jessie and Danny with two mentors who at least have a passing familiarity with the concept of humility. Splash – the ball’s in your court.