Something weird happened last week. I ended up writing a largely positive recap of The Voice; an eventuality I had never considered, having previously suffered through two intolerable seasons. Of course, it still feels a little stiff, a little worthy, and a bit too hung up on its own misplaced sense of artistic integrity. Nonetheless, the departure of Jessie J and Danny Something-or-other, combined with the arrival of Ricky Wilson and Kylie, has given the show a much-needed shot of adrenalin, right in the ribcage. Let’s see if they can keep our interest for another 80 minutes, shall we?
The annoyingly stunning Emma Willis is here to explain the concept of the show to all the people who tuned out the moment Jessie J first appeared, and are making their first tentative steps back into the fold. “It’s all about the sound of the voice,” she advises, “if our judges like what they hear, they’ll spin into action.” You know, like Wonder Woman. There’s not much time allocated for judging clichés tonight, apart from Ricky telling us that he’s so competitive, he won’t even play charades. One word, two syllables, *shakes closed fist.*
Today’s first contestant is the pleasingly alliterative Jamie Johnson from Gillingham – the kind of name that would give Stan Lee a semi. He’s a massive mummy’s boy, and a lot like Olly Murs, without being quite so drownable. He seems to find everything hilarious, so I don’t feel too bad laughing at his sister’s pride in his limited achievements: “It’s amazing, now he’s made it onto The Voice.” He’s singing So Sick, and the R&B flecks really suit the performance. He’s all smiles once Kylie and Ricky turn around, and shows off some impressive gnashers. They’re almost like Rylan’s, except that they’re the size of actual teeth. Tom admits that he couldn’t tell whether it was a boy or a girl, “But that’s no bad thing,” he admits, growing misty at the recollections of a long weekend in Vegas.
Backstage, Emma asks Jamie’s hyperventilating next-of-kin whether he’s a Kylie fan. “No, but he thinks she’s fit,” answers his charmingly honest sister, deftly explaining why so many serious musos want the pint-sized pop tart as their mentor. All the other judges keep telling us that Tom is a legend, but since I’ve just seen Paul Young and Tom Daley respectively described as pop and diving legends, the word is beginning to lose all meaning. With another signing under her belt, the other judges are complaining that she’s “getting an army together,” as if she’s the Mouth of Sauron but with poutier lips.
Maireid Conlon has three dogs that she tortures by dressing them in ridiculous hats and throwing them into canals. Apparently, her mum and dad wanted her to go to college but, in her own words, she’s not very academic. I don’t know how else to say this, but she doesn’t look academic either. Her choice of Purple Rain is an easy win for Kylie, since she’s always been a massive fan of the Minneapolis maestro. She does an impressive job, even rivaling Ruth Lorenzo’s epic version from the X Factor, and secures three judges in the process. Will seems a little disengaged tonight, and is in no rush to hit the button. Or maybe his has been disconnected by the producers as a punishment for all that tweeting last series. Then again, I’ve seen enough of these shows to know that he’ll probably hold out until the end of the programme and score a great signing for his team. Anyway, back to Mairead. “I didn’t expect to see you when I came round” says Ricky, like she just fished him out of the deep end of the pool. Tom heard her hit some powerful notes “and I just had to push my button,” he teases, veering dangerously close to some post-watershed language. As Maireid deliberates, Ricky gives it some subtle lip-licking, but since Tom smiles like her Dad, she goes with the Welsh wonder. Like I said, not exactly academic. Will expresses surprise that Tom and Prince share the same birthday. “Not the same year though,” Tom jokes. Please, I doubt they’re even the same fucking century.
The next slot is one of those double auditions The Voice is so fond of, if only to temporarily break away from the tediously rigid format. We’re briefly introduced to Lewis Clay, who’s moved back into his parents’ front room so his mum can make his tea, and Jimmy Weston; a 39 year-old painter/decorator. They’re like two halves of the same Matt Cardle. Jimmy likes to come home from a hard day’s decorating and ‘get in the zone’, but that could just mean huffing the paint fumes.
Lewis is up first, having already penned a ridiculous ode to Emma Willis. His voice is a little breathy and has too much fake grit, which affects his tuning. Not what you want on a full-scale screamer like Aerosmith’s Cryin’. When no judges turn for him, there’s a painful bit of “How’s it going mate?” “Yeah, alright mate” between him and Ricky. Will rambles about riding a horse, and in the end it seems they just can’t get rid of him quick enough.
Jimmy fares a little better, even though he’s similarly breathy and flat. However, the Bryan Adams tone of his voice seems to work for the judges, and his choice of Desperado is definitely more listenable. After Tom, Kylie and Ricky all turn, Jimmy gets a big whoop for being from Coventry. Strangely, that’s the most excited the audience have sounded all night. Kylie starts talking about when she was just beginning in the industry, but she loses her own thread and it all gets a bit awkward. No-one knows where she’s going, least of all her, so thank God Tom’s on hand to interject with the observation that Jimmy sounds like a human. Will asks what an alien sounds like, implying he’s never listened to his own back catalogue. Ricky offers to “hold it steady at the bottom,” inadvertently setting #gaycode trending on Twitter. Despite all logic and reason, Jimmy picks Kylie as his mentor. “We’re gonna do some beautiful stuff together,” she teases, offering an instant insight into why he picked her. “What does Kylie have that the other judges don’t?” asks a bemused Marvin backstage, as the producers belatedly give him ‘the talk’.
Kelsey-Beth is a former Emmerdale star, who’s now looking to break into the music industry. I know, she should be so lucky, right? In honour of her idol, she’s come along in some preposterously short shorts, although she’s pulled them up so high that the waistband could double as the underwire in her bra. Ricky and Kylie agree to both turn, which kind of undermines the point of battling it out for a contestant’s endorsement. She seems genuinely moved by their belief in her, which instantly distinguishes her from all the entitled ‘second-chancers’ who’ve in previous series. Despite her clear affinity with Kylie, Kelsey-Beth falls for Ricky’s impassioned pitch.
Bob Blakeley is a bald granddad who works in a chilled warehouse. Strangely, he tells us that he loves his job, so he probably forgot to read the briefing notes before filming his VT. He looks like the sort of heavy you’d usually find menacing Danny Dyer in an East End shooters & looters epic, but he’s actually super polite to everyone, calling them all ‘sir.’ Even Kylie. He does an impressive version of Bublé’s Cry Me A River, but his vocal probably sounds a little too much like Tom Jones for comfort. The other judges are all imploring Tom to turn, as if he’s only allowed to mentor singers who keep their teeth in a glass of water. Ricky seems embarrassed that none of them pushed their button: “We four didn’t turn round, but I think you got the whole country out of their seat.” I went to the bathroom, if that counts?
Miles Anthony is from East London and gives us tonight’s tragic family back-story. His niece has severe health issues, and this prevented him from appearing on the show last year. He’s so earnest and sincere, it’s clear that everyone is clearly rooting for him. In the end, he does a nice update of I (Who Have Nothing) which works really well, but it doesn’t win over any of the judges. Will’s critique is right on the money, as he explains that Miles was stuck between performing and producing. Kylie is genuinely moved, and attempts to comfort him, but after 25 years in the business she should probably know that whispering doesn’t really work when you’re mic’d up. A tear-stained Emma tells him he’s a wonderful man, only for him to say “Can I meet Marvin before I go?”
Sophie May Williams is another teenage singer with a ridiculous vintage clothes fetish. There’s at least one every year; turning up at the studio with a polka-dotted scarf wrapped round their head, looking like a back-up Puppini. Her granddad loves his time on camera, talking to the film crew like they’re a scout troop interviewing him about the war. Sophie’s got a Rosie Webster vibe about her when she talks, so let’s be glad that she’s hear to sing, rather than join a debate team. Her song is a curiously tempo-ed version of Time After Time that, whilst not quite the vintage I was expecting, certainly makes her sound old beyond her years. Will pushes his button at the very last minute and it’s a smart choice, because she’s precisely the kind of singer he enjoys working with. She and Will bond over classic jazz, and dressing like old people, while he goes off on one about his early life. He’s been so inert this evening that he could have nodded off and dreamed he was on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories. Heading backstage, Sophie looks terrified to see her family. I know how she feels; I’ve been to Wakefield.
Jermaine Jackman is from Hackney, so initially we get lots of footage of him in a hoodie, leaning against fences. Aha, but it’s all a clever bluff, because he’s actually active in youth parliament and is keen to address preconceptions about London’s black youth. And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going) is a bold choice for a male vocalist, and I’d probably have advised him to avoid singing it like a demonstration of multiple personality disorder. Even so, he does a great job with it, and secures Will’s second vote of the night. There’s much excitement about Jermaine’s potential, especially once Will talks about the “crazy, fresh, dope philanthropic stuff” they could be doing together. Unfortunately, my eyes just rolled so hard I’m going to have to wear a patch until they realign. They’ve got seven days to straighten out.