With The Voice now well and truly trouncing Cowell in the ratings, the pressure's on for the producers to demonstrate how fresh their concept is. Because, like it or not, there'll come a point where it's just people on a stage singing for the audience's votes. And we've seen that shit before. So here's the 'battle' phase of The Voice. They're taking it quite literally - the set designer obviously received a very specific brief - as two singers at a time enter a pseudo-boxing ring and battle it out to decide who goes through to the live finals.
Each pair of singers represents one of the four celebrity mentors, which means that, at the end of every sing-off, they have to let one of their own acts go. Tough choices all round, and not made any easier by Reggie Yates appearing intermittently to remind them of the fact. At times, "You've got a difficult choice ahead of you" seems to be all he can say, like Arnold Schwarzenegger's malfunctioning fat-suit in Total Recall. Holly Willoughby performs much the same role, whilst grinning deliriously that they've finally unlocked her dressing room.
Some might quibble about the logic of turning a duet into a duel, since it just encourages everyone to over-sing. Nonetheless, this is our new reality, so let's just embrace it. Here's how tonight's pairs got on.
Joelle vs Jenny
Will's paired these two because they're 'super mega divas in the making'. Louis Walsh would be proud. Dante from the Black Eyed Peas is on hand to help Will in his coaching, and he compares Joelle and Jenny's duet to a 'Whitney vs Christina' battle. As the camera takes in our two contestants, the comparison seems laughably optimistic. By the time they take to the stage, they're all psyched up for battle, and I'm hastily adjusting the volume. They're both in fine voice, but utterly lacking in stage presence; dancing awkwardly while the other one has a crack at the vocal runs. The song's bridge arrives to find them leaning into each other and screaming in different keys. By the time they're done, poor old Holly staggers onto stage and begins screaming too, possibly suffering from some kind of ear trauma. Joelle shouted the loudest, so Will picks her for the live finals.
Max vs Bill
Danny has put Max and Bill together because he thinks they're both at the start of the career, so let's try and ignore the fact that that's how talent shows tend to work. He's also been joined by Paloma Faith, who's here to share her well-studied quirkiness with the contestants. I quite like Paloma's music, but hearing her speak I can't help but picture her as a grown-up Veruca Salt. Anyway, Danny excitedly tells us he's planned an explosion, so let's hope Theresa May's not watching. The boys take to the stage with their take on Beggin' and they sound pretty good. Unfortunately, their performance is marred somewhat by their lame attempts to appear confrontational, since Paloma's advice to "make lots of eye contact" has given it an unmistakably homoerotic edge. Mercifully, the song ends before we see either of the lads take a pummelling in the ring, which just leaves Danny to make his difficult decision. Thanks Reggie. Danny thinks the whole of the UK is looking at the TV and calling him an idiot. That's not the half of it. In the end, Max gets picked, leaving Bill to wander backstage and embrace his weeping fiancee, who's probably kicking herself now for postponing the wedding.
Aundrea vs Sam
Tom's matched this pair because they've both "got really strong characters" - someone sound the euphemism klaxon. Our sizeable singers are rehearsing A Little Less Conversation, when A Little Less Saturated Fat might be more apropos. Tom and Cerys Matthews keep commenting on their "big stage presence" until it's clear that nobody actually wants to address the elephants in the room. The stylists have clearly given up, so Sam's sporting a weird rockabilly look, and Aundrea has a little too much leg for her leggings. Their performance is fun, but visually it's just like watching two lesbians come to blows outside the Candy Bar.
Oh Deniece. You poor deluded thing. In your flashy fur coat and diamante-encrusted cowboy boots, you look every inch the former star. But this is The Voice, not TOTP2
Kirsten vs Toni
Jessie introduces Mary Portas, who's here to help her singers work on their performances. Sorry, it's not the Queen of Shops, it's Ana Matronik, so we're in for lots of 'Hey girl!' and 'Fierce!', which gets tiresome pretty quickly. By the time they get to the battle ring, it's all about who's wearing the whoriest shoes. The vocals are fine, but by tackling an Aretha Franklin song, it becomes clear that we're not exactly seeing a star being born. They're both trying to overemphasise every word, to the point that all that's missing is an orderly off-stage with a trolley full of anti-psychotics. Jessie picks Toni and tells her "Your light just went on." Does that mean she's accepting fares?
Bo vs Vince
Here we go - Ricky Gervais facing off against Dolores O'Riordan. Vince keeps singing over Bo, who tries her best to sound humble when Danny asks her if she knows how good she is. During their performance, it's clear that the production crew loves Bo, and can't pull away from Vince quick enough. At times, you might wonder where that second voice was coming from. Reggie tells Danny he's got a difficult decision about four times, but in all fairness he doesn't exactly break a sweat picking Bo. Still, he makes an attempt to hug it out, but Vince walks straight past.
Tyler vs Heshima
Will has given the boys a Chris Brown song, and they couldn't be more disappointed if he'd told them to sing something by the Andrews Sisters. Tyler does his best to act happy with it, and Heshima cops a major attitude. The performance is pretty wretched, and Will's face suggests that he knows it. The other judges are trying to dance to it, but Jessie just looks like she needs a piss. Tyler wins the heat and goes backstage to greet his best friend. Well, the best friend that isn't the frequently mentioned Amy Winehouse. See, even the legends are easily replaced.
Vince vs Jessica
In preparing her singers for a rendition of We Found Love, Jessie J demonstrates her unique talent for over-singing, and tells them to change the notes around if they feel like it. That's called a rewrite. Her final advice: "Bring it, dot com." Alexandra Burke is probably wishing she'd copyrighted that. In the end, it's Jessica who goes the Jessie J route and completely fucks up the melody. Future note to anyone who ever gets a bad audience response at karaoke - just tell them you were changing the notes around. Jessie picks Vince, who seems more connected to his hat than he is to the family member who rushes to hug him backstage.
Jay vs Jaz
Will's paired these two because they're "Jedi Knight singers". I guess this means that they can practice their scales whilst settling an interplanetary trade dispute. Jaz has a chest infection, and although he promises to give it his all on stage, he's not sure what's gonna come out. If it's green and lumpy, he's going to need some antibiotics. The vocals are all over the place, but with occasional patches of brilliance, like the whites of Jay's all-too-visible ankles. The judges all stand in tribute, but I suspect that may be because those seats look fucking uncomfortable. Jessie tells them that British audiences aren't ready for that kind of musical talent on TV. I guess that discounts every performance she's ever given then. Will picks Jaz because "You got something in you", but there's also a sizeable specimen of it in a hanky.
Deniece vs Ruth
Oh Deniece. You poor deluded thing. In your flashy fur coat and diamante-encrusted cowboy boots, you look every inch the former star. But this is The Voice, not TOTP2. As Deniece vamps around and tells us how confident she is, young Ruth is busy connecting with the song. On stage, Ruth lacks any kind of polish or finesse, but it's what makes her a genuinely exciting singer. Deniece, on the other hand, keeps doing little Michael Jackson body-pops which date her even more than her outfit. At times, it looks as though she left the hanger in the back of her jacket. Having already been reduced to tears by Ruth's authentic emotions, Tom's got watery eyes again. But that could just be glaucoma. In the end, it's no surprise when Tom picks Ruth and gives her a long hug and some words of encouragement. Hopefully, they included "Shorter dress next time please."
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