In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably point out that I rushed home from a friend’s album launch tonight, in order to review The Voice. He wrote the songs himself, used friends around the world to provide accompaniment, and even crowd-sourced the funding. So having heard the not inconsiderable fruits of The President Lincoln’s labour, the prospect of ninety minutes of over-earnest ‘authenticity’ feels like something of a come-down.
The show’s opening comments are a craven attempt at positioning The Voice as something unique and worthwhile on the TV landscape. To be honest, it would have been more effective if they’d just cut to the Director General’s office, so he could say “I’ll give each of you a fiver if you promise not to switch over to Britain’s Got Talent.” Jessie points out “We’re holding our hands up for people who are singers. That’s why this show is different,” giving us a poignant reminder of the year that Leona Lewis won the X-Factor by playing the spoons.
Reggie jumps in to announce that “This week, The Voice is louder than ever,” but it’s already deafening enough to give Lou Ferrigno a headache. Contributing to the cacophony will be another former nineties star who’s hoping for a warmer reception than the four cold shoulders that greeted Kym Mazelle. At this rate, the show is running the risk of turning into a reprise of ITV’s Reborn In The USA, but without the excitement of seeing Peter Cox trying to fuck Gina G on a Greyhound to Alabama. King of Wishful Thinking indeed.
Anyway, tonight’s first performer is the former pop star in question – Cleo Higgins. As a prodigious teenager, she and her two sisters formed Cleopatra (Comin’ Atcha) and had a short run of success whilst signed to Madonna’s Maverick label. Now she’s a mum of two and trained pastry chef, but she’s “so tired of people recognising me for my history,” so perhaps she should have kept her girl band past out of it. Still, she’s here now, and “I’ve grown up, just like everybody else,” to which her unbuttoned blouse can happily attest. Her performance of Beyoncé’s Love On Top is pretty good, but feels decidedly lackluster after Amber Holcomb’s rendition on this week’s American Idol. Jessie turns round within seconds of Cleo starting, and Danny isn’t too far behind. Unfortunately, the poor thing doesn’t know the song like Jessie does, so he just tries to mouth the “You-ou-ou” bits. There are a lot of them.
As the judges give their feedback, Will remains standing on his chair, as though the studio is slowly filling with raw sewage. And I’ve sat through enough of this show to know that might not be too far off. Danny commends the fact that she’s been in the music industry for a long time, although I’ve a sneaking suspicion she’s been making mille feuille for far longer than she ever spent in a recording studio. He doesn’t care though – he too has known the harsh sting of failure, and the feeling that people are trying to keep him down. I’m just wishing they’d used stronger restraints. In the end, Cleo chooses Will, so Jessie pretends she’s upset and moans that no-one is believing her this year. And so the theme of tonight’s show is established.
Barry James Thomas is the uncle of those two twins off Corrie, and the kindest thing I can say is that the boys clearly didn’t get their looks from his side of the family. Looking like the bastard offspring of James May and Heather off EastEnders, he’s busy making sure that nephew Ryan Thomas is in every piece of VT footage to help his profile. They’re all doing lots of forced laughing, as Ryan proudly admits that he styled his uncle for his big moment. It’s safe to say that Edith Head’s legendary reputation remains uncontested. Singing The Boys Are Back In Town he sounds every inch the pub singer. And, to be clear, we’re talking a knackered Wetherspoons on a depressed high street, not The Cavern. None of the judges turn round, and Danny helpfully explains that he remained unmoved because he didn’t get hit in the gut. If that’s all it takes, I’d happily have him spinning like a Lazy Susan.
Another rocker follows Barry’s unsuccessful bid – this time it’s Mitchel Emms, who once performed as Kurt Cobain on Stars In Their Eyes when he was ten. His dad is very supportive and keeps getting emotional, which takes some of the edge off Mitchel’s rocker vibe. The voice is fine, if a little overstretched, and he looks the part, even if he does worryingly remind me of The People Under The Stairs. Making a bid for this series’ most obnoxious moment (and there’ll be some stiff competition, I imagine) Danny stands on his chair, kicks the button with his boot, and rotates whilst playing air guitar. At this point, Simon Cowell’s returning talent show got such a ratings boost that the National Grid must have thought North Korea was attacking. Danny tells his newest protégé that he’s going to be a big star. This from a man whose own family think his last name is From-The-Script.
Elise Evans is from The Valleys, which comes as a surprise, since I didn’t think there’d be anyone left. She wants to come on The Voice for her Nan who is not dead. Looks like someone didn’t read the rulebook. She’s a lovely girl, who excitedly tells us that the judges have inspired her since forever, but I have an inkling that there’s only one mentor she’s got in mind. And he seems happy because someone’s finally picked a song he knows. They all turn around with just seconds to spare. Danny appears to be post-coital, and Will offers to help her out even if she doesn’t pick him, which scores a big “aaawwwwwww” from the audience. Tom stands up, largely to prove that he still can, and makes a final bid to recruit another footsoldier to his Welsh army. Perhaps they’re planning to secede from Great Britain and establish a nation founded on power ballads and slate mining.
Emma Louise Jackson joins us from a long-lost Smack The Pony sketch; all eight foot of her. She’s got her hair up in an enormous bun that seems stuck on the side, like it’s threatening to tip her over. The performance is so cabaret that Liza Minelli would be making a cutting gesture across her throat. It doesn’t help matters that she’s covering Ike and Tina with less soul than a Daniel O’Donnell Christmas album. Will puts on his pretend glasses to applaud her sense of fun, and she responds by offering to eat some fire. Grinning like a lunatic, Emma Louise keeps telling is that she’s looking for a party, but I have a feeling that all over the country, people have doused the volume and switched off the lights to pretend that no-one’s home.
Connor Scott joins us from the front cover of Mad Magazine, where he’s spent the last sixty years asking ‘What, Me Worry?’ His mother needs to learn to let go a little, since she’s fussing about clean underwear when he’s trying to psyche himself up for his big break. Backstage, she gets very excited when Connor appears on the screen, as if she’s experiencing TV for the first time. He’s doing a very angry version of Ellie Goulding’s Starry Eyed, and tells the judges he learned his craft as a busker. Danny nods sagely, “Yeah, like me” because busking is the same as being in a boyband. This segment is really all about the lanky Irish pillock who keeps repeating everything Connor says, as if he needs a minute to process each soundbite. Finally, Connor admits that his sister really fancies his new mentor and is waiting in the green room. Danny perks up at this, as Connor offers to take him backstage. But I think he ought to let the sister make those kinds of offers.
Amy Wilkinson was going to audition last year, but chickened out because her nerves got the better of her. She spent three years in a girl band, but it’s not one that ever troubled the inside of a recording studio. Most of the pictures of the girls seem to suggest an act that was clothes-optional. Apparently, the other two band members were massive bitches – she doesn’t tell us that explicitly, but ‘personal differences’ is all we need. She’s picked She Wolf by David Guetta and Sia, but it’s so out of tune, she may as well have howled at the moon and then chewed at her arse for the rest of the performance. She tells the judges this is the first time she’s sung in four years, so I’m not sure how she got through the first round of auditions. Jessie leaps out of her chair to hug Amy, because she just can’t stand to see girls cry. Bless her, it’s been at least ten minutes since it was all about her, so she needed to do something to secure another close up.
Time for a double act now, as Shelley and Maxine (also known as ‘Diva’) take to the stage. They’re two brassy old birds from the North East, one of which looks alarmingly like Tim Healy in drag on Benidorm. When they’re not bellowing Streisand hits to indifferent Working Men’s Clubs, they’re serving up steak bakes. They also appear to find the word ‘pasty’ utterly hilarious, which would probably grow tiresome for the other women on the Greggs counter. They’re clearly the life and soul of every party you ever left early saying you had to check on the kids. Their duet is actually pretty good, even if it does invite some unfavourable comparisons with the Barbra and Celine original. Tom and Jessie turn around, whereas Will is content to flirt with them, which actually pips that documentary about dogging for the title of ‘least sexy TV broadcast of the week’. In the end, they choose Tom, so at least Jessie didn’t have to pretend she knew what to do with them.
Leah McFall is from Belfast, but now lives in Camden and looks every inch of it. She’s nervous about performing in front of four big megastars, which makes me worry that she’s wandered into the wrong studio by mistake. In the first half of her song, she sounds like Larry the Lamb doing a Britney Spears tribute, but she comes into her own as the warbling and trilling gets more pronounced. Jessie says she’s “honoured to be part of your journey,” whereas Will starts talking about ducks and eagles. I have no idea. Jessie’s final pitch involves a piss-poor declaration of “girl power,” so it’s no wonder that she opts for Mr Am. This leads into a glorious bit of schadenfreude, as we see a compilation of all the timese Jessie has ben rejected – it’s like You’ve Been Framed, but without the trampolines.
Lovelle is from South East London and works in one of those posh burger joints where the chips come in a galvanized steel bucket. After some carefully stage-managed impromptu kitchen singing, she’s ready for her big moment. She’s singing Rihanna’s Diamonds, and looks the part, except for the wooly hat. Jessie tells Lovelle that she’s hardcore, and only turns around for acts that she really believes in. But the clips we’ve just seen have reminded us that she’s spun around so many times it’s a wonder her nose isn’t bleeding.
Tonight’s final act is Lem Knights, who claims to have been following Jessie J since she first set up her YouTube channel. She’s even the alarm tone on his phone. Come on – admit it – we’ve all woken up screaming at the thought of Jessie J, right? He looks like an enormous troll doll, and is singing a hideous version of Do It Like A Dude. By some remarkable coincidence, playing to Jessie’s ego is precisely what it takes to win her patronage. Who knew? She offers Lem the ultimate prize – a chance to sing with her. For some people, that would be like getting the bag of lemons, but it’s enough to prompt a joyous flurry of gay hands. They duet on an improvised reprise of his performance, which acts as a stark warning of what’s to come on this series. Finally, the tension mounts as the lifelong Jessie J fan deliberates over which mentor to pick. Seriously.
All that remains is for Holly to remind us that we’re only halfway through the blind auditions, as I spontaneously develop an anxiety rash across my upper body. Pass the Savlon.