If it seems a little windy out tonight, we can probably blame it on the nation's collective sigh of relief, as eight million people realise that the interminable blind auditions have finally finished. So now, we limp exhaustedly towards the dual rounds, where two singers go head-to-head, and only one survives. That sounds a lot more dramatic than it really is. Maybe this is more explosive on the US edition of the show, where competitiveness is part of their DNA. Here in the UK, it’s a decidedly polite affair – imagine a political debate moderated by Gloria Hunniford.
The judges are still excited to be here though, as we see Ricky cartwheeling across the stage, and hear various iterations of “It was great, it was amazing.” Trust me, there’s going to be a lot of that tonight. Even if they’re just talking about how well the Febreze worked on Jessie’s old chair. Tom insists he’s looking for the complete package, having spent the last 60 years wearing out his own, and Ricky’s moaning: “I’ve got twelve, then I’ve got to cut them down to six. What’s that all about?” It’s called The Voice, Ricky. Didn’t you read your contract? Will even warns that he brought a knife to the duels, so don’t be too shocked if the show goes full West Side Story by 9pm.
It’s time for the judges to take their place, so Will helps Kylie down the stage steps. Which reminds me; we’ve yet to see a single woman walk up or down those four steps unaided. If this show comes back for a fourth season, the BBC would do well to put in a Stannah – it’ll half their insurance premiums.
Tonight’s first duel is courtesy of Team Will. To help him get his acts prepared, he’s brought back his fellow Pea, Dante Santiago, as well as Leah McFall – last year’s runner up. It’s a canny move on Will’s part, to promote the album the two of them have been working on for the last twelve months, but she’s not exactly gifted with abundant industry insight. Leah’s been through this process, so feels that she can empathise. That’s great, but they’re stressed enough as it is, without some pointless Irish badger saying, “Yeah, I did that too.”
Will picks Jermaine and Sarah to sing I Knew You Were Waiting. He tells us that he loves how Sarah enjoys every note, now if she could just translate that into the audience feeling the same. He also observes the fact that Jermaine keeps “moving his little head,” which is a bit rich coming from someone who could use a magnifying glass as a shaving mirror. The boxing motif is back in full force, but it’s doubtful that anyone’s going to get punched in the face. Tom gives his crinkly-eyed smile because he’s heard this one before. Sarah’s strong, if a little dated in her style, and Jermaine seems like a compilation of secondary characters from Coming To America, especially the preacher and the lead singer of Sexual Chocolate. Still, at least it worked pretty well as a duet. Emma wonders how Jermaine gets so low, and Will thinks his whole story is “kismic.” I’m guessing that’s supposed to be a combination of karmic and kismet. In the end, Will keeps Jermaine, which makes Sarah available for the steal. As she stands there hopefully, bathed in cold, blue light, the other judges avoid eye-contact, like they’re checking their voicemail.
Over on Team Kylie, we’re introduced to her “filthy, gorgeous Scissor Sister friend, Jake Shears.” His eyes are bulging so wide, it’s like watching Cohaagen die in Total Recall. They’re reflecting on Lee and Jimmy’s original auditions, where Lee apparently “sang Kylie’s song back to her, with interest.” Just not mine. Jimmy’s the one who works as a decorator, but warns us that he’s “not living for the paint brush,” cleverly referencing one of Stevie Wonder’s original discarded lyrics. They’re singing When You Were Young by The Killers, and Lee is feeling a little insecure – “Jake isn’t the one entering the ring with Jimmy,” he observes, in a comment that ought to be accompanied by the sound of a swanee whistle. Marvin pitches the duel as a “civil war between Kylie’s Coventry boys,” but in all honesty, it’s more of a dispute in a small claims court. Lee’s shirt doesn’t fit, and neither does the song, leaving Ricky looking as if he’s sitting on one of those studded iPhone cases. There are far too many close-ups on people’s wide open mouths – this must be like porn for dentists. Kylie seems to be siding with Lee, who’s so stocky he’s practically a pork pie with tattoos, and Marvin is just hoping that no-one’s noticed his red shirt and pink trouser combo. Jimmy knows his time is up, but at least he could get work as Linda Henry’s stunt double on EastEnders.
Tom walks into the rehearsal room to be greeted by a bevy of brassy women, like a Tupperware salesman who just hit the jackpot. He’s bizarrely picked Tinie Tempah as his advisor, presumably because the producers are worried that he’s only pulling in the Countryfile crowd. Sally and Talia, are going head-to-head with their version of Olly Murs’ Dear Darlin’. At 54, Sally’s not entirely familiar with it, so picks up her clamshell phone (bless her) to ask her kids for insight. Not that any of this matters, since she’s flawless and haunting – elevating a rather ordinary pop song into something quite special. Talia, on the other hand, is struggling with the Cranberries equaliser in her head. Marvin tells them that they both look amazing, but that seems to be the only adjective in his repertoire, so we won’t be too harsh on him for lying. Tom’s choked up with emotion again, but I reckon the label on an Innocent smoothie would make him weepy. Ricky thinks Sally gives off a mist that makes him happy. I think means he’s just called her a hookah. You’re welcome.
Ricky is talking about taking his team from good to great, with Katy B as his advisor, mostly because she’s got a new album to plug. He’s pitting Beth against twins Tila & Tavelah on Katy Perry’s Roar. His coaching style has a touch of the Gervais about it, and Katy B is just a Catherine Tate character in search of a half-decent sketch – is this The Voice or have I switched over to Dave by mistake? The twins are good at jumping in and disguising the weaknesses in each others’ voices, which comes in handy on a song that’s in such a low register that Barry White would struggle. The whole performance is a hot, leopard print mess and, for once, I’m actually wishing that Katy Perry was here to sing it. Marvin says it was amazing, (surprise!) and the judges overegg the references to prowling. Marvin has to “axe” Ricky for his decision, so the Kaiser frontman chooses Beth, which makes Will pull a face like the invisible man is giving him a root canal.
Kylie picks Leo and Steven. Leo may have some “thunder down under,” but he’s not impressing Jake with his unwillingness to learn the lyrics of Thunder In My Heart. At least, I think he’s unimpressed – it’d be hard to discern any expression other than “Oh fuck, a train!” from his wide-eyed countenance. Too much is made of Leo’s attraction to Kylie, as if that cheap Primark skirt could genuinely throw him off his game. He might have struggled with the lyrics, but Leo opens strong, and Steven matches him with a James Morrison growl to his voice. The ad-libs are excruciating though, as they try to out-falsetto each other, waggling their fingers like gospel caricatures. Emma is managing the post-performance chatter like a pro, reminding us why she seems to be booked on every show except Panorama. Kylie chooses Leo, and Tom steals Steven; winning a grateful hug from Kylie. The sly old dog.
Time to saunter back down memory lane, as Tom recalls performing with Wilson Pickett on his TV show. This is because Bizzi and Kenny are going head-to-head on a soul version of Hey, Jude. Bizzi goes first, and it’s fine, if a little too much like the gig at a corporate do. Kenny has a great voice, but wears an expression like he’s worried about his overdue library fines. Will calls it as the best battle in three seasons, but it’s not like been spoiled for choice, since most of them were skirmishes at best. Tom picks Bizzi, and Kenny goes unstolen, like the hostess trolley in a looted Debenhams.
Marvin tells us we’re at the halfway point, and I begin to curse the fact that we don’t have bigger wine glasses.
Will pairs Tom with Callum, who’s come dressed as Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element. Before they’ve sung a note, I’ve already decided that Tom should win, just because he’s not an insufferable wanker who takes his styling tips from old Salt N Pepa videos. PYT might have made a great Michael Jackson record, but it’s not exactly a great song, and in this format even 90 seconds can feel like a lifetime. In Belmarsh. Ricky thinks they look as if they’ve been performing together for years. So did Buckingham and Nicks – it didn’t mean they were happy to share the stage. Will chooses Callum, who then hangs around in the wings pretending that he’s hoping Tom will get a steal.
Kylie picks Jai and Nomakhosi to go next. Jai was apparently one of only a handful of performers to get all four judges to turn, “But whose team did she choose?” asks Marvin redundantly. “Jake and I have done many a thing together,” warns Kylie, prompting Jake’s eyes to bulge like he’s in a malfunctioning hyperbaric chamber. The girls are doing Tainted Love and are struggling with the competitive element. The band starts up and it could be Love Cats or Good Thing by Fine Young Cannibals. For most of the song, Nomakhosi is solidly impressive, unlike Jai who relies far too much on her shrilly affected Winehouseisms. It’s all very civilized until Nomakhosi improvises a showy final note that doesn’t impress Jai at all. Marvin says “I feel like a thorn between two roses right now,” and I can certainly see a prick. Kylie picks Jai, predictably, leaving Will to steal Nomakhosi. “Give him a hug, give him a hug,” chants Marvin, like the world’s most aggressive matchmaker.
Back to Team Ricky now, and Emily is tired of serving brown soup to pensioners, so she’s thrilled to be yelling Aguilera’s Fighter at Kelsey-Beth. Ricky gives them a pep talk, that seems to have been engineered primarily to show off his neat new haircut in some half-decent lighting. Kelsey-Beth sounds far too mannered, with no gravel or anger in her voice, whereas Emily fares much better with the vocals but struggles on the performance. Their hopeless sparring looks like the kind of rumble that happens in soft-porn movies about female prisoners. Kelsey-Beth admits she went a little numb during the performance, as did my ears. The judges try a variety of ways of saying Kelsey-Beth sucked, and it’s clear that Ricky agrees. As rivulets of tears work grooves into Kelsey-Beth’s makeup, Tom helpfully observes, “She’s crying.” Kylie’s the only one able to steal at this point, but hasn’t forgotten how Kelsey-Beth ignored her “I’ve been in a soap opera too,” pitch.
Celestine and Mairead are singing a song by Jessie J, to remind us of Tom’s favourite former judge. All that’s missing is Mrs Danvers, to tell us all about Miss Jessie’s multi-octave range. For some reason, they’re both wearing the kind of outfits I usually see outside my local Baptist church on a Sunday lunchtime, and I’m beginning to regret watching this in HD. They both sound awful, and I resent anyone making me miss Jessie J, in any context. It’s hard to tell whether the audience is waving in approval, or trying to signal the attention of emergency services. “That was so brilliant” says Mairead, having at least been spared the indignities of listening to it. Tom picks Celestine, leaving the audience to chant “Steal, steal” as if we’re back in the Croydon riots. “We’re still going to be best friends, aren’t we?” a crushed Mairead asks Tom. “Yeah, yeah, of course,” he lies through his veneers.
Over on Team Will, we’re reminded that Jessica is yet another Winehouse wannabe, and she’s intimidated by going up against Anna, the harp-playing pixie. Together they’re doing Green Day’s Good Riddance, and Jessica has added a keyboard to her repertoire, so she won’t be left twiddling her thumbs when her counterpart starts plucking away. Jessica’s vocal is screechy and tuneless, whereas Anna is cute and tuneful. That being said, the best part of the whole performance was the instrumental solo at the beginning. Anna laughs at Jessica’s desperation when the latter puts her leg up on the fence and points her groin at Ricky. Will picks Anna, leaving the constantly hysterical Jessica to cry on stage until Ricky steals her. It’s not pretty either – even Clare Danes would tell her it’s not a good luck. She weeps again backstage, telling us “I’ve been given a second chance once. Now I’ve been given a second chance again.” Technically, that’s a third chance, but I don’t think she’s in any fit state to take advice right now. Someone needs to get her a brown paper bag to breathe into.
Finally, Ricky gives us Christina Marie and Nathan. Christina Marie gets a bit bitchy about her chunky duet partner when Ricky advises them to play up the intimacy on their song, whereas Nathan spouts a bunch of clichés about turning it up to 11. Ricky breaks the fourth wall and tells us “You’re in for a treat.” But I’ve just polished off a tub of Haagen Dazs, so I think his timing’s a little off. They’re both very good, but Nathan’s shouting like Meatloaf on a proctologist’s table. Thankfully, Christina Marie gets Ricky’s vote, leaving Nathan to think about regrowing that awful moustache.