After an extensive build up that made Ben Hur look like a Tom & Jerry cartoon, we’re finally here. Someone’s thrown a kettle of water over the Dancing On Ice rink, and they’ve thrown in some raked seating to create The Voice Arena. Ricky’s smouldering like Ryan Gosling tied to a chiminea, and Tom is introduced as “The legend with the lungs,” as if he’s got them in a carrier bag backstage.
The pressure must be on to choreograph the logistics of a massive live show like this, so it’s a shame they didn’t put their rehearsal time to better use. The acts are all doing their awkward on-the-spot dancing, like Thunderbirds with half their strings cut. Then we’re treated to a bewildering overhead shot as the judges head for their seats, the contestants disappear into the audience, and Emma and Marvin take to the stage. With so many people moving in different directions, it’s like watching that intersection in Tokyo that always gets shown, whenever a director wants to make a point about Japanese overpopulation.
Emma is still a breath of fresh air in a show that often feels more like a stale burp, but her tendency to go off script causes some painful delays as Marvin waits for the autocue to catch up.
The show kicks off properly with performances from Team Will. They’re marvelling that “He’s done so much, he’s got a song in space,” which gets me wondering why we can’t stick them all up there. Leading the charge is Jermain, who’s “already big in Westminster,” which seems to translate as “he was on the radio with Ed Milliband.” The Labour leader does his best to sound supportive, and sticks a little green ‘Vote Jermain’ rosette to his jacket. It’s a nice sentiment, even though it just looks like someone sneezed on his lapel. To really hammer home the political theme, we get lots of footage of him on Westminster bridge, staring meaningfully at Parliament enveloped in a scarf that’s the size of a beach towel. He sings Bruno Mars’ Treasure like a Vandross tribute act, and it works perfectly. Meanwhile, Will takes a picture on his iPad, as a production runner hides in the wings with a roll of masking tape to try and hide the Apple logo. Speaking as if he’s campaigning in a local election, he tells Emma “I’m so privileged to be here and opening up the first live show of season three of the Voice.” Kylie fails to sell in a simple pun, and Tom has a nasty case of pinkeye. Meanwhile, Ricky suggests “You could sing us the budget and we’d take it,” but I think ‘Beer and Bingo’ sounds more like a Lucy Spraggan song.
Sophie May feels like she’s won Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, so let’s just hope she doesn’t end up wedged into someone’s chocolate chute. A few weeks ago, she was “just an ordinary teenager living at home.” Now she’s an ordinary teenager drinking coffee from a polystyrene cup at Elstree. Plus ça change. She does a big band version of Moondance, but sings so much of it in her low register, that all the high notes sound particularly sharp. Thankfully the arrangement is loud enough to drown most of it out and I’m browsing iTunes for the instrumental. After a quick burst of “Ermagerd, I’m like absolutely buzzin’” there’s a bit of desperately banal patter about her learning to cook.
Iesher is cute and perky but dead behind the eyes, as if she was programmed, rather than raised. She wants to take a break so she and her mates head off to the cinema, which is a bit of a busman’s holiday for her. Will interrupts the screening to boost her confidence, but I’m not sure how making 200 impatient moviegoers hate her is going to help. She’s singing Rather Be, and it’s nice to see her sing something contemporary and age appropriate. Having said that, it’s a little shrill in places and she occasionally sounds out of breath. Oh, and that joke I made earlier about the tape on Will’s iPad? Turns out, that’s exactly what happened. Will gets her to redo the adlibs she felt she missed in her performance, and Tom growls something about her “built-in, natural rhythm.” Well, this is awkward.
There’s yet another contrived wrinkle in the format, on a show that’s already reinvented itself more times than Cher. This time it’s the Fast Pass. Each mentor gets to choose one act to go straight through to the semi-final, while the audience votes on the other two. Will rambles for ages about how his acts were “Freakin’ mega-dope super fresh” and complements Jermain on his harmonic vernaculars. And on a family show? Anyway, by the time he finally makes a decision, Emma almost misses it. Then Jermain heads off to the V-Room, where Marvin asks him “How does it feel to be in the semi-final?” Moments later, he asks Iesher, “Your fate is in the public’s hands, how does that make you feel right now?” I’m beginning to spot a theme.
The verdict is that “Will’s team has set the bar.” And I think I need to hit one. But there’s no time for that. We’re straight into Team Kylie now. Or we would be if the judges would stop taking pointless selfies. Everyone’s trying so hard to be current, that I’ve got money on Tom and Ricky Instagraming their #CockInASock pictures by the results show.
Jamie drives around his hometown with his overly keen sister, while she terrifies pedestrians with a battery-operated loudhailer. Tonight he’s singing 1000 Miles, which is all very middle of the road until the final 30 seconds. He’s left his coat on, so I guess he’s not staying. The post-performance banter is getting painful, and all anyone can say is “You look really fantastic.” I get the sense that a lot of editing went into the footage of those early rounds. Emma complements Jamie on his Mini Cooper, saying “It’s a lovely car, it’s the colour of my dress,” before sticking her microphone in his face for a reaction.
Lee gets props for the intensity he brings to every performance. He’s certainly a dab hand at taking a great pop song and making it sound like a Japanese whale cull. He’s quit his job, and thrown his meager possessions in a little blue plastic basket, so he can focus his energies on Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night. It’s been rearranged like something Bryan Adams might stick on a film soundtrack, and the staging involves a weird combination of creeping tree branches and silhouetted dancers. The effect is not unlike a performance in Sherwood Forest’s first strip club.
Rachael has a shouty dad who doesn’t want her seeing any boys. At least, I think that’s what he said, since he sounds like Jim MacDonald with a mouthful of marbles. Rachael’s come dressed as an oven ready chicken in a tinfoil skirt, and there are way too many neon colours on display throughout her song. It doesn’t help matters that the dancers seem to be performing to a completely different track. Rachael’s verdict is that this is more fun than doing homework. Halfway through the show, and I’d rather be doing double maths.
Tom’s moaning about young people again. Next he’ll be fishing a lint-covered boiled sweet from his pocket and reading the paper with a magnifying glass. Kylie says she’s had a change and doesn’t know if she’s hot or cold. What an awkward time to become menopausal. In the end, she picks Jamie, who heads to the V Room for another inspiring exchange with Marvin: “Come and join us in the V Room. How are you feeling? Back to you Emma.”
Apparently, “Tom’s done it all. Seen it all. Sung it all.” And there’s a good chance that he’s fucked it all too. As we cut back to the studio, the old legend seems to be making a move on Emma. He’s remembering his first Royal Variety Show when he was in his twenties, presumably at the request of Queen Victoria herself.
Bizzi tells us he was born and raised in a church, so I hope they washed the pews before the next Sunday service. He’s over the moon to be here, saying “It was my dream to be in the final twelve.” I think he could probably afford to aim a little higher. His performance of If You Really Love Me sounds fine, but the animated checkerboard motif looks like Mary Quant’s idea of a vertigo attack. Ricky describes it as a big party song, but it’s was more of a wedding performance. Will and Kylie have switched right off, and they’re busy taking stupid pictures of each other.
Sally’s talking about her sad life again, and as much as I love her voice, I do wish she’d retire this perpetual recapping of her widowhood. She’s doing To Love Somebody, and this time, she has a hint of Sandy Denny to her voice, which works incredibly well. The thing is, she’s had enough time to learn what her voice can and can’t do, as well as which songs serve it best. Emma calls out “Tom, she’s got you again, Your eyes are full of tears.” And he resists the urge to shout “It’s glaucoma you insensitive bitch.” Ricky muses that “There’s a dark and fragile quality to your voice that I can’t put my finger on.” Even though he just did.
Georgia used to be fat, and now she isn’t. As origin stories go, it’s not exactly Spider-Man. She starts way out of time with her arrangement, and there’s a very distracting photographic effect on the performance. Everything’s in black and white, with the camera only picking up elements of red. It works pretty well until we pan past a row of matronly women, whose rubicund faces trigger the effect as well, making them all look as if they’ve just finished a cross-country run. Georgia’s performance is a little too shouty and tuneless for me, and I’m not sure about the outfit, which looks like Minnie Mouse has gone on the game.
Tom chooses Sally and they’re obviously in a rush, because her sons are left hanging about after racing to the stage to congratulate her. Bizzy and Georgia wander off like disorientated ducklings, before a floor manager shepherds them back onto the stage. And Marvin reminds us that tonight’s performances are all on iTunes, with a promise of “Music to download and keep forever.” Just like those JLS albums.
Over on Ricky’s team, we’re starting things off with Chris. He’s a reserved and shy person, so thank goodness for the shot of him crouched in an alley writing poetry against a brick wall. Ricky says “I think we need a popstar like Chris, someone who comes from nowhere and blows you away.” That’s how we ended up with James Arthur, and look how that turned out. Chris gives a great performance of One Day Like This, and it’s nice to see the effort the stylists have made. It’s just a shame they couldn’t persuade him to ditch the Oliver Hardy moustache.
Emily’s dad is really missing her, because the hotel’s going to be dead busy at Easter. Still, she’s been helping out, serving bowls of grey soup, but now she’s focused on channeling Christina Aguilera for a surprisingly effective version of Happy. She even looks like a star, apart from the perm which is still a bit too Page 3 circa 1987. Kylie and Emma rave about Emily’s legs as if they were both Bella Emberg from the hips down.
Christina Marie tells us how she got an office job to support her single mum and help raise her little sister, then quit in order to chase her dream on The Voice. She seems to be slowly transforming into Katy Perry, but at least she can sing. Everlong is the perfect choice for her powerful voice, and hers is one of the best performances of the night. Tom and Ricky talk about the vocals, and Kylie gets asked for her opinion on the dress. It’s no surprise that Ricky chooses to save Christina Marie, who’s treated to another inane exchange with Marvin, before being hugged like he’s trying to pop her dislocated shoulder back in.
By the time the results show rolls around, the stars seem as exhausted as I am. There’s a listless group performance of the mentors’ own songs, which leaves poor Sally looking like she’s been abducted by a group of Satanists. Jason Derulo runs through two of his latest hits and reminds us why we all miss Michael Jackson so much. One Republic also pop up for a low key performance drenched in cold blue light. The energy is fading fast, so thankfully, Emma doesn’t waste too much time revealing that Sophie May, Lee, Bizzi and Chris have already made it to the semi-final. Now, I’m off to freebase some Berocca.