It doesn’t take long for sparkly newness to be replaced with flaccid familiarity, does it? We’re less than six hours into this make-or-break series of The Voice, and already I’m greeting it with a sense of tired resignation. The blind auditions are a great concept, but five weeks in, I feel I’ve seen enough button pushing and chair spinning to last a lifetime.
Tonight’s first auditionee is Steven Alexander, whose Auntie Max was on the last series as one half of a pair of overweight middle-aged women. They’re giving him loads of advice, presumably on how to get quickly voted off the show. Steven’s performance is as breathless as it is tuneless, but it’s enough to get Kylie and Tom to turn. Tom doesn’t so much offer feedback, as talk through the last few minutes of his life. Then, when Steven name-checks his Auntie, Tom’s eyes widen like he just sat on a proctologist’s ice-cold speculum. In the end, Steven picks Kylie because, well, he looks like he knows all the words to Step Back In Time.
Fiona Kelly gives us an extended skit about cheating on her husband with a horse. It’s supposed to be a cute and daffy portrayal of a middle-aged woman, but I’ve seen enough grainy VHS in my life to envisage a far more grim scenario. As for performing in the studio, Fiona wants to “Grab it with both hands and make one of those chairs turn,” although I think she might struggle with the mechanics. Her voice is thinner than one of Kate Moss’ shits, and she sings in a weird semi- operatic style. That would be bad enough, but paired with Gary Barlow’s insipid Rule The World, it’s downright wretched. None of the judges turn, so we’re forced to listen to them as they take it in turns to patronise her. Ricky tells her he could lead her down a very dark path, and she gets momentarily excited – sounds like Bob the packhorse might have some competition after all.
Chris Royal is Toadfish off Neighbours in a bobble hat. “I’m not working no more,” he tells us, explaining that he moved to Walthamstow from Manchester to pursue his dreams. He does a slow, mournful version of Wake Me Up, but until the beat kicks in halfway through, it’s more likely to trigger narcolopsy. The tuning is all over the place, but several of the judges turn anyway. Kylie’s surprised: “You seriously didn’t expect anyone to turn around?” which begs the question, why the fuck did he show up in the first place? She offers to sit and go through his record collection with him. Maybe it’s because he’s from Manchester, she feels she needs to go the Tracy Barlow seduction route. Ricky compares The Voice to a catapult (don’t ask) and Chris decides that the Kaiser frontman is his best option: “Maybe he can pull something out of me that I don’t even know is there.” I’m not sure, but he could be talking about a Guinea worm. Marvin’s on hand to ask him whether it was worth packing up and moving to London, oblivious to the fact that he had to come back up to Manchester for the fucking audition.
The next two acts were on last year’s show and are back for a second chance. Nick Dixon talks about his heart pounding and hitting rock bottom – dramatic stuff for a man who resembles a tarpaulin thrown over a pile of dumped tires. In fact, his performance is pretty good; he’s singing Home Again and there’s a lovely tone to his voice, but he projects zero charisma when he sings. None of the judges turn for him, but they happily accept one of his business cards, that looks as though it was printed in a batch of 100 for a fiver at a petrol station.
Elesha Paul Moses was formerly part of a duet, and made it as far as the duels. She wants to establish her own identity as a singer, but it would help if she could find the right key. After the judges spend half her performance complaining that it’s too low, she switches it up, and it doesn’t really help matters. As she stands on the stage in her denim shirt and leggings, she looks less like a pop star, and more like a company member in the touring production of Prisoner Cell Block H The Musical.
Lucy Winter’s based in Cyprus, where her husband is in the armed forces. Apparently she used to sing in the Cypriot bars which helps to set our expectations suitably low. As it happens, she’s surprisingly rocky with a nice throaty edge. She pushes her voice without ever losing the melody, but it’s all a bit incongruous with her image – like one of the Andrew Sisters in a cocktail dress and denim jacket. The judges all thought she was trying to hard, but she takes it well.
Max Murphy is a full-time judo athlete, which has me picturing him trying to enjoy a drink down the pub without punching someone in the neck. With his sturdy build and monotonous voice, he’s a bit like a sentient tree, but he’s being cheered on by his coaches Brian and Gary (think the Mitchell Brothers with mild head injuries). His rendition of Electric Feel is like a volcano belching, but it seems to work for Ricky. Kylie sees him, and hitches down the shoulder straps of her top. Subtle work, Minogue. Ricky explains “We’re gonna pick songs you want to sing,” making this coaching lark sound like a piece of piss.
Joe Keegan has been Irish dancing for more than half his life, and looks like he can’t wait to escape his controlling Dad. As he makes his way to the stage, he manages to look like Ant and Dec all at once, before squinting like Michael Sheen eating a grapefruit. He starts out pretty weak, but he gets better in time to win a spin from Kylie and Ricky. Kylie falls back on her slightly contrived seduction technique, but things get confusing when she crosses streams and directs her full force flirting at Ricky by mistake. At this rate it’s going to be like the orgy at the end of Perfume.
There are confused faces all round when it comes to our next act. The VT is designed to make us think we’re getting another female singer, until the rug is pulled Crying Game-style (without the cock shot, thank goodness) to reveal that our young hopeful is James Byron. It’s unclear whether he identifies as transgendered – he certainly dresses and acts like a woman, but answers to James and is referred to as ‘he’ by his family. When he starts singing (very well, as it happens) Tom’s asks his fellow mentors, “Is it a boy or a girl?” If he thinks he’s confused now, they’ll have to up his dosage once he’s facing the stage. Will turns just in time, and manages to recover from his initial shock by pretending his wide-eyed reaction was because he thought his latest team member was called James BOND.
As if to hammer home the ‘appearances don’t matter’ message, we get a quick montage of pretty singers who failed to make the grade, before finally moving onto one who does. “This is about the voice,” warns Sir Tom, “It’s not about the way you look,” he says, sneaking a peek down Kylie’s top. Here’s Jade Mayjean Peters, wearing a dress slashed so high you can see her shoulder blade. Looking like the dictionary definition of sophisticated, circa 1987, she’s here to remind us that Gabriella Cilmi once happened. The judges all turn, and react predictably to her leggy loveliness. The boys are all staring at her, like she’s a large cartoon ham, and Kylie comments “You’re kind of like me, but curvier.” Since Jade obviously left her mace in her handbag, she picks Kylie just to be on the safe side.
Because this is the good old BBC, we have to end on an uplifting note. Femi Santiago tells a tragic tale of homelessness and suicidal thoughts, before revealing that he’s now happily married with a baby. He’s doing My Cherie Amour and he’s got probably the most straightforwardly appealing singing voice and richest tone we’ve heard all series. Although the last note wobbles, Will turns on it anyway. Meanwhile, Tom says he almost went for his button, but he could well be talking about the medical alert one, in case he has a nasty fall.