For a moment, I dared to think it was almost over. Unfortunately, my initial relief at the fact that I’d made it as far as the semi-final, was instantly tempered by the news that The Voice has been commissioned for another two years. It’s a little like finding a crumpled tenner in a jacket pocket, only to realise that it’s a Scottish note.
Tom tells us that Sally is really funny, which comes as quite a revelation, given her coldly impersonal onscreen persona. She has all the presence of a local councillor, and struggles to come alive whenever she’s not singing. Given her thirty-plus years of performing experience, you’d think she’d have worked up a bit more of a presence. As it is, she makes Leona Lewis look like Joan Rivers. In a brief interview segment, Sally’s elderly mum tells us that she can’t wait for Saturday night as if she’s hoping for a slot on Ant & Dec’s Takeaway. The stylists have thankfully been paying attention, and have decked Sally out in a pleather two-piece, along with what Sally refers to as Fearne Cotton’s hair. But all of this is academic, since she still manages to sing rings around everyone else on the show. Including the judges. Tom congratulates her “on singing that song the way you sang it.” That’s some quality feedback, right there.
Bizzi is pointing at the sky again, like he’s directing aircraft into a maintenance hanger, while Tom talks about getting to the semi-final as being like making it to number 2 in the charts. As if that’s a relevant frame of reference for anyone who’s ever competed on this show. There’s also an extended riff on Bizzi getting the people of Leicester behind him, in a piss-poor pastiche of 24. Tonight, he’s singing Everything Must Change, and I’m beginning to wish it would. The performance is so dull that it could be used to test for narcolepsy, but there’s a falsetto note at the end that gets the audience screaming. Probably because they know it means the song’s almost finished. Bizzi reckons he enjoyed it so much that he’d like to do it again, and I momentarily contemplate refusing to pay my licence fee on moral grounds. Will’s trying to get a new hashtag trending, Tom’s off on one again, and Emma’s desperately clinging to any hint that someone involved in the show might display a trace of human emotion.
Christina Marie moans about not having any friends, which doesn’t say much for her personality, and Ricky seems to have found some particularly harsh lighting that’s bleached out his facial features, making him look like he should be communicating with Richard Dreyfuss through hand gestures. Christina Marie’s bellowing an over-the-top version of Bang Bang, with a bunch of ninjas and a random panther head at the back of the stage. None of it makes any sense, but this is the Voice semi-final, so narrative coherence is hardly a priority. Emma confuses feeding a contestant her thoughts as a closed question, with actual interview technique, then implores us to “get behind Christina Marie” which is certainly one way of scoring some extra votes.
Chris reveals the shocking news that his dad passed away two days before the battle round. As tragic as this is, his comment “I didn’t really mention it before,” makes me wonder why he’s bringing it up now, right before taking to the stage for the semi-final. Tonight he’s selected a loungey version of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, and I’m sorry to say that even Westlife did it better. I’m guessing that the show’s production budget must have been blown on Christina Marie’s ninja formation and beaded epaulettes, because all Chris gets is an old red lampshade. Post-performance, he claims to be speechless, before wobbling on about the joy of performing for “four lovely people.” Family members in the crowd, maybe? Will’s feedback has become so esoteric that he now has to offer notes at the end of each comment, to indicate the wordplay and rhyming couplets.
Emma suddenly remembers that Marvin’s been stuck in the V-Room for the entire show, like a dog left in a hot car. Not to worry – he’s been amusing himself by looking at the show’s webpage. “Ricky’s fan wall is the most rock and roll. There’s someone in sunglasses,” he adds, cryptically. Someone clearly thought it was a good idea to get him to hold a microphone and an iPad at the same time, as well as trying to read an autocue.
Lee says that “the pressure is really starting to show,” as are Kylie’s wrinkles in that harsh white studio light. She tries to motivate him with a patchy American accent, and Lee obligingly fake-laughs his way through it. Once again, Lee’s performing another mournful song, only this time he’s standing on the remains of an old car wreck, with the rest of the stage done up like an old junkyard. I think there’s a metaphor in here that’s fighting to get out. As his performance ends, I can’t tell whether he’s genuinely emotional, or if all that straining has given him a tension headache. Tom reckons he’s seen Lee “more nervous than that,” as if he’s personally given him a prostate exam. Will accidentally lets out a little shit. By which I mean, he said the word, not that he left something behind on the red upholstery.
Kylie has replaced Jamie’s sister as his roadie, which means she gets the death seat in his little yellow mini. He’s singing I Can’t Make You Love Me, which seems to be contractually obliged to make at least one appearance in every single talent show. There’s a rich, soulful quality to his voice that helps him sell it in, and the stylists have done a half decent job with him. It’s a little like watching Gary Barlow’s current wardrobe on Gary Barlow’s old body. He ends with an emotional wobble, because Lee set the precedent, and this is a competition, after all. “All four coaches on their feet again,” says Emma, oblivious to the fact that it no longer means anything when every performance seems to warrant one. “Kylie, you gave Jamie a fast pass last week, has he completely confirmed why he deserved it?” Another leading question from Emma there. Tom’s reckons he’s heard a “couple of versions of that song” but he must be rounding it down to the nearest thousand.
Jermain has gone home to visit his family, and tell us all that he’s a mummy’s boy. When he’s not sniffing mangoes in the corner shop, he’s doing complicated handshakes in the kitchen with his brother. Having tried to position him as an ordinary Hackney boy, it’s one step forward, two steps back; since now he’s singing a desperately uncool version of David Guetta’s Without You, dressed like a hospital orderly. The baritone in his voice doesn’t work with this song, making it sound like it can’t settle on which genre it wants to represent, and near the end some carefully placed pyrotechnics make it look as though Tom and Kylie just burst into flames. Finally, Jermain ends with an extravagantly long note that shows off the kind of microphone technique that’s normally demonstrated by performers with lots of XXXs in their twitter handles. Will might have got a text from his mother expressing her disappointment at his little swear, but my phone would be ringing off the hook if mine ever saw me leaping about on the furniture like that.
Sophie May wants to do something modern, and make it retro. To test out her era-straddling style, she decides to try it out on some different audiences. First she heads off to the pub to perform to a dozen drunks, then visits an old folks home to make them thankful for their failing hearing. One old dear comments “Everyone was enjoying themselves and we’d have her back any day of the week,” but I’m sure the randy old bugger is just thinking about Bed-Bath Tuesdays. The retro-futuristic style that Will was aiming for, has manifested itself in an outfit that suggests she should be negotiating with her “fadder” for Flash Gordon’s life.
Before we get onto the mentor performances, there’s just time for Marvin to get excited about trending worldwide, and Emma to ask us whose album we’d buy? This is The Voice, when has that ever translated into the need to buy music?
Sophie May and Jermain have gone to the Savoy to meet “Mr Will.I.Am,” drink pissy tea, and have scones with their mums. Back to the live show, and the three of them do a horribly awkward version of Bowie’s Let’s Dance. Jermain appears to have come as a low ranking knave from the Queen of Hearts’ army, and Sophie May is so desperately out of tune, it’s no wonder Jermain decides to sing “I’m so in love with you…” at Will instead.
Ricky takes Chris and Christina to Manchester to see how hard it is having to appear on children’s TV. In the evening they head off to the Brixton Academy, where Ricky wears his new Blue Peter badge for the NME awards. Rock and roll indeed. The three of them sing You Really Got Me, and it’s the kind of performance that you almost don’t need to hear, to know exactly how it sounds.
Tom has chosen Dancing In The Street for his team. He’s still getting mileage out using the word ‘fresh’ and attempting uninpsired wordplay with Bizzi’s name. The group try out their new dynamic with an impromptu busk in Covent Garden, as a series of voxpops shows us tedious tourists who are happy to state the obvious for the camera. The performance is like Glee for the Countryfile set, and the lyric “It don’t matter what you wear” hangs in the air like a palpable threat.
Kylie’s taken her boys to GAY, and they’re both trying to look comfortable about it. Lee’s amazed to be standing by Kylie as she sings, and he’s “Just in awe.” That, or he just said something massive disrespectful about her. They’re singing Kylie’s new single, and although she equips herself well enough, the boys struggle to make the key work for their voices. As Ricky and Tom give a standing O, Will looks as if he’s just had another terse text from his mum.
With time to kill, Emma and Marvin attempt to get each of the judges to say which artist they’d put through if it was up to them. Unsurprisingly, they all rebel, but since our presenters are dependent on the autocue, we have to go through the same rigmarole four times as each successive judge refuses to play along. Attempting to salvage the moment, Emma comments “You guys are all too nice, which is testament to the show.” Actually it’s a condemnation of the show, but it’s late, so we won’t argue the point. Meanwhile, over in the V Room, Marvin is managing some painful ‘bantz’ with the contestant about who’s the craziest judge. As they all single out Tom, dementia awareness campaigners across the country plan a BBC boycott. As for the rest of the conversation, it’s so painfully pointless it makes Loose Women look like a compilation of TED talks.
Before the result, there’s just time for two special guest performances. The first is from Shakira, whose English might have improved in the decade since Whenever, Wherever, but her lyrics certainly haven’t. The song sounds epic enough, in fact it’s reminiscent of Kate Bush in places, but it explodes into a load of uninspiring “And I’m like, woo-hoo-hoo” for most of the chorus.
Our other special appearance is from Enrique Iglesias. You know Enrique - he went from doe-eyed balladeer to foul-mouthed fuck-monkey in the space of one album; in the process achieving the most unlikely makeover since the Krankies outed themselves as a pair of swingers. The song sounds like Crazy Frog doing a cover of Gotta Go Home by Boney M, and I’m just glad that we’re spared a surprise cameo from Pitbull.
Finally, time to reveal the entirely unsurprising line-up for next week’s grand final. Ladies and gentlemen – I give you Sally, Christina Marie, Jamie and Jermain.