The new knockouts phase might have been a contrived way to delay the unpopular live shows, but it worked: as each mentor put through one of their seven acts at the start, leaving six to battle it out in two groups of three to complete a trio of acts on each team in the final 12, there were a few dramatic contests.
Tom Jones got the show off to a low-key start, with the immediate qualification of country and western bumpkin Mike Ward, followed by two knockouts that went through the motions. First up, Jamie Bruce threw himself at Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, but bounced off some of the high notes at the end and fell over, while Cherelle Basquine gradually went out of tune, causing Tom to grimace like a plumber noticing you’ve connected copper pipes straight to galvanised. That left Welsh crooner Alys Williams free to sail through.
Tom’s second knockout was similarly a shoo-in. Adam Barron the polite rocker enjoyed the loud bits in Maybe I’m Amazed, while cheeky chef Ragsy paid tribute to his late friend Stuart Cable by singing Local Boy in the Photograph by Stereophonics. A lovely gesture, but it was still Local Boy in the Photograph by Stereophonics and thus hard to be enthusiastic about. Potential winner Joseph Apostol only had to turn up. In fact he was a bit wayward on A Song for You, but it didn’t matter.
will.i.am blasted off by announcing that Leah McFall was the best artist he’d seen in the UK for a long time, so she was fast-tracked through. Will kept speaking his mind in rehearsals for his first knockout, telling Moni Tivony his choice of Master Blaster by Stevie Wonder was “lazy”, telling Jordan Lee Davies he wasn’t looking for a musical theatre star, and telling Leanne Jarvis not to do her Christina Aguilera song at all. She listened and went through on the strength of a screaming version of Alone by Heart. Jordan finished his incredibly musical-theatrish take on It’s All Coming Back to Me Now by Celine Dion with a terrifying falsetto blast, like he’d been possessed by the ghost of an unfairly binned fire alarm.
Team Will knockout 2 saw Cleo Higgins sashay cockily in, doing an annoying Michael Jackson leg flick to announce her song choice, aggressively getting all up in Will’s grill during rehearsal, and referring to herself in the third person. If the nation wasn’t already swearing at the screen, they were when Cleo’s unnecessarily tricksy version of Jacko’s Leave Me Alone got her through, at the expense of the suddenly brilliant Lem Knights. His slow take on As Long as You Love Me by that fearless chronicler of the soul, Justin Bieber, was the most understated performance of the weekend and probably the best. But he’s out. John Pritchard did his best to compete, cannily choosing a Gene Pitney song to suit his sinus twang of a voice, and sounding better than before without ever looking likely to win.
Jessie J had a no-brainer for her “fast pass”: Ash Morgan. Her first knockout began with adorable urchin Danny County promising to “switch up” Be My Baby by The Ronettes, which meant acoustic guitars and, I am sorry to report, bongos, to go with his cod-reggae tone. The result was a tasteful skank. A squatters’ collective in the John Lewis furniture department. Next up was the contestant Jessie described as “ma sooooul maaaan”, Trevor Francis. He looked to have done enough with his stripped-down Gimme Some Lovin’ but was blown off the stage by Sarah Cassidy. In a show where extremely loud, extremely high notes are seen as the mark of a potential chart star, her room-shaking attack on Ain’t No Mountain High Enough was king.
Letitia Grant-Brown was a bit too inoffensive to compete in her knockout: her decent stab at Love Is a Battlefield was soon forgotten when Lovelle Hill came on, in a clingy lime dress that won hot praise from the normally neutral Tom Jones. He was out of his chair like a whippet for a consolatory hug at the end as well, the old hound. As well as looking fantastic, Lovelle sounded good singing True Colors, but she was beaten by a startling improvement from Matt Henry, who toughened up his act to turn Skinny Love by Birdy into a tortured but poised soul song.
Danny O’Donoghue sent ex-pro Karl Michael straight through, then put possibly the three strongest acts who were left all up against each other. X Factor reject Alex Buchanan was a super-advanced pop machine, swooping and ad libbing all over Signed, Sealed, Delivered with great skill, if not much soul; next to him, the normally captivating Abi Sampa seemed a bit wan, especially since Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls was a disastrous choice of song, whiny and with almost no chance for her signature raga breaks. The winner was cutesy Irish folkstrel Andrea Begley, who ruthlessly played it straight with Songbird by Fleetwood Mac or, in Andrea’s case, Eva Cassidy. Andrea’s mother wept like God had appeared – imagine how excited she’ll be at the live shows!
The last knockout looked all sewn up when bouncy ginger busker Conor Scott did Hey Soul Sister by Train, perkily. Sean Rumsey was no danger, with his uptight and excessively high-pitched Ain’t No Sunshine; and teen rocker Mitchel Emms didn’t seem to have done much with Lady Antebellum’s talent-show classic Need You Now. But Mitchel got it.
The Voice UK series two live shows begin on BBC1 on Friday 7 June at 7pm.