Things had been going remarkably well for The Voice this series. Ratings were up on last year and a new presenting duo combined with the addition of Ricky Wilson and the effervescent Kylie to the coaching panel had injected some much-needed credibility and sparkle into a show whose first two series were decidedly lacklustre.
What’s more, with Kylie coquettishly plastered over every magazine in sight, there seemed to be a genuine buzz about the competition as it entered its final stages.
And then, on Saturday night, disaster struck in the form of the first live show – a shambolic, cringe-inducing two-hour endurance test (two hours thirty if you include the post-lottery results show) that undid all of the series’ good work to date.
Presenter Emma Willis’s contribution to the earlier, pre-recorded rounds was warm but brief. Stationed backstage with the contestants’ families, she dished out hugs and held hands. Saturday saw her significantly promoted to on-stage host, a role that left her somewhat flailing. It wasn’t all her fault. Without ad breaks, viewers are subjected to 12 consecutive performances. If we’re desperate for a breather five songs in, imagine how poor Emma feels, trotting out banal questions about the contestants’ nerves for two hours straight.
Unsurprisingly, her concentration didn’t hold up. Twice, the end of a video clip was met with deathly silence in the studio as an unaware Emma posed for selfies with the judges.
Things were similarly awkward in the backstage “V” room, as a charisma-less Marvin Hume inflicted yet more impossibly bland questions on the acts. At one point he read out a string of gushing celebrity tweets that seemed an incongruous reaction to such a blundering show. Unsurprisingly, they all came from household BBC names.
Live recording also seemed to get the better of the coaches who displayed none of the wit and banterous toing and froing that had spiced up earlier rounds.
Will.i.am was more concerned with live tweeting the evening than he was with the performances, farcically labeling Georgia Harrup’s tuneless Money On My Mind the performance of the night. Without the help of careful editing, Tom Jones appeared lost and incoherent, confusing Weston-Super-Mare with Bristol when commenting on one contestant’s unstarry roots and branding every performance “great”.
In fact, there wasn’t a negative word uttered from any of the mentors, despite many of the performances being far from flawless. Somewhere along the line, The Voice has become so fixated with its status as the friendly antithesis to the X Factor, that it equates criticism with the emotional exploitation of its hopefuls. This means that the coaches fail to distinguish the genuinely talented contestants – Jermain Jackman, Jamie Johnson, the brilliant Christina Marie- from their more mediocre peers who, in turn, suffer from not receiving the honest critique that they need to improve.
Four acts were sent packing at the end of the evening, although I’m already struggling to remember who they were. For the remaining eight, another week of hard work beckons. Let’s just hope that the show’s presenters and coaches are also focused on delivering an improved performance next Saturday.