The X Factor’s embarrassingly square uncle shunted itself back onto the Saturday-night dancefloor – and was lamer than ever. The Voice is alright when ordinary people are singing, but series two episode one didn’t show us any ordinary people singing for a good ten minutes. Before that, it concentrated on ramping up its own already dizzying levels of cringeworthy cheesiness.
Top BBC light-entertainment tastemakers had got round a table and worked out ways to make The Voice even less cool. After some damp banter from the judges about each other’s talents (“will.i.am is not just a performer, he’s a producer and writer. There’s nothing he can’t do”) and which of them won last year (“After winning the first one,” said Tom Jones, “I’m one up”), of course they all got up on stage to do a medley of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll classics. Shout, Johnny B Goode and so on. Next week: Danny O’Donoghue brings in his accordion and everyone gathers round to sing Roll Out the Barrel.
Jessie J did that sex/torture face, the sort that should really be kept in reserve for when you’re dancing naked with David Bowie and Beyonce in a burning spaceship, but keeps turning up in a polite, family-oriented TV talent show instead. Uh! Yeah! The Voice UK! Stop it.
Ash Morgan, a 26-year-old helper of special needs kids from Glamorgan, arrived not a second too soon to open the show proper with his blistering version of Never Tear Us Apart. Even Danny O’Donoghue standing up, biting his bottom lip, sticking out his elbows and pumping both fists – the least rock ‘n’ roll gesture in history – could not put Ash off his game.
Jessie J conveyed everyone’s excitement by, as The Voice tradition demands, trying to talk like a black person from the Deep South. “There’s a difference between singing, and sannnging. And you…” – a slight pause as the regular past tense of “sing” hoved inconveniently into view – “sang.”
“I’m very real,” Jessie added, recovering quickly. Ash chose Jessie to be his mentor.
Jessie and Danny both pressed the button on their spinning chairs for Danny County, a nice young man with a guitar and a John Lewis voice. They had to pitch for him. “I’m not gonna fill your head with smoke, because that’s not real,” said Jessie. “If you come on my team, I will be real with you.”
Danny chose Jessie to be his mentor. Backstage, he was asked why. “She was being really real about it.”
Reggie Yates, on the voiceover, suddenly thought of the only expression left in English that was lamer than what had gone before: “Coaches, keep calm and carry on!” he quipped, as Leanne Jarvis shuffled into the Salford snooze factory. Her sob story: hard times mean she sleeps with her mum in a small flat in Southend. Her hair: blonde with pink dips. Her song: Lorraine Ellison’s titanic Stay With Me (Baby).
It was a brutal performance. Those notes stayed hit. They were motionless. Club-singered to death. All four judges turned round so Leanne had to choose, and she chose will.i.am. He’d hit form early with his special sign for The Voice series 2 – his fingers in a twisting V, like Ted Rogers hosting a show called 2-2 – and he’s still the best thing about this show: weird, impish, naturally funny, not all that bothered. If The X Factor would just sign him up we could close down The Voice altogether and give Britain three months’ worth of Saturday nights off. We could read novels.
“Will uses a lot of expressions,” said Tom Jones of his colleague. “Once you know what they mean, then you can get into him.” Well quite.
A break from the normal action came from pleasantly geeky 16-year-old Elton John fan Louis Coupe, who sang and played the Bontempi organ and got 0/4 from the judges. He was precise but cheerful, like a young Richard Stilgoe. Jessie J advised him to audition for musicals. will.i.am advised him to write his own musical. Louis said he already had written his own musical. Before he left the stage he was asked to play some Jerry Lee Lewis, having cited the piano-kicking loon as an influence.
Louis played Great Balls of Fire, remaining seated and perky throughout, intoning it carefully, still sounding like he was reciting Latin verbs. I liked this whole interlude, which benefited from the relief everyone felt knowing that Louis wasn’t going to be subjected to the rest of the competition.
The show was stretched over an epic 90 minutes and dragged badly near the end. Kirsty Crawford sang flat all the way through and was simply too nervous to have a chance, but had her build-up, performance and judging shown in full, to nobody’s benefit. Anthony Kavanagh was similar, although at least he had a story to tell: he used to have chart hits under the name Kavana. MFEO, that was the classic Kavana single. Sadly a new one isn’t on the cards.
Mike Ward, a sensitive Salford scally who liked country, and Matt Henry, who sang a soulfully acrobatic version of Trouble by Ray Lamontagne, were two late contenders, although the episode didn’t throw up anyone remarkable after Ash. Everyone got through it without mentioning the non-career of poor Leanne Mitchell, the 2012 winner, but the thought of her undercut all attempts to pretend The Voice isn’t limping alarmingly.