“First to rock out, here’s Barry!” said Holly Willoughby on the voice-over, as a jolly 49-year-old Mancunian ambled up to strum an OK version of The Boys Are Back in Town. Barry James Thomas was the second act of the night and he set the level: this was a Danny O’Donoghue kind of episode.
Danny didn’t press his button for Barry – nobody did – but as Holly implied, there was more safe rock to come. Nineteen-year-old Mitchel Emms got Danny’s vote straight away with his growling and very long hair. Mitchel’s industry connections were impeccable. “My Dad’s cousin formed Judas Priest,” he boasted. Barry had only been able to offer two nephews who are in the soaps.
So excited was Danny, he was caught unawares by his chair spinning back away from the stage, and nearly suffered a cranial injury. This incident was included in full by an editor desperately trying to fill The Voice’s chafingly baggy 90-minute running time. But Danny recovered: “You win some, you win some,” he quipped, underlining that he is very much a winner and not the sort of man who generally falls off chairs.
Danny hit the adolescent-rock motherlode again not long after, in the form of 18-year-old busking sugar-rush munchkin Conor Scott. He lost out on Elise Evans, though, when all four judges turned for this other 18-year-old’s pneumatic version of Something’s Got a Hold on Me by Etta James. Once Elise – from Glynneath, a town in south Wales so small, its football team plays half of each match away from home – had thoroughly obliterated the song, she was always going to join Team Tom.
That left Jessie J disappointed, as she had been at the top of the show when she turned round after a second and a half for 30-year-old Cleo Higgins, only for will.i.am to get the nod. Higgins, who performed increasingly risky somersaults all over Love on Top by Beyonce, was once the one in the middle in Cleopatra but was now bravely solo. “I feel like Michael Jackson when Jemaine left the group,” she said, modestly.
More potential winners turned up this week than in the first two episodes combined: Lovelle Hill had to take a day off from waitressing at Wahaca to sing Rihanna’s Diamonds, but already looked like the finished article, while Lem Knights claimed to be terrified of his idol, Jessie J, but then sang one of her songs twice, the second time with her on stage duetting.
There was still time – lots and lots of time, moving incredibly slowly – for failed acts who didn’t really need to be there. Amy Wilkinson was now 27 after an unsuccessful stint in a girl band. They’d split up due to “personal differences”, possibly between them and whoever styled them for the publicity shot where you could see all their knickers, or the other one with the sexy sailor outfits. Anyway, Amy was too scared and/or not good enough. Much was made of the pastoral care she got from the judges, although Tom Jones’s claim that he too suffers awfully from nerves was so unconvincing it probably made things worse.
Not much could be said to Emma Louise Jackson, a Blackpool cabaret entertainer whose eyebrow-waggling cover of River Deep Mountain High was followed by some cheeky, Colin Hunt banter with the judges that at one stage threatened not to ever end. If this were Britain’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell would have narrowed his eyes and lied, “I like you.”
He’d have been telling the truth saying that to Diva, a pair of 40-something north-east club veterans also known as Shelley and Maxine. The market’s ripe for two brassy, naturally funny best mates reviving a style of duet not seen since the heyday of Elaine Page and Barbara Dickson: large, vibrating notes honked into each other’s faces while leaning backwards slightly in sensible slacks and sparkly jackets. Tom turned round but Danny didn’t, saying duets scared him. Shelley shot straight back: “Yeah… I think we might be a little bit much for you.”