“Can’t work out if this is The Voice or Hunger Games” tweeted @katieweasel at 7.19pm on Saturday 21st April 2012. Indeed the first instalment of culls was vocally bloody as the battle format encouraged shrieking of the kind normally associated with strangled cats and war widows.
It is a pity that there wasn’t more opportunity to bet on the battle stage of The Voice as there would have been some easy money on offer a la X Factor sing-offs 2011. There were indicators of preference even in cases where one contestant had a natural advantage or superior talent and needed no helping hand. Looking at the performances may still give us some insight into how the show will develop into its live phase.
We began with the introduction of some perfunctory ‘special advisers’ in the forms of Cerys Matthews, Paloma Faith, Some Dude and The Scissor Sisters’ ‘lead singer’ (Jake Shears is totally rocking the drag look apparently). After that, it was swiftly on to bloodbath numero uno as Joelle and some blonde in the mould of a terminal barmaid took to the ring. Joelle had been styled as Tina Turner in Mad Max whilst the barmaid had been reimagined as a hotel receptionist on a girly night out. Both, we were told, were divas. The wailing barmaid was sort of eclipsed by Joelle’s stage presence and public profile and thus there were no shocks when Will chose to send the latter through and the former made a face as if to suggest that she’d just shat her pants. I’m still inclined to question the short odds on Joelle with many bookmakers. She’s talented and likeable but we all know that the public struggles to rally behind a confident black female and I fear that Joelle is more akin to X Factor’s TreyC Cohen than to Leona Lewis, despite a harrowing backstory. Her talent appears unfortunately effortless and The Great British Public likes its champions to struggle just a little bit.
Next up, Paloma Faith wanted Danny’s boys to engage with the audience. It was important, she noted, not to simply stand on stage and sing. If Paloma’s stage performances are anything to go by, audience engagement involves standing and singing but with a bunch of balloons in one hand. Neither Max nor Bill made use of any balloons but they took Paloma’s advice about not standing still a little too far. Dreamboat Max in particular writhed around the ring in some sort of agony and made himself appear rather desperate. Whilst I preferred the tone of his audition, it was nice to see his versatility come out and Max proved himself to be a competent performer. It was no surprise to see Danny choose him over whining Bill and I’ll be keeping a beady eye on him in the future, as I have been since my first post on Sofabet.
The next vocal duel was between Craig Colton and Aundrea Nyle. In this scene, Craig was represented by his understudy Samuel ‘Has Been At The’ Buttery, a Tom Jones superfan with an awful quiff and a mediocre voice that grated in auditions. We were reminded just how much SINGING CAN BE LOUD and then it was time to kill one of the contestants forever. Had Audrea been either white, male, skinny or a combination of the above, her VOICE would have seen her sailing past the amateurish Samuel but alas society is terribly racist and has long got over big, black women belting out tunes because it comes too easily to them apparently. Anyway, I don’t see ‘Sam’ as much of a threat in the lives.
Next up was Toni, who warrants attention because she is bald. Call me a bastard but I can’t help feeling that Toni wouldn’t have made it this far without the cynically milked alopecia backstory. She was definitely the better vocalist in her battle against someone who didn’t even get a proper audition but Jessie J’s assertion that the pair were two of the greatest female singers in the UK right now demonstrated how ludicrously unrealistic the show is. Toni IS a strong singer but so far she has only been able to showcase herself in a rather dated, karaoke sort of way. I’d like to see her sing something a little more contemporary but until then I feel safe to ignore her in the win market.
At this point I had started to form a suspicion that every sing off would be won by the contestant who sang first. This didn’t turn out to be true as the show went on but it was clear that certain acts were given preference by the arrangement, song choice or placement within their battle and few of the outcomes were surprising. Of those unsurprising moments, Lady Bo sailing through past a cowboy in a double-breasted waistcoat was another. Perhaps it is foolish to dismiss Bo on account of her privilege but voting publics have a terrible track record with posh Southerners.
Dead Amy Winehouse’s ‘best friend’ was up next in a fight to the death against Heshima Thompson and his success was one of the few shocks of the night. Tyler has an oddball dandy style and all the charm of a woodlouse. On top of that, he’s one of the weakest vocalists The Voice has offered so far. Let’s disregard him as a potential winner, shall we? Good.
Next up were unlikely rivals Vince Kidd and Jessica ‘early favourite’ Hammond, two contestants who had been running at relatively short odds. It seems strange that The Voice didn’t want both of them in the finals but one can only speculate wildly at the reasons for culling Jessica. Perhaps the Janet Devlin comparison stretched further than imagined and Jessica was proving to be a tricky customer behind the scenes. Perhaps the show just wanted to mislead and then surprise its audience. Either way, the early bookies’ favourite went home. Based purely on the battle, Vince won fair and square, delivering a stronger vocal and overall performance. I like Vince a lot – think he sounds good, moves well, has his own style – but I think he’s too ‘unusual’ (translate: gay) for The Great British Public to get behind (insert terrible ‘no pun intended’ moment here). Having said that, let’s keep one eye on Vince because he’s one of the show’s more charismatic performers and he certainly has a voice.
No-brainer levels reached dizzying new heights next as bookies’ favourite Jaz Ellington went up against the man who needed a DAWLER and made him look like an injured shrew in a dole queue. Poor Jay Norton, he never really stood a chance, did he? Jaz on the other hand continued to be overhyped and favoured. Vocally, he is incredible but I have found his performances thus far to be unmoving. His strong point: he sounds like Luther Vandross. His weak point: He’s about as cool as Luther Vandross. Should he still be the favourite? I’m not so sure.
The final fracas was another no-brainer. The old lady from Five Star was sent into the arena to do battle with the gorgeous-as-a-bucket-of-really-soulful-candy-floss Ruth Brown. Whilst the former demonstrated better control over her instrument, the latter was undeniably endearing and youth always tends to win through in these affairs. The crowd seemed to love Ruth and there were no gasps when Tom chose her to move forward into the live stages. I’m not sure Ruth is made of winner’s stuff but she seems to be the likely contender for Tom in the final.
It’s interesting to see that the rumours regarding Jessica Hammond’s early exit proved true and kudos to commenter Oli for guessing that Tyler would beat Heshima. I strongly disagreed at the time. I’m eager to see how the spoilers hold up next week with the final battles.
In my opinion, tonight’s stars were Joelle, Max, Vince and Ruth, who now occupy spots 2-4 according to valuechecker.co.uk. Of course this will change drastically tomorrow after the second cull. I imagine that we’ll be seeing jumps in the ranks from any qualifiers out of Becky Hill, David Julien, Aleks Josh, J. Marie Cooper and Sophie Griffin. Only the first two seem like potential winners – Becky in particular looks more interesting post-Jessica – but for the moment I’m avoiding the win market altogether.
Right then, over to you guys!