Welcome to the brand new series of the groundbreaking, gimmick-free televisual feast that is The Voice. I say brand new – by the time I’ve managed to get this up it will be close to 24 hours old but I think we can all agree that emotions remain heated and lingering, like a fart on a cushioned armchair. Or a horsemeat scandal.
To establish the core theme of ‘gimmick-free’, our four beloved judges arrived on set via lasered teleportation. For those of you who missed the brief, the panel consists of (in order of appearance) a dope crackpot cyborg, a stammering and earnest gangsta laydee, the only entertainer over 60 to have thus far avoided a BBC kiddy-fiddling scandal and finally the single most abhorrent human on the planet. Or, as introduced by the BBC, Will, Jessie, Tom and that other one.
“There’s a lot of people in the room,” opined observational legend Tom Jones, “But everybody is completely silent.” It’s reassuring to know that the Beeb still know how to engage a live audience then.
The obligatory bum-licking biogs reminded us of Will’s bizarre brand of wonderful, of Jessie’s appearance at that big sports tournament where Emeli Sande won every event, of Danny’s (vomits everywhere) love affair with ‘real’ music and of Tom Jones’ ‘triumph’ (lol) with last year’s conspicuously absent ‘winner’ Leanne Mitchell. And then we were ready for some singing.
Oh no! No! My eyes, my ears! I meant singing from the CONTESTANTS! Instead we were harangued by a wedding band style medley of karaoke classics in which Danny mimed guitar whilst trying to sing Johnny B Goode in the style of a drunken Beyonce (seriously, this man has filled STADIUMS!) and Will saved the whole gig by prancing about like an actual e number. And, after some more faffing and recapping, we were ready for some auditions.
First up was 26 year old Ash Morgan from Glamorgan, potentially a distant relative of Brian Farnett from Friern Barnet. A chubby, bespectacled special needs teacher from the Welsh valleys, Ash immediately struck me as a morph of several Britain’s Got Talent finalists.
“Just pretend those chairs are empty,” suggested simpering household favourite Holly Willoughby, “and that there aren’t four of the world’s biggest superstars sitting in them.” My heart leapt – a brand new panel consisting of Kate Bush, Justin Timberlake, David Bowie and Beyonce? It couldn’t be! No, sadly Holly was just wildly overselling the original panel.
Singing the latest reality trendsong, ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ Ash was an undeniably accomplished vocalist but, rather cynically, I think reality character trends run in cycles and Ash’s chances are reflected in a not embarrassing but hardly staggering shortest bet of 14 (according to oddschecker at time of writing). In an age post-Paul Potts, post-SuBo, post Jaz Ellington, where even Adele’s stratospheric rise coincided with dramatic weight loss, I’m just not convinced that the public have a waxing interest in the shy guy, big guy, bigger voice narrative that might once have knocked the viewer of its feet and heralded patronising choruses of “Wow, I had NO idea that overweight people could be so talented.”
Second on the show, and straight out of Effe’s Pool Bar, was 22 year old Danny County (almost definitely a Dalston-via-Essex pseudonym). Danny squeezed out one of the latter-stage Sugababes’ only decent numbers, the Cathy Dennis-penned About You Now, in a tone so deeply contrived and deliberately affected that it might have come straight out of a self-congratulatory Vice.com parody. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for hearing what the singer from The Script wrongly ascribes as a “unique tone” but doing a bad impression of any old Mercury-nommed act that happened to rip off a unique singer from ten years ago is not individual. It’s Damien Rice karaoke. Karefolky if you like. Having said that, at long odds in the 40s and with a face to rival season 1’s Dreamboat Max (and nobody really believes it’s all about the voice) I think Danny looks like an interesting outsider, if slightly better suited to X Factor in terms of winning potential.
Fresh of the boat from Mallorca was 24 year old Southend dip-dye job Leanne Jarvis with her unique idiom of ‘two steps forward, two steps back’. We learnt that Leanne was poor, unemployed and shared a bed with her mum. If The Voice didn’t work out for Leanne then she would be back to square one (she should be grateful to have even seen square three – for those poor victims of the far more common ‘one step forward and two steps back’ epidemic, for whom squares plunge continually deeper into the negatives, square one would look pretty damn cushy.)
Integer-based humour aside, Leanne was okay in a kind of slimmed-down Leanne Mitchell cruiseship way but really her similarities to last year’s disastrous winner were all too stark. Odds of 20 look overly generous to this humble viewer but then it’s hard to tell if similarities to a winning alumnus might help or hinder a contestant. If you look at the winning history of longer running shows it’s often apparent that no two consecutive seasons have the same ‘type’ of winner but other series do tend to appear more obviously manipulated by programme makers.
Next up to make the grade was 26 year old Andrea Begley from Northern Ireland, who at odds as low as 8 is currently the favourite from the first round of blind auditions. Perhaps the judges and bookies alike were blinded by the blind power of a blind girl at the blind auditions, or perhaps I’ve just gone deaf, because what I heard was not the voice of an angel but rather the hollow, nasal vibrato of a shaky girl who needed a lot of practice. I look forward to the day that a blind person or – God forbid – a bald woman can go on TV as a regular contestant and not as a novelty sob-case, heavily patronised as COURAGEOUS! Let’s be honest, Andrea just wasn’t very good. I won’t be betting on her any time soon even with the luck o’th’Irish behind her.
The fifth yes of the evening was given to 21 year old Salford jobseeker and Eminem wannabe, Mike Ward, currently trading around third place for round 1 of auditions. In a VT that might have been directed by Noel Clarke, we learnt that Mike struggles to believe in himself and has a supportive mum, both of course reality staples. Upon seeing Mike’s mouth open we, the audience, were shocked (not that shocked) to hear not the angry slant of Professor Green but rather a mediocre slightly country-tinged vocal, reminiscent of Russel Crowe’s cringe turn in Les Miserables. Danny and Jessie asserted the absolute rarity of country artists ‘these days’ despite the fact that country remains the biggest selling genre in the USA and spawned both US X Factor’s latest winner and one of international pop’s most lucrative acts, Taylor Swift. Rare? Rare in Salford perhaps.
Bringing up the rear in the betting market and most recent airhead to jump on the ‘vintage’ bandwagon was Cath Kidston protégée and possible inspiration for recent Ariel advert, Katie Benbow. In order to add poignancy to Katie’s audition, her sick nan was wheeled out for sobs. Do you know what? My grandma has dealt with a lot of health issues in the past few years. In my next Sofabet post I shall lead with that. Did I also mention I have worked in a supermarket, BOO HOO (God, Cath Kidston is a fucking terrifying corporate juggernaut).
More about the music, Katie was solid if a little screechy and very, very affected in her tone. She makes for an interesting underdog at odds as long as 50 and she’s not without charm but ultimately her spiel and squeal are more than a tad overbearing. Judgement reserved for this one.
After a brief interlude of painful rejection for 90s panflash Kavanagh (you’ll all forgive me for skipping over the rejectees this year) it was time to meet episode 1 headliner and current second favourite, 33 year old dog’s trust soul man cum theatre star, Matt Henry. Singing ‘Trouble’, Matt was highly listenable, if a little old fashioned and indistinct. Jessie and Danny had a knob-off contest over who was more gospel and then Will clinched the game with a totally ridiculous yet somehow inspiring monologue about grandmas and palm trees. ROUND ONE TO THE CYBORG!
Will I be betting any money on any of this motley crew for the win? Not yet. Last year, I estimated Leanne Mitchell’s chances at literally (quote, unquote) ZERO. This year, we may have a previous season to go on but we do not have the generous form book offered by the X Factor. My instinct says that the two most interesting characters are relative front-runner Matt and relative straggler Danny. But an ‘interesting character’ is not what won it last year.
I’m also interested to see how much the Beeb tries to interfere with public selection this year. Programme makers appeared relatively impartial last year and ended up with a mammoth flop on their hands amidst speculation that the show might not even return. I’m most intrigued to see how the show is tweaked and whether there is a real drive to promote acts with flair and charisma, as well as the obligatory voice.
Talking of voices, I’ve sorely missed those of our wonderful commenters these past few months since my last XF post. Do get stuck in and let us know your thoughts, feelings, betting strategies and most intimate desires.