The Voice – Blind Auditions 1

This, in case you are from Mars, was THE VOICE. Not the personality, the looks or the stage presence but THE VOICE; the notes and the tunes and the mind-blowing authenticity of hardcore vocals. We at Sofabet hope that you had the foresight to hold on to the parts of your spines what tingle.

The biggest thing to understand about The Voice is that The Voice is NOT THE X FACTOR. In order to demonstrate this, the series premiered with a group performance that demonstrated the talent pool of its mentors. That performance was about 22% as good as THIS. Distancing from Simon Cowell? Job done.

It’s easy to see why the BBC’s newest reality venture wants to disassociate itself from the downward spiral of The X Factor. However, it’s equally easy to lament the fact that ITV didn’t secure this format in order to flush out its own cloggy U-bend. The all-round fear about The Voice, as I have discussed with Daniel and Andrew, is that it worries towards boredom. It’s hard to imagine Betfair going into a frenzy over an argument between Tom Jones and Danny O’Donoghue. Let’s be realistic.

A series premiere is always difficult to gauge, especially with a new format, but it goes without saying that the British public like to back an unlikely champion. Starting off with an announcement that all auditionees have been hand-picked by expert vocal coaches seems like a bad start to me, but what do I know?

So let’s talk about the troubadours in question – the hardworking ‘n’ authentic folk faced with the challenge of impressing one of four esteemed judges (or ‘coaches’) on the panel. In case you missed the memo, that panel consists of A ROBOT FROM THE FUTURE, MARY MAGDALENE, SUN-BED SANTA and someone from The Script. The troubadours have their work cut out.

In a shock twist, the first troubadour out (Jessica Hammond) sang and strummed a song by AKA Jessie J. All four coaches turned their futuristic chairs around and paid attention. In X Factor territory, it would be easy to say that this contestant was going places. In The Voice? It’s too early to tell. Hammond was solid but it was hardly the stuff of dreams.

Even at this early stage, one has to wonder about the show’s preference towards a specific coach. Does the BBC care which coach wins? Is it as calculated as ITV in this matter? It seems obvious that Jessie J is the easy Cheryl of the show – an already popular female with the potential to play sweetheart to a nation. Grabbing the first win in a Dragon’s Den-esque bidding war certainly seemed like a positive step for the Essex warbler. Time will tell if The Voice places more emphasis on its applicants or its judges.

In order to further push its aversion to industry standards, The Voice then showed us a mediocre cameo from boyband wash-up, 5ive’s Sean. The exact point of this exercise was unclear but it must have had something to do with the show’s mission statement on raw talent. That statement was furthered by another cameo by X Factor loser, CER-RRAIG COLTON. Except we weren’t actually looking at Craig Colton but rather Samuel Buttery, a slightly less vocally adept impersonator who wowed little and wailed lots. In response to this, the judges conferred a lot, nudging and winking in a way that enforced management rapport but did sweet Fanny Addams for promoting the The Voice’s obsession with professional objectivity.

So the coaches proved that they can cajole one another just like X Factor judges but they were not satisfied to draw the line there. The Voice happily displayed a propensity toward tiny violin strings with a performance by alopecia sufferer, Toni Warne, who was presented not as a mediocre club singer but as a disadvantaged woman with an impossible dream of self-acceptance. Toni was hugely likeable, but her voice just did not stand up to the supposed standards of THE VOICE.

The other notable contestant of the evening was surely ‘Youtube sensation’, Ben Kelly. Whilst his online success might have seemed jarring at first, it played a decent nod to the roots of the online phenomenon trend that has made stars of, amongst others, Justin Bieber and Jessie J.

Flame-haired Holly Valance stand-in, J Marie Cooper (who already has a notable presence online) managed a pretty impressive none-for-note, woo-for-woo, pebble-for-squizzle cover of Jessie J’s ‘Mama Knows Best’ but failed to come across as a deserving outsider. The Jessie trend, however, continued. I know for a fact that chairs turned around – maybe one, maybe all four – but this aspect of the format continued to underwhelm.

Personally, I was not wowed by anyone but if I had to pick out contenders, I’d initially be looking at Jessica Hammond or Ben Kelly. So far, they are the only two that will pop up if you care to Youtube ‘The Voice’. Max Milner, he of that hat and guitar who dared mash The Beatles up with Eminem, is definitely worthy of attention. If there was a star of the episode, which I’d argue there wasn’t, it would have been him. I hope that later episodes turn up something a bit more special than this but my faith at this point resembles a dandelion ghost.

As ever, please let us know how you felt about tonight’s show – the contestants in particular. Did you see any stars beginning to shine? Or did you see blanket day at the Laundromat? Your comments are welcomed, desired and in danger of mild molestation.

13 comments to The Voice – Blind Auditions 1

  • Andrew

    Great stuff, Dug. Couldn’t agree more about the mediocre talent. Amusingly enough the auditionee last night who most embodied what we’re told The Voice is all about was surely Jonathan the outsized operatic teen on BGT – hats off to ITV for that choice of thunder-stealing headline act for the first show.

    Equally, though, I very much enjoyed how the BBC opened The Voice with a guitar-wielding 17 year old female singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland and had everyone bang on about allowing her to be be true to her music. This surely has to be a sly little dig at XF’s epic mishandling of the Janet Devlin situation, didn’t it?

    On the whole, I was surprised by how much they relied on the same old tropes (dead parent? Check. Boyfriend/girlfriend duo, only one of whom gets through? Check.) I was also surprised by how very scripted it all felt, which maybe just shows how jaded I am – begs the first auditionee and is spurned; nobody chooses him through the whole first show, including one comedy misunderstanding; finally, someone comes on singing and idolising Jessie J… but chooses! Oh, the shock!

    Your comparison with Dragon’s Den is telling, I think – when the dragons all want the same person, you do feel there’s genuine competitiveness between them, whether it’s an alpha pride thing or because there’s actual money involved. I didn’t get the impression the judges really gave much of a toss if they were chosen, and why would they? Maybe the format would work better with four hungry young A&R execs, a la Cowell when he started, for whom there’s actually something at stake? Also, unlike Dragon’s Den, presumably there is some mechanism to ensure that the teams roughly equalise by the end of the audition stages, which rather undercuts the whole who-will-they-choose thing. Still not clear to me how that dynamic of the show works.

    I wondered if the ritual humiliation of Sean from 5ive was to establish early on that the format promises cruelty and heartbreak as well as cockles-warming validation of the radio-faced. But then I was never entirely clear about why the buttons were and weren’t being pushed – delivery van guy seemed on a level with others who made it, and rejections were often not clearly explained (“you’re amazing and the only reason I didn’t push my button was, er, um, ah, er, you’re amazing and good luck!”)

    As you say, series premiere of a new format is always tough to judge, but on this evidence I doubt Cowell is losing much sleep.

  • Pauline

    The jury is no longer out. The Voice as far as I am concerned is is dull, kind of staid and lacking in atmosphere. The show itself seemed tired. There is nothing ‘young and thrusting’ about it. Definitely blanket day for me.

  • R

    Started watching The Voice but found it to be a bit too cringeworthy.
    The replica Janet was so funny to watch although I did like her and think she has been penciled in to go far.
    I did feel that the VTs were too staged and could tell who would stay and who would go before the contestants even sang.
    It will be interesting to see if the older audience will view the comtestants in the same way as TXF viewers do, and if the voting will play out online in the same way.
    As for BGT,I watched the first “good” act. Any coincidence again that he was a guitar playing singer from a rural background, sang a song that Janet has covered on her Youtube channel, and got the edited silence at the end of his performance before receiving a standing ovation? I’m just surprised David Walliams didn’t burst into tears.
    I came back to the show for the hyped final act and was impressed with the “Over-weight shy guy” (Jonathan Antoine), but his partner was seriously off key at times. It will be interesting to see how the show plays them as I do feel that Simon Cowell would honestly like to dump the girl but the Jonathan has refused so far and Cowell sees him as a potentail new Susan Boyle. Jonathan already has the likeability, the loyalty and the underdog factors going for him.

    • Andrew

      Hi R, if Cowell seriously wanted to dump the girl, I would bet there’s no way she’d have made it as far as the audition stage. Which is not to say, of course, that she won’t become surplus to requirements at some stage if Jonathan has a post-show career – but for the show’s purposes, I thought atatching her to him was a work of sheer genius in the dark arts of emotional manipulation. The fact that we see a beautiful girl (who could presumably choose to hang out only with other beautiful people) professing friendship testifies to there being a likeable personality under the weird and awkward exterior, which humanises him in a way SuBo never had. And then Cowell asking him to dump the girl sets him up to show touching loyalty.

      My money’s on Charlotte producing a better performance in the live semi and Cowell’s comments being to the effect of “I asked you to dump her, Jonathan, and you refused. You know what? You were right.”

      • R

        Hi Andrew,

        I think you could be right regarding Jonathan. The partnership gives the show a lot of “feelgood” to work with later in the show.
        I’m going to have to look out to see if you managed to quote Cowell’s script verbatim a month ahead of time;-)

        Jonathan has a number of Youtube videos from the past few years including one with a girl called Stephanie Dunne who, in my opinion, is a better singer than Charlotte.
        I’ve just had a random thought that this could be the classic “beauty & the beast” storyline being played out.

        • Caught up on BGT today, agree with both of you. Without Charlotte, Jonathan’s just another example of the oh-so-reliable “awkward fat man sings Nessun Dorma” trope, which has been a repeated staple of various local versions of the Talent format around the world*. The way him and Charlotte contrast with and complement one another makes it something special – as you correctly say R., the Beauty And The Beast narrative (harsh but true). I should add they’re both tremendously talented, they harmonise well (in terms of pitch if not always in terms of relative volume), and they both seem like really nice, decent people. I wish them all the best in this competition.

          *Other national versions of Talent crib from the UK one (it’s viewed as the best), and after Paul Potts won and went global (thanks to heavy marketing), some versions in other countries tried to repeat the effect by finding a domestic equivalent who’d win and who they could get under contract. I also spotted Marco Schreyl and Daniel Hartwich (the German answer to Ant and Dec) from Das Supertalent in the audience of this weekend’s BGT – they base their shtick quite closely on what Ant and Dec do in the UK version. Who says originality in commercial television is dead? 😛

  • TS

    It’s too early to tell, the format seems a little underwhelming at the moment but the judges are likeable and are good entertainment.

    They appear to be not be above the tricks which we know and love, which will undoubtedly come out stronger once we get past the auditions and it counts.

  • Noisy

    I thought it was quite interesting to have a new approach to this type of show but I’m not sure how well it’ll go in terms of getting the best acts through.

    If the judges have to pick 10 acts each as they go along rather than after they’ve seen everyone they’ll end up with either a load of empty slots they need to fill with whatever’s left or running out of places and good acts being passed over.

    One pretty good act (I think it may have been Twinilee) looked like Jessie would pick her but then she seemed not to as she’d just picked Ben. I think she’d have picked her if she hadn’t just got Ben (or do you think it was just edited into that order?).

    I’d have to assume it’s another producer controlled process passed off as judges’ choice and they’ve alredy decided which 40 will progress.

    I was quite surprised with some of the acts getting through too. I thought Aundrea Nyle was awful and actually thought the guy from 5 was pretty good (well that’s my credibility gone!).

    Jessie J was annoying. Especially all the will I/won’t I buzz bits. As was the way they kept looking to see if each other were buzzing before deciding if they would. And the way the audience screams when each singer starts. The bragging/name dropping/stories will get tiring quickly but on a positive note I was surprised how good Will-I-Am was. I thought he was very entertaining.

    I think BGT will be more enjoyable to watch but I’ll stick with this too and I’m interested to see how the format will pan out.

    Oh, and congratulations on joining the team Dug!

  • Nice little wiki-remark for you Daniel:

    Did you know the concept/format of ‘The Voice’ was created by Dutch television producer John de Mol from Endemol Productions and Talpa Productions (We call him the Rupert Murdoch/Berlusconi of Holland)?

    The same John de Mol also completely revised the 2012 edition of the Nationaal Songfestival, the Dutch preselections for the Eurovision Song Contest.

  • Edie

    Anyone notice that the script(?) guy couldn’t make a decision on his own?? He seemed to wait til someone else hit their buzzer before hitting his.

    The coaches also seemed a bit awkward in this first one, hopefully they’ll warm up and bring the shiny goodness.

    The blind auditions is not my fave part of this show, I prefer the battle rounds and when the coaches have worked with their team more and are more invested. I hope the UK one does the coach and mentor performances as well.

  • Allan

    I was very underwhelmed by the first show, you could instantly tell who was getting through (mainly because they had taken the trouble to do some filming in some of their home towns!) and the judges’ banter got increasingly annoying. Not sure how good a betting medium, I am usually all for trying to snaffle some early value on the win market but was too slow when Jessican opened at 16s (now 8s)…

    Still not 100% clear how long the show is going to last. If 8 got through last weekend and we need 40 for the next round, that would mean another 4 weeks of this stage. According to wiki they then move to a “BATTLE” stage (?) then finally the live shows…

  • Edie

    Battle stage is where the coaches split their ten up into five duos who compete to make it into the live shows,

  • It has its merits and it’s only the first episode, but I was surprisingly irritated by the gimmick of the judges sparring with each other. It got more grating and artificial as the show went on. Who thought this would make good entertainment – a bunch of big-name music industry professionals having blatantly fake childish spats with each other over who gets to mentor various good yet unremarkable singers?

    As to the talent, the show does appear to be missing the laughs and the genuine highs and lows that make X Factor, Talent et all so popular. That said, the quality was consistently high, but with the sole exception of the Eminem guitar guy, no-one offered a real artistic interpretation of their song – there was no Misha moment (loving the Misha love above, Dug!). Everyone was really just singing from the same hymn sheet, no-one took any musical risks or displayed much creativity. I like all the other judges but Jessie J is a grating presence, and the fact that seemingly every other contestant performed one of her songs (presumably in an attempt to ingratiate themselves, which I’d have advised against but which actually seemed to pay off) added to the irritation factor. If the show’s going to be a weekly Jessie J promotion vehicle (as if she needs any more), I’m going to find it quite offputting. More of the other three judges please.

    I did enjoy the opening performance quite a lot though. Well-performed and arranged. I think it’s too any to be putting any bets on at this stage.

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