This past weekend was a big one for The Voice UK: the start of its live TV shows. Now that the novelty of big shiny red chairs and battle singing has worn off, can we all stop caring about the new talent competition on the block?
Well I’m afraid not, because although the Voice is now voyaging into rather more predictable waters it retains a charming novelty simply because it insists on treating the contestants and indeed the whole process with a modicum of respect. Weird.
This week that meant that the five excellent singers selected by Tom Jones and the five excellent singers selected by Will.i.am all performed rather well, the judges were very nice about them and the two that weren’t quite as good as the others went home.
Now that may sound as exciting as hearing Les Dennis narrate Eastenders fan fiction but it was, in fact, pretty good. The producers have put forward people who can actually sing, which means we’re not watching the borderline mentally ill humiliate themselves.
It also helps that the show actually respects music enough to give the performers interesting song choices and has a band that’s not afraid to mix it up in interesting ways.
And because the judges are actual performers they go easy on the contestants while still giving them useful tips And, with the exception of Danny (really, who is he? It’s like he snuck in through a back door or something) the judges all have a natural charisma that ensures the audience is keen to hear what they have to say.
The judging this week focused on Will.I.Am and Tom Jones. Will.i.am has been rapidly taken to the nation’s heart mainly because his personality is a cross between a cat and a malfunctioning ‘urban’ android, meaning his judging consists mainly of him saying things are ‘dope’ or‘ fresh’, listing unrelated words and then opening his eyes really wide and purring.
This, I freely admit, is pretty endearing. Though not as endearing as Tom Jones. One good thing about The Voice UK is that it’s firmly enforced the notion that Tom Jones is in the National Treasure stage of his career. However, it wasn’t that long ago that the curly haired troubadour from the valleys was considered a laughing stock, for some reason…
But time brushes over all manner of indiscretions, and even though plastic surgery may have damaged his ability to give convincing facial expressions his voice remains undented.
I will place my cards on the table and say I have long been a huge fan, but would point out that places me alongside decent company such as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jack White and the greatest jacket ever worn by a human.
And it’s a sad reflection on British culture that it’s even vaguely surprising that Tom Jones, who has spent thousands of hours singing and performing and probably spent more time thinking about music than all of One Direction have been alive, might be better at this sort of thing than Simon Cowell.
Indeed Mr Jones looks like he’s got this thing licked because he spotted (with his ears) that young Ruth Brown might have a lot to offer. She closed the show out on Saturday with a bloody sensational performance of Oleta Adams ‘Get Here’ that brought the audience to rapture.
Will’s only contestant to rival her was Jaz Ellington, the much hyped London singing teacher who was only let down by the fact his song choice did seem a little on the safe side. Though the fact it was an Ella Fitzgerald number shows the extent of his range on the show.
The two eliminated contestants Sam Buttery and Sophie Griffin both made decent efforts but fell a long way short of the two mentioned above.
Now none of this concentrated niceness should suggest The Voice UK is some sort of wonder show. It’s still reality television of a populist stripe and, like it’s cousin The X Factor, far too obsessed with personal stories of tragedy.
This last is especially clear with Tyler James who is constantly introduced as the euphemistic ‘best friend’ of the late Amy Winehouse. One assumes Mr James does talk about other things than his time with Ms Winehouse occasionally but you wouldn’t know it from the show.
Although to be fair he’s got a lot in his favour. He looks like the child of a fox and an elf, he’s a fantastically snappy dresser and he sings bloody well. Hia version of Stevie Winwood’s Higher Love was my highlight of the night because it was a great version of a great song, proving once again that simply watching great singers sing can be fantastic entertainment.