It’s fair to say it’s been a rocky road for The Voice ever since it debuted two years ago. There was controversy right from the off when it was revealed just how much of the license fee had been spent on a talent show format. However, when the show first aired, it was met by positive praise and audience numbers that overtook the ones produced by its rival Britain’s Got Talent. But, over the course of series one, interest petered out and the first winner Leanne Mitchell sunk without a trace. Despite some format changes, last year’s series suffered a similar fate with winner Andrea Begley arguably being selected more for her backstory than her talent. Thankfully this year some major changes have been made to the overall feel of the show and, from what I’ve already seen, I’m optimistic that they will work in the show’s favour.
Firstly coaches Jessie J and Danny O’Donaughe have both departed the show which leaves two empty spots in those famous spinning chairs. No stranger to spinning around is Kylie Minogue, who replaces Jessie, and her appearance on the panel will certainly offer a more experienced ear than her predecessor. Joining Kylie and returning coaches Will.i.am and Sir Tom Jones is Ricky Wilson from The Kaiser Chiefs who himself brings buckets of experience. Changes have also been made to the presenting team with Emma Willis and JLS’ Marvin Humes stepping into replace Holly Willoughby and Reggie Yates. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the show has been moved from its spring start date to early January in order to avoid competition form a certain Simon Cowell show. The fact it has now been scheduled against diabolical diving show Splash! will obviously count in its favour and it may attract curious viewers who want something substantial from their Saturday night entertainment. I have to personally say that my excitement was building from the get-go as we were introduced to this year’s new coaching line-up. But, a few minutes later, I feared the worst after a cringe-inducing opening performance from the quartet as they made their way through a mash-up of Kylie and Ricky’s biggest hits. This opener was made worse by the fact that the producers thought employing a bunch of slow-motion shots was the way forward. Luckily, things settled down after this and the show grew in quality as the auditions began.
First to face the famous revolving chairs was 31 year old Lee Glasson from Coventry, who wanted more from life than his boring office job. He felt he may have sabotaged his chances by performing one of Kylie’s song but I felt that his cover of ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ was different enough to avoid comparisons. Indeed, his haunting version of the track led all four coaches to turn their chairs around, which was the only time this happened all night. The coaches all seemed spellbound by Lee with Kylie commenting that he had a mysterious tone to his voice while Ricky commented that he’d never heard anything like that. Predictably, as he sung one of her songs, Lee decided that he had to be on Kylie’s team and so the games began. Christina Marie from Bristol came from a singing background as her mother was an accomplished performer but gave it all up to raise her. I have to say I wasn’t sure of Christina’s chances when she chose ‘I Have Nothing’ to sing as that is one of the most-overused songs on talent shows and I’ll be happy if I never have to hear it covered again. With everybody turning round bar Will, Christina had to make a difficult decision with Kylie claiming that she was the only one who knew what it was like to be a young girl in a male-dominated industry. But Ricky’s genuine words about wanting to hear Christina’s voice again as soon as possible spoke to her and she ultimately was the first act to join the Kaiser Chiefs frontman on his team.
The first unsuccessful act of the evening was 25 year-old Danielle, whose version of L-O-V-E failed to motivate any of the coaches. In fact, Danielle’s performance was later overshadowed by her cute six year old daughter who came out on the stage and got a hug from all the coaches. Personally, I felt that this segment went on far too long and added nothing to the overall entertainment of the show. However, young music student Anna McLuckie saved the credibility of the show with her cover of ‘Get Lucky’ a song that ironically rhymed with her name. Anna’s USP was that she accompanied herself on the harp and the folksy tone of her voice saw Ricky entranced almost immediately. The fact the other coaches could see how in love he was with what he saw on stage motivated them not to turn their chairs round, until Will did just this in the last few seconds. From the look on Ricky’s face alone you realised that he’d try his best to get Anna as far in the competition as he possibly could. He told her that she could bring beauty to anything and he’d like to hear her sing anything from the Tetris Theme to Ace of Spades. However, I think Anna felt Ricky looked and sounded like a little bit too much of a stalker and so ultimately chose to be the first member of Team Will.
This evening’s comedy was provided by Tara Lewis whose current job was to impersonate Nessa from Gavin and Stacey. Though she looked and sounded the part; I can’t imagine there is much longevity in her current career choice so singing seems like a slightly more steady option. To be fair, there was nothing wrong with her rendition of Hall and Oates’ You Make My Dreams Come True but it never really set the world alight. In fact Tara was more entertaining when she employed in some post-performance banter with Tom, who almost turned around, using her Nessa voice for the majority of the time. Similarly unsuccessful was 16 year old Ryan Green who sang and played the piano at the same time. Ryan was accomplished in both music and football but apparently had to make a career choice about which direction he wanted his life to go. His performance of ‘Don’t Go’ was above average and I was convinced that at least one coach would give him a chance. But in the end none did telling him that at sixteen his voice really wasn’t that mature, but at the same time informing him that he shouldn’t view his age as a negative as he had time on his side.
However, being sixteen wasn’t an issue for the next singer, Beth McCarthy who had already been gigging for three years. Due to the fact that her dad accompanied her to all of these pub gigs, her story sounded very similar to that of last year’s X-Factor contestant Abi Alton. But, in my opinion, Beth had more stage presence than Abi with her version of ‘Sexy and I Know it’ impressing both Kylie and Ricky. Due to the fact that Beth was a Yorkshire lass she and Ricky instantly hit it off and had a fairly bizarre chat about how they flushed the toilet. By the look on Kylie’s face, she realised she couldn’t compete with Ricky’s connection with Beth and the young singer soon chose to be the second member of Team Ricky. As I’m quite a cynic, I rarely feel genuine emotion when hearing any of the sob stories employed on these sorts of reality shows. But I did find myself getting quite teary when hearing the tale of the next contestant, 54 year old Sally Barker. Sally had had a fairly prolific career at one point and had provided support for both Bob Dylan and Jimmy Page. However, family life got in the way when she had to raise her two sons and care for her husband when he contracted and later passed away from cancer. Feeling that The Voice would give her another opportunity to live her dream she signed up for the show and her raw, emotional take on ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ was completely breathtaking. Though Tom was the only coach to turn round, all of the group complemented Sally on her performance and claimed that they didn’t pick her as they knew she’d be an ideal candidate for Tom to mentor. Meanwhile Tom was completely taken aback and informed Sally that she’d swept him off her feet.
One of my main criticisms of last year’s series of The Voice was how many contestants were familiar faces who were after their second shot at pop stardom. With the exception of Cleo from Cleopatra, none of these acts got through to the Battle Rounds and their appearances were more about getting publicity for the show than anything else. While I’m hoping this series doesn’t continue the same theme, tonight’s final contestant did have a lot of past experience. Leo ‘The Lion’ Ihenacho was one of the vocalists in The Streets, who most famously accompanied Mike Skinner on the number one hit ‘Dry Your Eyes’. In his opening VT, Leo chatted about performing on Jools Holland and The Brit Awards though there was no mention of his appearance on the second series of Love Island. His decision to sing the Simply Red classic ‘Holding Back the Years’ was an odd one and I felt it would’ve led to his elimination from the competition. But his smooth vocals impressed both Kylie and Tom enough to want Leo on their teams. It was clear that Kylie found Leo attractive and her embarrassment saw her hide behind her chair until it was her turn to speak. After Tom had had his say, Kylie did a bit of a name-dropping and snagged Leo as her second team member.
This final segment involving Kylie’s attraction to Leo made the Australian pop goddess seem even more endearing than she already was. Despite being a pop megastar, I feel that Kylie is one of the most down-to-Earth people in the music industry and she certainly came across as utterly adorable here. Kylie’s likeability is one of the key assets she brings to the coaching line-up on The Voice UK with another being her vast experience. Meanwhile Ricky Wilson came across as a genuinely enthusiastic guy who’d worked his way up the music industry and now wanted to pass down some of his wisdom. His visual expressions when he heard a voice he liked gave him a sort of sincerity that I never was able to find in his predecessor Danny. In fact I feel that both of these new coaches are vastly superior to those they have replace and have made The Voice feel like a much more professional programme. Though he still acts like he’s on another planet, Will has seemingly toned down his personality for series three which can only be a good thing. Initially, Tom Jones seemed a little lost in the shuffle however his purpose was soon made clear when he selected Sally for his team. As the coach who is the go-to selection for the more mature performers, Tom certainly has his place on the show and his living legend status adds to The Voice’s credibility.
While on the whole I was entertained by this new series of The Voice UK, there were a couple of elements that I felt let the programme down. I have always argued that the programme doesn’t need two hosts and that was completely evident here. Marvin Humes came across as an utterly lovely man who the contestants all seemed to like chatting to. But I feel that, once the live shows commence, he will be lost in the shuffle and won’t be able to compete with the vastly more experienced Emma Willis. Talking of Willis I find her to be a true professional and is one of few live TV presenters that I don’t find annoying. There were also a number of the auditions that dragged tonight namely the ones involving Danielle’s daughter and Tara’s impressions of Nessa.
Overall, after a shaky start, I feel that this is the best opening episode of The Voice UK since its inception. With the two new coaches on the panel; I found the show to be more credible and professional than its ever been. As ever, the majority of the acts are incredibly talented and tonight’s episode was well-paced enough that I was never once bored. Despite enjoying tonight’s opener, the biggest test for The Voice series three will be how well it transitions from the Blind Auditions to the later rounds. But for now at least I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens next week.
What did you think to the return of The Voice UK? Do you like the new line-up?
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