This weekend on The Voice we’re whittling down the 28 battle round survivors to the 12 who will move forward to next week’s first live shows. Tonight it was the turn of Kylie and Tom Jones to reduce their teams from seven members to three, while we must wait until tomorrow evening for Teams Ricky and Will.
Having had their battle round songs given to them, this was the contestants’ opportunity to impress with their own choices. At this stage of the competition where there’s little between most of the performers, song selection can make all the difference between whether they move on or go home. And so it proved, as questionable choices caused several of the early front-runners to fall by the wayside.
Kylie’s team did her proud in terms of vocal performance, so much so that song selection and personal preference became crucial factors in her final selection.
Some simply made the wrong choice. Leo ‘The Streets’ Ihenacho‘s overblown performance over a twee arrangement of Foreigner’s rock ballad I Want to Know What Love Is was a poor show-opener.
Similarly Jai McConnell, owner of arguably the most distinctive voice in the competition (half Winehouse, half Betty Boop), got lost in the rapid-fire rhythm of the Scissor Sisters’ Take Your Mama, while Jade Mayjean Peters‘ attempts to trade in sex-bomb for sultry with her rendition of Blue Moon also backfired. Such a conscious change of direction is a double-edged sword: get it right and you’re well set up, but it can also backfire spectacularly.
Lee Glasson, who opened this season with his fresh version of Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, completely reworked Careless Whisper with an arrangement which was noticeably similar to his initial effort. I didn’t much care for it myself, and it probably divided public opinion down the middle – but we weren’t voting and it was enough to make Lee her first choice when it came to the final selection.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before La Minogue announced her three quarter-finalists, first we had Femi Santiago, Rachael O’Connor and Jamie Johnson.
Femi, the beneficiary of Kylie’s steal last week, made the best song choice of the entire night, The Mamas and Papas’ much-covered classic California Dreamin’, a song with a beautifully simple melody which allowed him to show off his full range and rich, warm tone.
A nervous Rachael went with Paloma Faith’s New York and acquitted herself well, but it was a conservative selection insofar that it was too obvious a match for her voice. And to close the first half of the show, Jamie injected Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire with energy and power, resisting the temptation to play with the original too much and delivering a rousing performance.
Kylie was left with a tough choice. After putting Lee through, it was no surprise when she also picked Jamie. But her final option confounded expectations when she passed over Femi in favour of Rachael.
Her decision left her fellow coaches scratching their heads, with Will questioning her singers’ song choices with one of his traditionally offbeat metaphors.
It’s like a hot model with a nice physique, and she puts a curtain on.
In truth, I’m with Will on this one.
I was much less impressed with Tom’s line-up, which I thought lacked depth. Even so, he too ended up pulling a surprising third choice out of the hat.
His stand-out performer was Ugly Betty lookalike Georgia ‘Cousin of Adele’ Harrup. To be fair to her, it’s more the show than her that keeps bringing that up, but I was ready to bury my head in my hands when she launched into a quirky reworking of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. It should have been a car crash but ended up exuding charm.
By contrast, Steven Alexander‘s workmanlike version of Mika’s Grace Kelly sucked all the charm out of one of the most annoyingly catchy tunes of recent years, not helped by a sequence of high notes that utterly missed their marks. And pink-haired Melissa Gill‘s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll was a step too far with its strange jazz/country overtones. I hated it. Absolutely hated it.
Too many of the song selections by Tom’s team were a little too obvious. Celestine‘s You Might Need Somebody was pleasant but failed to leave a lasting impression. Gary Poole‘s Freedom was equally enjoyable to listen to but lacked wow-factor. And although Bizzi Dixon‘s choice of Leo Sayer’s When I Need You was certainly left-field and his performance was solid enough, he crammed in too many runs and falsetto moments to make it an enjoyable listen.
Last up, 54-year-old Sally Barker chose to perform Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By – again, a safe and obvious choice. And yet she delivered such clarity of tone and weight of emotion that it didn’t matter. Hers is not a contemporary commercial sound at all, and yet her technical quality was such that it reminded us that a great voice doesn’t need lots of bells and whistles.
Sally and Georgia were obvious picks for Tom’s final three, but Bizzi was rather less expected. He’ll need to improve – a lot.
Picking up the pace
After last week’s too-long battle rounds, this episode went to the other extreme, rattling through the preamble and all but ignoring the coaches’ comments in favour of delivering a programme that featured two more performances than in the battle round episodes and yet was nearly an hour shorter. If anything, it was too rapid-fire as we raced from one song to the next with almost obscene haste. I preferred it this way, though.
Tomorrow it’s the turn of Ricky and Will to put their singers through their paces. More than half of the contestants on these two teams – Beth, Jazz, Anna, Iesher, Jermain, Max, Emily and Sophie – are still teenagers, so it will be interesting to see who holds their nerve as the knockout round draws to a conclusion.