Friday, 11 April 2014

Adrian Mole - A Hero For Our Time

My fifteen year-old self is lying on his bed. In front of him, spread out across the duvet, a collection of binders and barely legible hand-written history notes. My mum pops her head through the door: “Are you revising? Your exams are only a week away.” She’s a teacher, so this kind of behaviour is not unexpected. Fifteen year-old me sighs as dramatically as he can, before assuring the retreating face that, yes, I’m getting stuck in.

As the door closes behind her, he reaches under the canopy of school work, and extracts a dog-eared copy of The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. It’s been read so many times that the binding has all but given up. The pages have been carelessly jammed back between the covers, like a half-written manuscript in an Oxford Don’s leather satchel. Young me looks at his watch. “I’ve got a good half-hour before dinner; I can probably finish this and start Secret Diary again,” the conspiratorial voice whispers inside his head. Revision will have to wait. Adrian’s on his way to Skegness, and I can’t wait to rediscover the singular joys of Bernard Porke and the Rio Grande Guest House.    

Although there are other books that may have moved me more; some have even changed my life; none have maintained as constant a presence as the Adrian Mole diaries. I first met Adrian when I was about nine. My Grandma had taken the first volume out of the library, and enjoyed it so much, she allowed me to read it before returning it. And although I was a few years younger than Adrian, I felt he was a kindred spirit. Sure, he was pompous and laughably naïve, but we shared a love of the written word, and a general air of confusion about the way that grown-ups behaved.

Whereas an older reader might have picked up on the foreshadowing of future events, a standard device in most epistolary novels, I shared Adrian’s innocence - although even I could spot Mr Lucas’ intentions before Adrian did. Of course, each time I revisited Adrian’s diaries, which was a lot in those days since there were only two volumes to choose from, I’d pick up on more of the detail. The politics of the time, the complex familial relationships, and the coruscating social satire, all added fresh layers to every rereading. Adrian was the ideal commentator on society – all seeing, if not exactly all-knowing.

Aged just 14, he diligently reported the outcry that occurred when he accidentally delivered tabloids to the tree-lined middle class avenues, and broadsheets to the council estate, but expressed surprise at their response: “I don’t know why everybody went so mad. You’d think they would enjoy reading a different paper for a change.” Neither did it escape his notice, in True Confessions, that on the day of Andrew and Fergie’s wedding: “I passed the Co-op where the Union Jack hung upside down, and the Sikh temple where it was hung correctly.” Tiny moments, that spoke loudly about the tensions of modern British life.

As the years passed, Adrian and I both grew up, but never apart. I kept track of his first, ill-fated move to London. I shared his heartbreak as his beloved Bianca left him for his stepfather, Martin Muffet. And I delighted in his, albeit short-lived, success as a TV chef. Crippling debt, appearances on reality TV talkshows and a particularly threatening swan, all played vital roles in Adrian’s tragicomic existence.

But, once a diarist, always a diarist. With his maturity came a newfound awareness of politics, not least when his fearsomely ambitious old flame Pandora Braithwaite became one of Blair’s Babes. Even so, his unerring ability to miss the point never seemed to fail him. Most of the time, his lack of prescience was mined for ironic humour, but things took a dark turn in Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction. Having tirelessly campaigned in support of Blair’s war, putting his unwavering trust in the Labour leader’s integrity, he’s shocked out of his ignorance when Robbie Stainforth, his son’s best friend, is killed in a bomb explosion in Iraq. Adrian’s grief is palpable, reflecting a raw anger that we hadn’t encountered before. Gone were the playful jabs at British politics; in their place, a profound sense of betrayal.

The last time I saw Adrian, he seemed to be on the road to recovery, following a gruelling battle with prostate cancer. Middle-aged and once again separated from another wife, he seemed to have finally made peace with his life. Able to set aside three decades of unrealistic aspirations and underwhelming accomplishments, he was looking forward to life as a grandfather, perhaps alongside Pandora – the one that never quite got away. And that’s how I’ll chose to remember him, even though I know he’s gone forever.  

He and I were more alike than I’d perhaps care to admit. But then, wasn’t that always the secret of his enduring appeal? Adrian Mole truly was an everyman. Reflecting the frustrations, obsessions and idiosyncrasies of this weird and wonderful nation. Cataloguing its foibles with alarming precision, and yet managing to spectacularly miss the point, more often than not. Adrian Mole; a hero in idiot’s clothing.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The BBC Gets Its Rocks Off - The Voice Grand Final

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this series of The Voice, other than the fact that Kylie could probably flirt with a park bench, it’s that I miss commercial breaks. There’s something about the relentless pace of these talent shows that requires regular respite; without it, they can become incessantly draining. So it’s a weakened husk of a man that sits down to recap tonight’s grand final. It’s taken 14 weeks, but we’re finally at a stage where there are few enough contestants that we can actually remember all their names. But before we get to them, we’ll have to sit through another performance from our judges. As they launch into a self-congratulatory rendition of Get Your Rocks Off, Ricky leans on a motorbike, Will models a rather fetching parachute harness, Tom sits on a throne, and Kylie’s suspended on a neon pair of lips. This is either the BBC’s idea of Saturday night primetime, or I ate a wheel of brie right before my afternoon nap. Weirdly, the film keeps switching to slow motion, as if the producers are attempting a metaphor for the sensation of actually watching the show.

Emma’s wearing a curious evening gown/trouser suit, that looks like something Heather Locklear might have worn before pushing someone down the stairs. “Are you ready to meet the best of the best?” asks Marvin angrily, before introducing our four finalists with no small amount of hyperbole. I’m all for encouragement, but it’s a little premature to be calling Christina Marie a superstar.

Speaking of Bristol’s answer to Katy Perry; she’s gone home to undo all the hard work she’s put into those elocution lessons. Her homecoming is less than spectacular, and amounts to little more than hanging around on someone’s driveway with an assortment of Vicky Pollards. Her opening performance is Coldplay’s Fix You, accompanied by a strange floor projection that looks as if she’s doing karaoke in a smelting plant. It starts off nicely enough, but the constant threat of shouting is always there, and by the second half of the song, one of my dogs has left the room in search of a quiet space. Thankfully, all of the over-singing is redeemed by an admittedly impressive falsetto run. Emma is feeding the judges their lines and giving the contestants more non-questions for them to shake their heads at. Meanwhile, Ricky has an emotional breakdown and starts pointing at the camera and commanding us to vote, like Kitchener in a tweed waistcoat.

This week, Sally was crowned the new Queen of Leicester, with no word on what happened to the old one. Presumably, Rosemary Conley’s been thrown into a dungeon to live out the rest of her days eating low calorie ready meals with her fingers. Sally tells us how much she enjoyed visiting home, but she still scowls like she’s been stuck in all morning, waiting for the aga repairman. Her family have printed a banner to implore people to vote, but it’s so politely worded that it’s unlikely to have much of an impact. It seems that enthusiasm is in short supply in Sally’s family, as they attempt to convey their excitement about her success without changing their facial expressions or the tone of their voice. As for Sally, she’s actively resisting the effects of her TV makeover, and looks like the RNLI just fished her out of the North Sea. Of course, feedback on her image is purely academic, since this is The Voice, and on that front Sally has it nailed. Her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now is hauntingly melancholy. It’s clearly one of those songs she’s been performing for thirty years, so she deserves credit for picking something that’s personal to her, with a wider audience appeal. Tom repeatedly references the fact that Sally has touched him, and hopes that she’s touched everybody in the audience. Poor Will is still struggling with the pressures of live TV and fumbles a compliment, ultimately comparing Sally’s performance to “something from a Disney cartoon.” Like most of his back catalogue, I imagine that sounded a lot better in his head. 

Introducing Jermain, Emma comments obliquely that “all roads lead to Hackney,” but that really depends on which exit of the A12 you take. Jermain heads home to you-know-where and heads straight for a community centre full of well-wishers. Well, I say full. There’s certainly a good turnout, but Jermain’s claim that he struggled to fight his way through the crowd represents a true politico’s misremembrance of events. Performing Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, he’s flies into the studio on something that’s part microphone stand, part ski lift. The song suits his voice surprisingly well, although the obligatory baritone notes are more than a little comical. The key change is better, but it all falls apart on the last few off-key notes. Will stops giving his feedback to take a call from Cheryl Cole, who obviously hasn’t read the small print in her new X-Factor contract about fraternising with the enemy. Ricky adds that “Jermain brings a different vibe to the show; he’s a guy with a social conscience.” Meanwhile, Sally’s out back, burning tyres in the car park, as Christina Marie beats a swan to death with her shoe.

Jamie’s thrilled to be in the final of the Voice, but he’s so smiley and happy, he probably pisses himself with excitement when he fills out a Road Tax form. His performance of Missing You is pretty good, but the loud bits are a little too shouty, and the softer bits a little too quiet. Emma’s excited to see “all the Johnsons out in the audience,” which makes me wonder if she has to picture the crowd naked, to conquer her nerves. Will references Justin Timberlake in his appraisal (more on that, later), but I think Joey Fatone makes for a more effective N*SYNC simile.

Remember Marvin? He’s been dumped back in the V-Room where he can play Candy Crush on his iPad and keep out of trouble. With all four singers having performed their first song, Marvin’s ready to give them a light grilling. I could recap these conversations for you, but every time I do, a little part of my brain dies. If I tried to transcribe everything, I’d forget how to tie my own shoelaces.

With the solo performances out of the way, it’s time for the finalists to sing with their mentors. Christina Marie and the Kaiser Chiefs sing the band’s new single Coming Home. It’s a song that suits both their voices well, but the arrangement could see Ricky sued for plagiarism by U2 and Simple Minds. Ricky has an awkward smirk on his face, like he’s a little too pleased with himself about being able to get into those size 28 trousers. As for Christina, she’s still struggling to sell sincerity, especially when she does her “Oh my God, I’m so honoured…” humility giggle.

Sally and Tom have gone off to church and she’s still wearing that fucking anorak. Fair play to her; at least she’s more pragmatic about the nature of her relationship with her celebrity mentor: “My highlight has been working with Sir Tom. It feels like we’re friends, and I hope we are.” Their duet of Walking In Memphis is lovely, but Tom’s booming voice has a tendency to drown out Sally, leaving her only the harmonies to distinguish herself. Tom promises to sing on Sally’s album, and she’s already thinking “Maybe a bonus track, if you’re lucky.”

Will and Jermain head off to Buckingham Palace to launch a new social initiative with Prince Andrew. Jermain’s surprise that the Prince knew who he was betrays his naiveté – surely he knows that these people are briefed by advisors? Their performance of Pure Imagination is weird and stilted, with awkward dancing, stuttering beats and Will’s utterly terrible vocals. Will talks about the song choice as representing how it feels to try and get out of a ‘nightmare neighbourhood,’ which probably has the good people of Hackney feeling a little down in the mouth.

Kylie takes Jamie to the O2 to meet Justin Timberlake, before singing on stage to an empty auditorium. Is this a commentary on the kind of success that the winner can look forward to? They’re doing The Eurythmics’ There Must Be An Angel, and although it starts with an odd tempo, it’s much better once the beat kicks in. They’re quite well suited as a duo, with Kylie handling the basics and Jamie rocking the big gospelly notes.

With a little time to fill before the last round, Paloma Faith takes to the stage to do her Tori Amos-on-ecstasy routine. The song has attitude to spare, but melody is in short supply. And her RnB “come on wi’it” growl, seems a little disingenuous, given her plummily eccentric speaking voice.

It’s standard, at this stage in the show, to give us a quick recap of the season. This largely involves seeing viewers at home trying to turn their own chairs, which is great if you always wanted to peer behind someone’s DFS sofa. As the phonelines are temporarily frozen, Jamie gets the news that he’s out of the competition. Emma asks Kylie if he’ll be going on tour with her, and she diplomatically avoids answering the question; choosing instead to thank everyone who was part of the show. With a final call for phone votes, Emma implores us to pick up the phone: “You can change someone’s life by taking them from this show to the charts and beyond.” That seems a little ambitious for a show that’s never troubled the inside of the top 30.

For her final performance, Christina Marie sings The Power Of Love, and it brings out the sweet clarity of her voice. Sally has also picked her battle song; Olly Murs’ Dear Darlin’. Her dress looks like a fortune-teller’s tablecloth, but the vocal is mesmerising. The only downside is that we only get half the song, which means the performance winds down, rather than reaching a crescendo. Finally, Jermain bellows And I’m Telling You, and it’s a smart song choice for his last ever performance. Get this one right, and the vocal fireworks can all but guarantee those all-important final votes. Despite its ubiquity on these talent shows, it’s not a track that works well as a 100 second showcase – sounding more like a greatest hits compilation of massive notes, rather than an actual song. After wiping his eyes, Will volunteers his dead grandma as part of Jermain’s new entourage. Still, at least he won’t have to spring for a seat in business class for her.

Aloe Blacc is here to make use of that monochrome photographic effect that the producers of The Voice like so much. He’s singing The Man, which is on course to be number one tomorrow. It uses the refrain from Elton John’s Your Song, but at this stage in the game, I’m just relieved it’s not Ellie Goulding’s version.

After two hours of edging, we’re finally ready to announce the winner – it’s Jermain. His mum’s praying, Will looks pensive, and Sally seems entirely thrilled for him. Will gives him counsel on how to go about achieving his goal of being the first black British Prime Minister, which doesn’t give much of a hint of what his first album will be like. Jermain gives thanks to God, which has the production team scrabbling to check whether this warrants recategorising The Voice under its Religion and Ethics banner. There’s just time for one more facepalm, as Jermain sings his recap of the song from Dreamgirls, but changes the lyric to “you’re the best Mum I’ve ever known.” Cue the cameraman cutting to Jermain’s granny in the audience. Well done everyone.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Shakira's fit, Kylie's hit, and Will's shit. The Voice Semi Final.

For a moment, I dared to think it was almost over. Unfortunately, my initial relief at the fact that I’d made it as far as the semi-final, was instantly tempered by the news that The Voice has been commissioned for another two years.  It’s a little like finding a crumpled tenner in a jacket pocket, only to realise that it’s a Scottish note.

Tom tells us that Sally is really funny, which comes as quite a revelation, given her coldly impersonal onscreen persona. She has all the presence of a local councillor, and struggles to come alive whenever she’s not singing.  Given her thirty-plus years of performing experience, you’d think she’d have worked up a bit more of a presence. As it is, she makes Leona Lewis look like Joan Rivers. In a brief interview segment, Sally’s elderly mum tells us that she can’t wait for Saturday night as if she’s hoping for a slot on Ant & Dec’s Takeaway. The stylists have thankfully been paying attention, and have decked Sally out in a pleather two-piece, along with what Sally refers to as Fearne Cotton’s hair. But all of this is academic, since she still manages to sing rings around everyone else on the show. Including the judges. Tom congratulates her “on singing that song the way you sang it.” That’s some quality feedback, right there.

Bizzi is pointing at the sky again, like he’s directing aircraft into a maintenance hanger, while Tom talks about getting to the semi-final as being like making it to number 2 in the charts. As if that’s a relevant frame of reference for anyone who’s ever competed on this show. There’s also an extended riff on Bizzi getting the people of Leicester behind him, in a piss-poor pastiche of 24. Tonight, he’s singing Everything Must Change, and I’m beginning to wish it would. The performance is so dull that it could be used to test for narcolepsy, but there’s a falsetto note at the end that gets the audience screaming. Probably because they know it means the song’s almost finished. Bizzi reckons he enjoyed it so much that he’d like to do it again, and I momentarily contemplate refusing to pay my licence fee on moral grounds. Will’s trying to get a new hashtag trending, Tom’s off on one again, and Emma’s desperately clinging to any hint that someone involved in the show might display a trace of human emotion.

Christina Marie moans about not having any friends, which doesn’t say much for her personality, and Ricky seems to have found some particularly harsh lighting that’s bleached out his facial features, making him look like he should be communicating with Richard Dreyfuss through hand gestures. Christina Marie’s bellowing an over-the-top version of Bang Bang, with a bunch of ninjas and a random panther head at the back of the stage. None of it makes any sense, but this is the Voice semi-final, so narrative coherence is hardly a priority. Emma confuses feeding a contestant her thoughts as a closed question, with actual interview technique, then implores us to “get behind Christina Marie” which is certainly one way of scoring some extra votes.

Chris reveals the shocking news that his dad passed away two days before the battle round. As tragic as this is, his comment “I didn’t really mention it before,” makes me wonder why he’s bringing it up now, right before taking to the stage for the semi-final. Tonight he’s selected a loungey version of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, and I’m sorry to say that even Westlife did it better. I’m guessing that the show’s production budget must have been blown on Christina Marie’s ninja formation and beaded epaulettes, because all Chris gets is an old red lampshade. Post-performance, he claims to be speechless, before wobbling on about the joy of performing for “four lovely people.” Family members in the crowd, maybe? Will’s feedback has become so esoteric that he now has to offer notes at the end of each comment, to indicate the wordplay and rhyming couplets.

Emma suddenly remembers that Marvin’s been stuck in the V-Room for the entire show, like a dog left in a hot car. Not to worry – he’s been amusing himself by looking at the show’s webpage. “Ricky’s fan wall is the most rock and roll. There’s someone in sunglasses,” he adds, cryptically. Someone clearly thought it was a good idea to get him to hold a microphone and an iPad at the same time, as well as trying to read an autocue.

Lee says that “the pressure is really starting to show,” as are Kylie’s wrinkles in that harsh white studio light. She tries to motivate him with a patchy American accent, and Lee obligingly fake-laughs his way through it. Once again, Lee’s performing another mournful song, only this time he’s standing on the remains of an old car wreck, with the rest of the stage done up like an old junkyard. I think there’s a metaphor in here that’s fighting to get out. As his performance ends, I can’t tell whether he’s genuinely emotional, or if all that straining has given him a tension headache. Tom reckons he’s seen Lee “more nervous than that,” as if he’s personally given him a prostate exam. Will accidentally lets out a little shit. By which I mean, he said the word, not that he left something behind on the red upholstery.

Kylie has replaced Jamie’s sister as his roadie, which means she gets the death seat in his little yellow mini. He’s singing I Can’t Make You Love Me, which seems to be contractually obliged to make at least one appearance in every single talent show. There’s a rich, soulful quality to his voice that helps him sell it in, and the stylists have done a half decent job with him. It’s a little like watching Gary Barlow’s current wardrobe on Gary Barlow’s old body. He ends with an emotional wobble, because Lee set the precedent, and this is a competition, after all. “All four coaches on their feet again,” says Emma, oblivious to the fact that it no longer means anything when every performance seems to warrant one. “Kylie, you gave Jamie a fast pass last week, has he completely confirmed why he deserved it?” Another leading question from Emma there.  Tom’s reckons he’s heard a “couple of versions of that song” but he must be rounding it down to the nearest thousand.

Jermain has gone home to visit his family, and tell us all that he’s a mummy’s boy. When he’s not sniffing mangoes in the corner shop, he’s doing complicated handshakes in the kitchen with his brother. Having tried to position him as an ordinary Hackney boy, it’s one step forward, two steps back; since now he’s singing a desperately uncool version of David Guetta’s Without You, dressed like a hospital orderly. The baritone in his voice doesn’t work with this song, making it sound like it can’t settle on which genre it wants to represent, and near the end some carefully placed pyrotechnics make it look as though Tom and Kylie just burst into flames. Finally, Jermain ends with an extravagantly long note that shows off the kind of microphone technique that’s normally demonstrated by performers with lots of XXXs in their twitter handles. Will might have got a text from his mother expressing her disappointment at his little swear, but my phone would be ringing off the hook if mine ever saw me leaping about on the furniture like that.

Sophie May wants to do something modern, and make it retro. To test out her era-straddling style, she decides to try it out on some different audiences. First she heads off to the pub to perform to a dozen drunks, then visits an old folks home to make them thankful for their failing hearing. One old dear comments “Everyone was enjoying themselves and we’d have her back any day of the week,” but I’m sure the randy old bugger is just thinking about Bed-Bath Tuesdays. The retro-futuristic style that Will was aiming for, has manifested itself  in an outfit that suggests she should be negotiating with her “fadder” for Flash Gordon’s life.

Before we get onto the mentor performances, there’s just time for Marvin to get excited about trending worldwide, and Emma to ask us whose album we’d buy? This is The Voice, when has that ever translated into the need to buy music?

Sophie May and Jermain have gone to the Savoy to meet “Mr Will.I.Am,” drink pissy tea, and have scones with their mums. Back to the live show, and the three of them do a horribly awkward version of Bowie’s Let’s Dance. Jermain appears to have come as a low ranking knave from the Queen of Hearts’ army, and Sophie May is so desperately out of tune, it’s no wonder Jermain decides to sing “I’m so in love with you…” at Will instead.

Ricky takes Chris and Christina to Manchester to see how hard it is having to appear on children’s TV. In the evening they head off to the Brixton Academy, where Ricky wears his new Blue Peter badge for the NME awards. Rock and roll indeed. The three of them sing You Really Got Me, and it’s the kind of performance that you almost don’t need to hear, to know exactly how it sounds.

Tom has chosen Dancing In The Street for his team. He’s still getting mileage out using the word ‘fresh’ and attempting uninpsired wordplay with Bizzi’s name. The group try out their new dynamic with an impromptu busk in Covent Garden, as a series of voxpops shows us tedious tourists who are happy to state the obvious for the camera. The performance is like Glee for the Countryfile set, and the lyric “It don’t matter what you wear” hangs in the air like a palpable threat.  

Kylie’s taken her boys to GAY, and they’re both trying to look comfortable about it. Lee’s amazed to be standing by Kylie as she sings, and he’s “Just in awe.” That, or he just said something massive disrespectful about her. They’re singing Kylie’s new single, and although she equips herself well enough, the boys struggle to make the key work for their voices. As Ricky and Tom give a standing O, Will looks as if he’s just had another terse text from his mum.

With time to kill, Emma and Marvin attempt to get each of the judges to say which artist they’d put through if it was up to them. Unsurprisingly, they all rebel, but since our presenters are dependent on the autocue, we have to go through the same rigmarole four times as each successive judge refuses to play along. Attempting to salvage the moment, Emma comments “You guys are all too nice, which is testament to the show.” Actually it’s a condemnation of the show, but it’s late, so we won’t argue the point. Meanwhile, over in the V Room, Marvin is managing some painful ‘bantz’ with the contestant about who’s the craziest judge. As they all single out Tom, dementia awareness campaigners across the country plan a BBC boycott. As for the rest of the conversation, it’s so painfully pointless it makes Loose Women look like a compilation of TED talks.

Before the result, there’s just time for two special guest performances. The first is from Shakira, whose English might have improved in the decade since Whenever, Wherever, but her lyrics certainly haven’t. The song sounds epic enough, in fact it’s reminiscent of Kate Bush in places, but it explodes into a load of uninspiring And I’m like, woo-hoo-hoo” for most of the chorus.

Our other special appearance is from Enrique Iglesias. You know Enrique - he went from doe-eyed balladeer to foul-mouthed fuck-monkey in the space of one album; in the process achieving the most unlikely makeover since the Krankies outed themselves as a pair of swingers. The song sounds like Crazy Frog doing a cover of Gotta Go Home by Boney M, and I’m just glad that we’re spared a surprise cameo from Pitbull.

Finally, time to reveal the entirely unsurprising line-up for next week’s grand final. Ladies and gentlemen – I give you Sally, Christina Marie, Jamie and Jermain.

Monday, 24 March 2014

The word 'amazing' takes another hammering - The Voice Quarter-Final

After an extensive build up that made Ben Hur look like a Tom & Jerry cartoon, we’re finally here. Someone’s thrown a kettle of water over the Dancing On Ice rink, and they’ve thrown in some raked seating to create The Voice Arena. Ricky’s smouldering like Ryan Gosling tied to a chiminea, and Tom is introduced as “The legend with the lungs,” as if he’s got them in a carrier bag backstage.

The pressure must be on to choreograph the logistics of a massive live show like this, so it’s a shame they didn’t put their rehearsal time to better use. The acts are all doing their awkward on-the-spot dancing, like Thunderbirds with half their strings cut. Then we’re treated to a bewildering overhead shot as the judges head for their seats, the contestants disappear into the audience, and Emma and Marvin take to the stage. With so many people moving in different directions, it’s like watching that intersection in Tokyo that always gets shown, whenever a director wants to make a point about Japanese overpopulation.

Emma is still a breath of fresh air in a show that often feels more like a stale burp, but her tendency to go off script causes some painful delays as Marvin waits for the autocue to catch up.

The show kicks off properly with performances from Team Will. They’re marvelling that “He’s done so much, he’s got a song in space,” which gets me wondering why we can’t stick them all up there. Leading the charge is Jermain, who’s “already big in Westminster,” which seems to translate as “he was on the radio with Ed Milliband.” The Labour leader does his best to sound supportive, and sticks a little green ‘Vote Jermain’ rosette to his jacket. It’s a nice sentiment, even though it just looks like someone sneezed on his lapel. To really hammer home the political theme, we get lots of footage of him on Westminster bridge, staring meaningfully at Parliament enveloped in a scarf that’s the size of a beach towel. He sings Bruno Mars’ Treasure like a Vandross tribute act, and it works perfectly. Meanwhile, Will takes a picture on his iPad, as a production runner hides in the wings with a roll of masking tape to try and hide the Apple logo. Speaking as if he’s campaigning in a local election, he tells Emma “I’m so privileged to be here and opening up the first live show of season three of the Voice.” Kylie fails to sell in a simple pun, and Tom has a nasty case of pinkeye. Meanwhile, Ricky suggests “You could sing us the budget and we’d take it,” but I think ‘Beer and Bingo’ sounds more like a Lucy Spraggan song.

Sophie May feels like she’s won Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, so let’s just hope she doesn’t end up wedged into someone’s chocolate chute. A few weeks ago, she was “just an ordinary teenager living at home.”  Now she’s an ordinary teenager drinking coffee from a polystyrene cup at Elstree. Plus ça change. She does a big band version of Moondance, but sings so much of it in her low register, that all the high notes sound particularly sharp. Thankfully the arrangement is loud enough to drown most of it out and I’m browsing iTunes for the instrumental. After a quick burst of “Ermagerd, I’m like absolutely buzzin’” there’s a bit of desperately banal patter about her learning to cook.
Iesher is cute and perky but dead behind the eyes, as if she was programmed, rather than raised. She wants to take a break so she and her mates head off to the cinema, which is a bit of a busman’s holiday for her. Will interrupts the screening to boost her confidence, but I’m not sure how making 200 impatient moviegoers hate her is going to help. She’s singing Rather Be, and it’s nice to see her sing something contemporary and age appropriate. Having said that, it’s a little shrill in places and she occasionally sounds out of breath. Oh, and that joke I made earlier about the tape on Will’s iPad? Turns out, that’s exactly what happened. Will gets her to redo the adlibs she felt she missed in her performance, and Tom growls something about her “built-in, natural rhythm.” Well, this is awkward.

There’s yet another contrived wrinkle in the format, on a show that’s already reinvented itself more times than Cher. This time it’s the Fast Pass. Each mentor gets to choose one act to go straight through to the semi-final, while the audience votes on the other two. Will rambles for ages about how his acts were “Freakin’ mega-dope super fresh” and complements Jermain on his harmonic vernaculars. And on a family show? Anyway, by the time he finally makes a decision, Emma almost misses it. Then Jermain heads off to the V-Room, where Marvin asks him “How does it feel to be in the semi-final?” Moments later, he asks Iesher, “Your fate is in the public’s hands, how does that make you feel right now?” I’m beginning to spot a theme.

The verdict is that “Will’s team has set the bar.” And I think I need to hit one. But there’s no time for that. We’re straight into Team Kylie now. Or we would be if the judges would stop taking pointless selfies. Everyone’s trying so hard to be current, that I’ve got money on Tom and Ricky Instagraming their #CockInASock pictures by the results show.

Jamie drives around his hometown with his overly keen sister, while she terrifies pedestrians with a battery-operated loudhailer. Tonight he’s singing 1000 Miles, which is all very middle of the road until the final 30 seconds. He’s left his coat on, so I guess he’s not staying. The post-performance banter is getting painful, and all anyone can say is “You look really fantastic.” I get the sense that a lot of editing went into the footage of those early rounds. Emma complements Jamie on his Mini Cooper, saying “It’s a lovely car, it’s the colour of my dress,” before sticking her microphone in his face for a reaction.  

Lee gets props for the intensity he brings to every performance. He’s certainly a dab hand at taking a great pop song and making it sound like a Japanese whale cull. He’s quit his job, and thrown his meager possessions in a little blue plastic basket, so he can focus his energies on Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night. It’s been rearranged like something Bryan Adams might stick on a film soundtrack, and the staging involves a weird combination of creeping tree branches and silhouetted dancers. The effect is not unlike a performance in Sherwood Forest’s first strip club. 

Rachael has a shouty dad who doesn’t want her seeing any boys. At least, I think that’s what he said, since he sounds like Jim MacDonald with a mouthful of marbles. Rachael’s come dressed as an oven ready chicken in a tinfoil skirt, and there are way too many neon colours on display throughout her song. It doesn’t help matters that the dancers seem to be performing to a completely different track. Rachael’s verdict is that this is more fun than doing homework. Halfway through the show, and I’d rather be doing double maths.

Tom’s moaning about young people again. Next he’ll be fishing a lint-covered boiled sweet from his pocket and reading the paper with a magnifying glass.
Kylie says she’s had a change and doesn’t know if she’s hot or cold. What an awkward time to become menopausal. In the end, she picks Jamie, who heads to the V Room for another inspiring exchange with Marvin: “Come and join us in the V Room. How are you feeling? Back to you Emma.”

Apparently, “Tom’s done it all. Seen it all. Sung it all.” And there’s a good chance that he’s fucked it all too. As we cut back to the studio, the old legend seems to be making a move on Emma.  He’s remembering his first Royal Variety Show when he was in his twenties, presumably at the request of Queen Victoria herself.

Bizzi tells us he was born and raised in a church, so I hope they washed the pews before the next Sunday service. He’s over the moon to be here, saying “It was my dream to be in the final twelve.” I think he could probably afford to aim a little higher. His performance of If You Really Love Me sounds fine, but the animated checkerboard motif looks like Mary Quant’s idea of a vertigo attack. Ricky describes it as a big party song, but it’s was more of a wedding performance. Will and Kylie have switched right off, and they’re busy taking stupid pictures of each other.

Sally’s talking about her sad life again, and as much as I love her voice, I do wish she’d retire this perpetual recapping of her widowhood. She’s doing To Love Somebody, and this time, she has a hint of Sandy Denny to her voice, which works incredibly well. The thing is, she’s had enough time to learn what her voice can and can’t do, as well as which songs serve it best.  Emma calls out “Tom, she’s got you again, Your eyes are full of tears.” And he resists the urge to shout “It’s glaucoma you insensitive bitch.” Ricky muses that “There’s a dark and fragile quality to your voice that I can’t put my finger on.” Even though he just did.

Georgia used to be fat, and now she isn’t. As origin stories go, it’s not exactly Spider-Man. She starts way out of time with her arrangement, and there’s a very distracting photographic effect on the performance. Everything’s in black and white, with the camera only picking up elements of red. It works pretty well until we pan past a row of matronly women, whose rubicund faces trigger the effect as well, making them all look as if they’ve just finished a cross-country run.  Georgia’s performance is a little too shouty and tuneless for me, and I’m not sure about the outfit, which looks like Minnie Mouse has gone on the game.

Tom chooses Sally and they’re obviously in a rush, because her sons are left hanging about after racing to the stage to congratulate her. Bizzy and Georgia wander off like disorientated ducklings, before a floor manager shepherds them back onto the stage. And Marvin reminds us that tonight’s performances are all on iTunes, with a promise of “Music to download and keep forever.” Just like those JLS albums.

Over on Ricky’s team, we’re starting things off with Chris. He’s a reserved and shy person, so thank goodness for the shot of him crouched in an alley writing poetry against a brick wall. Ricky says “I think we need a popstar like Chris, someone who comes from nowhere and blows you away.” That’s how we ended up with James Arthur, and look how that turned out. Chris gives a great performance of One Day Like This, and it’s nice to see the effort the stylists have made. It’s just a shame they couldn’t persuade him to ditch the Oliver Hardy moustache.

Emily’s dad is really missing her, because the hotel’s going to be dead busy at Easter. Still, she’s been helping out, serving bowls of grey soup, but now she’s focused on channeling Christina Aguilera for a surprisingly effective version of Happy. She even looks like a star, apart from the perm which is still a bit too Page 3 circa 1987. Kylie and Emma rave about Emily’s legs as if they were both Bella Emberg from the hips down.

Christina Marie tells us how she got an office job to support her single mum and help raise her little sister, then quit in order to chase her dream on The Voice. She seems to be slowly transforming into Katy Perry, but at least she can sing. Everlong is the perfect choice for her powerful voice, and hers is one of the best performances of the night. Tom and Ricky talk about the vocals, and Kylie gets asked for her opinion on the dress. It’s no surprise that Ricky chooses to save Christina Marie, who’s treated to another inane exchange with Marvin, before being hugged like he’s trying to pop her dislocated shoulder back in.

By the time the results show rolls around, the stars seem as exhausted as I am. There’s a listless group performance of the mentors’ own songs, which leaves poor Sally looking like she’s been abducted by a group of Satanists. Jason Derulo runs through two of his latest hits and reminds us why we all miss Michael Jackson so much. One Republic also pop up for a low key performance drenched in cold blue light. The energy is fading fast, so thankfully, Emma doesn’t waste too much time revealing that Sophie May, Lee, Bizzi and Chris have already made it to the semi-final. Now, I’m off to freebase some Berocca.