Friday, 6 June 2014

Meet the Young Conservatives

There was a time when a new series of Big Brother carried with it a sense of occasion. In the final days before the premiere, the red tops would speculate about who was going in, and we’d all start practicing excuses for turning down social engagements, just in case it got really good. But ever since its Lazarus-like reappearance on Channel 5, the format has reached an exhausting level of ubiquity. Emma can do her best to sound excited about the new line-up, but anyone who’s been on holiday for more than a couple of weeks would be forgiven for thinking that it never actually went off the air. From must-see TV, to inexplicably omnipresent fixture. Kind of like Last Of The Summer Wine, if Nora Batty punched a hole in those wrinkly tights with an empty wine bottle.

Maybe Endemol has started to get the message, as the show starts with a weird moment as Big Brother announces a system failure and attempts a reboot. Meanwhile, Emma’s doing her best to get a largely disinterested audience engaged in what’s going on. “Welcome to Big Brother Power Trip,” she announces, fully aware that she could be talking about her one-woman media takeover. “I’m so excited,”she shrieks, but given how often she has to do this, her hysterical reaction is a little like me wetting myself about renewing my travelcard.

The walkaround the newly redecorated house is as rushed and shambolic as usual – with a standout moment being the shot of Emma demonstrating how to use the toilet. Somewhere, someone’s taking some high-res screen grabs and will spend the rest of the week on Photoshop. The entire house seems to have been kitted out in Perspex, as though they’re planning to imprison Magneto in there. It’s also worth acknowledging, who’ve managed to hit a new low in poor quality sponsorship idents. Looking like she should be advertising premium chatlines at 2.30 in the morning, the chatty croupier in a Primark party dress offers teasing snippets of insight along the lines of “Just wait till they all get to know each other.” It’s all so incredibly cheap and low-tech, I’m almost surprised they didn’t just use a zoetrope instead. 

Time to meet the hamsters who’ll be spending the next four months in this glorified Habitrail. First up is Tamara – she’s a “global oil and gas headhunter,” which is LinkedIn-ese for ‘recruitment consultant.’ Despite telling us how fearsome and intelligent she is, the statement “I revel from authority” suggests she’s unlikely to be vying for Stephen Fry’s slot on QI. She seems quite insistent that no man can tame her, and it looks as though most of her tops suffer from a similar struggle. Clearly cast as this series’ villain, Tamara thinks she’s better than everyone, but given the low bar of previous line-ups, her assertion may yet prove pertinent. In a final flurry of tabloid baiting, she announces that she’s looking for a ‘man buffet,’ so I’d advise her to steer clear of the mayonnaise.

Mark is a visual merchandiser for Liverpool and looks like a dumpier version of Marcus Collins, or George Michael in a pair of comedy Scouse brows. He spends all his time and money on a painfully tedious beauty regimen, but the results demonstrate a poor return on his investment. In fact, a gym membership might have been a better idea.

Here to fog the boundaries between Celebrity Big Brother and the regular edition, is Helen, who owns a salon in Bolton and once fucked Wayne Rooney. She just wants to move on and stop talking about it, so it’s interesting that she chose to bring it in the first instance. Frank and straight-talking, she thinks that she’s quite easy to not like, and I’m willing to respect her for being right on the money. She’s arrived at the house in a cheaper knock-off of Tamara’s black and white dress, so the sparks should be flying before the first Champagne cork is popped. She might look the part, but her comment “I was shittin’ it I was gonna fall” ensures that she’s unlikely to be mistaken for Pippa Middleton too often.

Steven is a 23 year-old turd who set up his first company in competition with his parents, and now counts them amongst his employees. Now, call me cynical, but that sounds more like a smart way to avoid inheritance tax than any sign of business acumen. He turned over his first million two years ago, but neglects to mention how much of that was profit, and he boasts “I’ve got THE car.” To be fair, he’s got A car, but from the close crop, it could be a Renault Megane. He’s also been to 119 countries – but who counts that shit? “Oh, we like you,” lies Emma through her teeth, as Steven heads into the house. Four down, and so far the men are the ones with the most ridiculous eyebrows.  

Time to stir things up a bit, with a healthy dose of controversy. Businesswoman, and Janine Duvitski lookalike Danielle is an old fashioned girl. She doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex, contraception or gay marriage, but she does believe in posing in her underwear as a part-time lingerie model. According to Marcus Bentley, she goes to church every Sunday (that’s British fundamentalism for you), but her VT seems to suggest she spends most of that time walking her dog round the graveyard.

Winston is a business development manager, which I think means that he tells Ukrainian women whether they can have £15k loan to open a nail bar.  He’s a lot like Joey Essex, but with bigger arms and “a bit more smarter.” He’s a real ladies man, and enjoys a diversity of types, from nines all the way through to tens. He also knows that, if they’re not interested, they’re most likely lesbians. When he’s not busy obsessing about “birds’ arses and breasts,” he’s contemplating the likelihood of his victory in the house: “My name’s Winston. WIN.” Presumably, he’s planning to learn how to spell the other half once he’s been crowned.

Matthew is a media graduate who’s too posh for socks. Everyone thinks he’s gay, apart from his girlfriend of six years, who’s in for a cruel awakening. Continuing tonight’s theme of ‘Cameron’s Britain,’ Matthew is yet another self-important, entitled little prick, with all the impact of a soiled handkerchief. He has a panic attack at the base of the stairs, and given that he’s terrified of failure, the next few weeks could constitute some pretty effective aversion therapy.

Kimberly is yet another business woman and Playboy model – which means we’re dangerously close to turning this series of Big Brother into The Apprentice in D cups. She’s got a law degree and an MBA, prompting Emma to observe that “Brains and beauty are a lethal combination.” She’s going in there to make porridge and sunbathe, not take out an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Marcus attempts to regale us with fascinating facts about Kimberly’s life, but he’s mustering all the enthusiasm of a narcoleptic reading the shipping forecast.

Our ninth housemate is another pleasant looking, 23 year-old media graduate. So far, the cast of this series is making the Bullingdon Club look refreshingly diverse. Christopher is a journalist who hates celebrities like Kim Kardashian who see fame as a viable career option. Don’t worry folks, we’ve got 16 weeks to call him on his hypocrisy. Christopher admires Katie Hopkins and idolises Madonna. That’s code, you know. As he enters the house, the men all stand together in their skinny jeans, like they’re waiting for an American Apparel fashion shoot.

Finally, we’re treated to a housemate who’s over 25. In fact, she’s almost twice that. 49 year-old Pauline is a dance teacher who, in a former life, went by the name of Jazzi P and provided the rap for Kylie’s Shocked. Pauline doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which means she’s in for a miserable few weeks. She’s cast aside the sweatpants for her big entrance, and goes into the house looking like she’s been styled by the Andrex puppy. She keeps breaking out the dance moves, but to my untrained eye, it looks like she’s suffering from an inner-ear problem.

Now, we’ve got nine obnoxious twenty-somethings, who seem to think that holding down a job warrants a standing ovation, and a take-no-prisoners 49 year old. Who do you think the audience will give the power to? In a shocking twist, the viewers decide to put Pauline in control, so she’s sent off to the control room to watch some ‘top secret footage’ of the other housemates. In reality, the poor woman has to sit through all their introductory VTs, so at least we can understand her pained expression. She then has to decide who will be rewarded, and who will be punished.  In the garden, Mark and Matthew are stuck in Perspex boxes. Mark’s box is filled with cash as a reward for being nice, and Matthew is simply stuck in the air. Not to worry - David Blaine made a fortune doing that. By the time Emma hands over to Rylan, who’s now turned into Kenny Everett’s impression of Janet Street Porter, I’ve already had my fill. Six more housemates will be entering later in the week, and it’s welcome to them.

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.