Sunday, June 03, 2012

Lock up your glassware: The Voice UK and the Big Singing epidemic

It's all over, and thank goodness.  The first series of The Voice UK ended on Saturday night with victory for Leanne Mitchell, a young woman with a quite frighteningly big voice.  It's big, in a lock up your glassware kind of big.  Given the show's title, it might have been a most appropriate win, if you like that sort of thing.

Well, I don't.  Some of the most distinctive voices in popular music, past and present, didn't have to scream to get their point across.  Yet in the UK, there seems to be an ongoing obsession with Big Singing.  Screaming at the top of your voice.  Ad-libbing and stretching out one note for at least 5 minutes.  As Father Ted might have said - "just sing the f****** note!!"  Perhaps that's where the show differed from many of its various worldwide counterparts, which are more welcoming of more straightforward singers who don't feel the need to batter us into submission with their vocal gymnastics. Bo Bruce didn't turn the volume up and her style was acclaimed as original. Maybe so, but Diana Vickers and Dolores O'Riordan are on the phone asking if they could have their vocal styles back, thank you.

The Voice UK started promisingly, and in the beginning it looked like a refreshing change from all those other talent shows.  However, that didn't last.  The back stories were increasingly rolled out.  With a remit to be nice rather than nasty, the coaches seemed to find it very hard to be constructive in an original way and time after time they fell back on the inevitable talent show stock nailed it/you made the song your own have all been heard too many times before. 

The coaches seemed initially likeable, but as the series went on, two of them particularly becamme more irritating by the week.  Every word and gesture from Jessie J and screamed "look at me!".  Much of the time looked bored and would rather tweet, that's when he wasn't standing on top of his chair. When he did get round to making any comments, he didn't go much further than "dope" and a load of other unintelligible nonsense.  Jessie J and her interchangeable hairdos commanded attention, but for someone who claimed before the series to be outspoken, her comments often came across as a stumbling, inarticulate mess.  We had high hopes for Danny, but he also ended up mouthing a load of predictable cliches and there were signs that he was getting a bit too big for his boots.  Tom Jones - the one true living legend on the panel - looked as he was going through the motions, once he ran out of names to drop.  Worryingly, Jessie also began moulding her singers in her own image, reaching the frightening conclusion of Vince-Kidd-IS-Jessie-J in the final (pictured below).

Talking of which, don't even start me on the styling.  A weekly horror show...

And what about the presenters?  Holly Willoughby seems to be better known for her "assets" than her talent, but she's anything but a dumb blonde, picking up a huge pay packet for, quite frankly, doing very little.  Reggie Yates showed promise but his role was far too limited and he was relegated to the role of the Green Room Guy.  Like Tess Daly in Strictly, only without the horrific dresses and the dumb dance routine with Brucie. 

By the end of the blind auditions one thing was abundantly clear.  Jaz Ellington, a curiously old-school soul vocalist, was already enjoying unacceptable levels of favouritism from the coaches.  His main competition seemed to come from Ruth Brown, another young woman with a big voice, but a decidedly distinctive one.  Ruth immediately became our favourite female contestant.  Yet, somewhere along the way, her natural raw talent was snuffed out, the sob stories came to the fore, and she was forced into a box marked 'soul diva'.
Both Jaz and Ruth were dispatched by the viewers at the semi-final stage, with many on the internet alleging racism from the voting public. 

From the beginning we were cheering on Tyler James (pictured below) but even that came with reservations.  Did we really need all those references to being best mates with Amy Winehouse?  And what happened to the Tyler of old with his jazzy-pop vocal style which delighted us a few years ago?  Even this was replaced by a bizarre falsetto.  After that nightmare rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, I'm really surprised he made it out to the final.  It was only during his "OMG" duet with that we saw flashes of the old Tyler James, and we remembered what made him so special in the first place. 

Vince was eliminated in 4th place, leaving Leanne, Tyler and Bo fighting it out for the win.  Maroon 5 made a guest appearance and threw in a bit of Moves Like Jagger, the song which resulted from Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera's stint as judges on The Voice USA.  I don't think we'll ever see anything coming out of the UK version to match the greatness of that track.  The coaches' finale was a medley of Price Tag/It's Not Unusual/Breakeven/Where Is The Love.  Memo to Danny: wannabe rock stars don't wear leggings with glittery knee bits.

Where is the result, more like - the show ended with the announcement of Leanne's win, but bizarrely no mention of who was 2nd and who was 3rd.  It's yet another reminder that the BBC does not do "talent shows" well - think Fame Academy, Dance X, So You Think You Can Dance - good ideas which have all failed to live up to their potential in the hands of the BBC.    I can't stand ITV's talent shows, but at least they know how to do a successful formula. 

The winner's prize, of course, is a recording contract.  Despite the emphasis on 'the voice', the question has to be asked -  Leanne Mitchell may be a vocal powerhouse, but is she a marketable recording artist?  I very much doubt it, and she will probably be the latest in a long, long line of talent show winners/finalists consigned to the 'dropped by their label' dustbin - the latest recruit being X Factor 2010 winner Matt Cardle.  Perhaps Leanne could take her vocal talents into musical theatre, where a big voice is always welcome.  As for Tyler, well he spent a lot of time going on about how The Voice had changed his life: well, he's back on pop's radar after this competition, so fingers crossed that it's a launchpad for a second chance at success.

(All photographs courtesy of

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