Well, it was bound to happen.
Ask the British public to vote for their favourite singer from a slate including a blind girl with a pure sweet voice and guess what? But at least Andrea Begley, winner of The Voice 2013, achieved victory just by singing, rather than by relentlessly demonstrating her range of vocal tricks, like Primark kook Leah McFall, who was the bookies’ favourite before the latest series of the BBC’s Saturday night talent show struggled to a close.
In my house, the money was on Mike Ward, the Salford lad with the stone country voice which called for comparisons with the likes of Elvis and George Jones – or would have done if he had been given a proper country song to sing. Ten thousand cowboy hats hit the telly at once when judges Will.i.am and Jessie J agreed he had sung a bit flat here and there.
Flat? Flat? His backer, Tom Jones, normally gentle and unflappable, had an edge of steel in his voice as he put them straight: “All these competitors ring different bells. But Mike Ward did not sing flat.”
From our sofa, it seemed like the trouble was none of the other judges appreciated the subtleties of Mike’s inflections. They are not big on phrasing. What makes them gasp is a jump across two octaves and a gurgle back down again in the course of one line, in the style which makes audiences feel obliged to applaud. Leah McFall knew what they wanted and delivered it all through. Her mentor, Will.I.am, was genuinely blown away and was still Twittering away about injustice hours after the show was over. The real injustice happened the week before, when he chose Leah to be his champion in the finals instead of a proper r’n’b diva called Cleo Higgins, from Manchester.
Will was one of the reasons I did not much like The Voice when it started, although I liked the idea. Video killed the radio star, as The Buggles correctly diagnosed, and there is real drama in the opening rounds of The Voice, when the judges have their backs to the performers and choose their teams of potential competitors on sound alone. But when the judges have turned around and started getting involved, as coaches and critics, they are not half as good as they think they are, with the exception of good old Uncle Tom, who is an advertisement for the benefits of maturity.
However, stick with him and it turns out Will.i.am can be quite amusing. And his production for a duet with Leah on Saturday night, on a song called Bang Bang, was visually the most stylish of the competition, although I did not recognise any connection with any of the songs called Bang Bang I was thinking of. And I still could not hum you that or any other Will.i.am tune to save my life.
Jessie J is absolutely gorgeous and a natural model, who can pull a new look out of her bag every time she gets five minutes in the changing room. As a performer, she puts that advantage together with technical competence as a singer and a canny understanding of her marketplace. But the tricks she does for applause leave me cold and on The Voice she is looking for singers who operate the same way. Her final contender was an affable light soul singer called Matt Henry who was not bad when he sang straight but who was first one out of the finals after following Jessie’s advice. After that, she switched her support to Leah, surprise surprise.
The trainer for the winner was Danny O’Donoghue, front man of a band called The Script (me neither, but I don’t think we have been missing much). He is a sweet Irish lad who claims to have neck hairs which tell him when something sounds right. They sometimes let him down when he is speaking, however. On Saturday night, he came out with a line about God having done a bit more than kiss Andrea Begley’s throat which had half the audience turning to the other half for confirmation he had really said it. Yes he did, folks.
Luckily for the BBC, not many of us were still there. The future of The Voice is under consideration. My suggestion would be to strip out the professional production which kicks in after the opening auditions and commit completely to the idea of finding a singer who can convey star quality through a single microphone and, when required, a single camera trained upon it. Oh, and another three Tom Joneses.
Well, it was bound to happen.