THE VOICE RECAP
Sarah De Bono sings Listen on The Voice.
In the marathon that is The Voice, we've arrived at the middle slog. This week another 11 contestants are exposed under the harsh scrutiny of the klieg lights and made to sing for their moment of truth.
While all their performances were overshadowed by Craig Thomson's earlier rendition of Roxanne before the House of Reps, there were moments of The Voice that managed to startle despite the sheer samey-ness of this section of the format.
The rehearsal snippets, the flashback, the scenes from the teams hanging out like friends rather than bitter rivals, even the muffled introductions by the bloke with the genial brogue, it's always the same. The judges, too, could mix their comments up a little more. Especially Joel. This is pretty much what he said every time:
Laykn Heperi sings Forever Young on The Voice
"First of all, I'm really proud of you. You own who you are and who you can be and the audience doesn't know you like I do and I know everything you could be, man. Girl, if you didn't kill this one, you would have been screwed. It was sink or swim and you blew my mind, and well done, you were great."
But first the swift account of Carmen's expulsion from the show, the only plot point they won't drag out.
By the time the kids have been packed off to bed with speed-read bedtime stories ("Max was naughty, the monsters rolled their terrible eyes and his supper was waiting for him in his room. Big kiss, night night") Carmen had been sent packing back to her miserable life as a successful backing singer to the biggest artists in the country, while Guy Sebastian's little brother was seriously relieved that he'd never been asked for some fraternal harmonising in family videos. And little pink Ben Bennett discovers that teen girls did not want a sixth member of One Direction badly enough to vote him back in.
Brittany Cairns sings Different Worlds on The Voice.
But a moment please to contemplate Seal's new outfit, an emo tuxedo that incorporates fingerless gloves into the formal cuffs of his salt-white shirt, no doubt designed so his shirt sleeves will never wrinkle when he pulls on his jacket.
Tonight we hear from Teams Keith and Joel, which are both showing signs of Stockholm syndrome where hostages identify with their captors. Keith's kids are all into centre partings and flannel shirts off-duty. Team Joel have all received new tattoos.
First up is Darren Percival for Team Keith, singing Marvin Gaye's Wherever I Lay My Hat because Keith "wanted to hear him sing it".
Adam Martin sings Lonely Boy.
While Darren needs no voice coaching, he's had some help from the stylists, who have shifted him from brown corduroy to black velvet, as plush as his own vocals. But I would have liked him to rock porcupine hair and a giant silverfoil jacket, like Paul Young in the 1980s. (And if you think Percival sang it well, check Mr Young's work on YouTube for awesome blue-eyed soul.)
"An incredible performance," says Seal - of Percival, not Young. The audience doesn't understand, he says, that 7 million people are watching you sing live (2.1 million last week, has the audience more than tripled? I think not.)
"So many women are calling you daddy right now," says Joel, no doubt inspired by Percival's fatherly "dad-music" vibe. *Ahem* Family show, moving on.
Prinnie Stevens is the first to suffer from Team Joel's unfortunate song choices: Nicki Minaj's Turn Me On is so auto-tuned the video featured the pop star, convincingly, as a signing robot assembled by David Guetta in his garage. Stevens sang it with grim, solid professionalism.
Keith did better with his acoustic introvert, Adam Martin. The song is the Black Keys' Lonely Boy, which ties a shoe-gazer lyric to a rocking tune. Martins assignment is to feign some kind of believability, and he responds by making sure he never ever looks down, maintaining unblinking eye contact with the bleachers. As a result, his guitar playing is less than convincing, but Seal, who slapped him down for shyness in the battle rounds, is sold: "you connected!" This is Seal's big deal, which will become important later.
More references to the grim Dickensian past of neon-haired songstress Sarah de Bono, who used to sing Beyonce's Dreamgirls showcase Listen as an escape "when times weren't so easy". They're keeping the details down low so they're obviously expecting her to last long enough to make any big reveal worthwhile. And sure enough, she's got the lungs to carry it off, if not quite Beyonce's commanding delivery.
That bloke with the brogue isn't that impressed. He introduces de Bono as Brittany Cairns. Yay, live television goof!
There was a lot of Twitter love for Zeppelinesque rocker Jimmy Cupples as he thrashed his way through Sweet Child of Mine. But while the voice hit the right wailing, keening tone, he wandered the stage with all the energy of a vagrant asking passers-by for spare change.
Seal wasn't having it either. Cupples didn't show up for rehearsal the other day, which is very rock'n'roll but not - NOT - showbiz.
"Welcome to our world brother," Seal says with soulful disgust, "the show has to go on".
Ben Hazlewood, already fourth place on NZ Idol and the alumnus of a failed British boy band, has the chops to survive the song he was given by Joel, Ed Sheeran's wet ballad Lego House.
He gives the fluffy song a certain handsome heft, bringing Delta to her feet to declare it "my favourite performance of the night so far...your tone is so warm and has this vulnerability and this kind of strength and...your teeth are so white and your hair is so shiny and your shoulders so wide." I may have merged Delta's comments with my own.
But Joel isn't the only judge picking horrible songs. All the breakdancers in the world can't distract the judges from the fact that youth worker Taga Paa is struggling with Jason Derulo's Fight For You, a sacriligeous riff on Toto's Africa, stripped of the harmonies and the loony lyrics about the Serengeti.
Next, Joel lets his most intense singer, Laura Bunting, loose on Gotye's gentle earworm Someone That I Used to Know. This is a woman who has sang the lead in Wicked and she doesn't get Defying Gravity? Like a formula one car dispatched to deliver the groceries, she over-revs it, turning the bittersweet lament into a bunny-boiler's threat, complete with Transylvanian accent, and hair straight from a Japanese horror movie. It was berserk, and wrong, and I kind of loved it.
Song of the night finally arrives in the tiny form of Diana Rouvas. She's so good she can wrestle Love on Top from Beyonce's iron grip and transform it into a smokey nightclub number worthy of the young Liza Minelli. The red shorts suit with the bowtie, not so much. But if Rouvas can overcome adversity in outfits to attract a standing ovation, she can win this thing.
Skater boy Lakyn Heperi falls prey to the dreaded Joel song choice. Seriously, Joel: Forever Young? A stadium ballad for the sleepiest voice in your crew?
While Heperi has the looks of a sated Edward Cullen, his voice channels something of James Reyne, and it's not working for him right now.
Seal is irritated by the performance and now, so am I, as this judge twice failed to make a distinction between uninterested and disinterested. Sigh. A teaching opportunity lost. But extra points for the snarling Seal comeback to Joel: "there are lots of screaming girls at my concerts and I sing my ass off."
We finish with Keith's golden girl Britney Cairns, who gets a string quartet, dry ice and Cinderella's ball-gown for her note-perfect rendition of Jes Hudak's Different Worlds. It's a sweet but somehow featureless performance of a sweet but somehow featureless song ... something about oceans. Cairns keeps it wholesome by clamping her microphone hand firmly in front of her mermaidy cleavage. Classy.
And then it's over, just as the audience has been numbed into submission. Now we've got a week to vote for our favourites. I'd rather a chance to vote for the song list.