Let the battles begin!
Battle rounds: Prinnie and Mahalia on The Voice
It all began a couple of weeks ago when a bunch of singers the great majority of Australia didn't care much about came and sang on a show. Some sang soft, others sang loud. Tonight the judges enter an entirely new stratosphere of contrived, while J-Madd does his best David Caruso to explain that it's time for the battle rounds.
What does it mean? Two people enter, one person leaves. It's the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome of singing competitions, sans Tina Turner, though this time we DO need another hero - now more than ever. A singing hero that can defeat their opponent with a deft vocal lick and beguiling audience hook. Each team of 12 will, over the course of the next few shows, take part in the battle rounds until we've cut the 48 contestants down to 24.
It's time to meet meet the mentors that will help the coaches prepare their singers: Darren Hayes joins Delta Goodrem; Ricki-Lee Coulter teams up with Seal; Benji Madden joins his brother Joel; and Megan Washington joins Keith Urban. To add more tension, if a coach cannot decide who stays and who goes, they can call a 'time out' to speak with their team mentor before delivering a verdict. It's brutal, it's recapped after every ad break, it's not as dramatic as you think it might be ... this is The Voice.
In a performance to supposedly inspire the teams (and meet their contractual obligations), the four coaches perform a cover of U2's One to open the show. It's a very good rendition, but asks too many obvious questions like Delta asking "Did I disappoint you?" (well, yes).
Seal breaks the news about the battle rounds gently to his team and reveals which singers will face off. By gently, I mean in a manner that's somewhat confusing and convoluted. "There is nothing else," says a piece of paper he hands out. "What it will come down to is who wants it more," Seal says later. But there was nothing else! His team are all entranced, so perhaps it was a subconscious suggestion being revealed after some preparation earlier by a hypnotist?
The first battle for Team Seal is Karise v Paula, singing Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. The girls show up for their mentoring session with Seal and Ricki-Lee and the British soul singer advises Karise to kill people with her voice. No more Mr Nice Seal. The rehearsal goes well, and Ricki-Lee provides her own special piece of advice to the girls: "You can do stuff she can't do, and you can do stuff she can't do." It's a coach/mentor match made in reality TV heaven.
The girls bust out the song and score a standing ovation for their efforts. The other judges deliver their thoughts on the performance with all backing Karise. Seal's earlier advice to Karise pays off - she's selected, with Paula missing out. Host Darren McMullan is on stage for what feels like the first time out of the voiceover booth. His choice of blue highlighted suit is somewhat disturbing, but what do I know about fashion.
Joel picks Ben to battle Chris, singing Paramore's The Only Exception. Seems like a pretty even match up until you hear the boys rehearse. Ben's having a personal moment as the lyrics remind him of his brother who passed away a few years ago. When it comes down to the performance, it's clear that while Chris really wants it, Ben has harnessed his memories and busts out a major performance. Delts calls it for Ben, Keith calls it for Ben (by the narrowest of margins) and Seal calls it for Chris - but that don't count for much. Joel is super impressed - he connected with Ben, but sees Chris as the dominant front man. In the end it goes to Ben.
Team Delta's first battle of the night is Glen v Matty, singing Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger. The mentoring session is pretty painless, and when it comes to the performance both own the song and the stage. Keith loved the way Matty performed and the vocal hook Glen gave the song. Seal slightly preferred Glen, while Joel goes with his gut and says he'd select Matty. As Delta struggles to make a decision on her own (and what's with those noisy bangles so close to the microphone?), she calls a time out to discuss the decision with Darren. You can hear the indecision in her voice, but ultimately she chooses Glen.
Keith's first battle pairing is a pretty easy decision. He picks Diana to go up against Jaz, singing Kelly Clarkson's Mr Know It All - a choice Jaz is stoked with, but it's not a song Diana would pick. "They're both sassy out the wazoo," says Keith. In the mentoring session, Megan warns Jaz not to belt it out from the get-go as it will leave her with nowhere to go (except out the door). In the ring, it's a great performance from both girls, but Diana owns it with her vocal range for mine.
The coaches are positively beige with their recommendedations - if only Seal would be direct and tell us what he thinks. It's like the coaches don't want to upset the loser on the night. Keith is the worst - "factoring in a million things" - however he sees sense and picks Diana. The judges hold court after the performance and discuss Keith's decision, with both Joel and Delta surprised he picked Diana even though they both recommended her.
There's still time for more match-ups - Seal pairs Mitchell v Fatai to sing Rihanna's I Love The Way You Lie. Ricki-Lee thinks Fatai is the bomb, while Seal thinks Mitchell has to watch his phrasing. "I'm most concerned about my phrasing," says Mitchell in his post-rehearsal interview. At least he's paying attention. In the ring, it's a pretty decent performance - everyone goes gaga over it, but I didn't get it. The coaches are pretty evenly split ("On the night, my heart went to Mitchell," says Delta). "Firstly, I want to tell both of you how proud of you I am," says Seal. He takes a time out to discuss the decision with Ricki-Lee and ends up choosing Fatai. He could have picked either and the crowd would have been happy. Keith, meanwhile, says he'd buy Mitchell's album tomorrow given the chance (if it existed).
Delta puts Adam up against Rachael and selects Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the song made famous by Judy Garland. The rehearsal is a tense one for coach Delta and mentor Darren Hayes as both feel that the magic Rachael showed in her audition wasn't there, while Adam stepped it up. It's a most hilarious moment when host Darren McMullan announces that the battle has begun and the soft, lilting song begins - it hardly promotes the idea of a battle.
The choice of song feels skewed in Rachael's favour, but the judges were blown away by both performances. Again, the judges are split though Joel would pick Rachael. Delta picks Rachael and confirms parents and Grandmas around the country will continue to tune in to future episodes of The Voice.
The night's penultimate battle is Adam v Abbey from Team Keith. They'll sing The Fray's Heartbeat. It ends up being a somewhat controversial battle as Seal feels neither singer connected with the audience. "Boo!" comes the reply from the audience. "Well, you know what - it's an opinion," says Seal, judging the crowd (they're not making it through to the next round). Keith ultimately picks Adam.
Far too much is made of the Prinnie v Mahalia battle (they're singing Soft Cell's Tainted Love). Yes, we get they're both big singers; yes, we get they're both friends and their kids play together; yes, we get this'll be the "mother of all battles" (shudder). If only it weren't a reality TV program and we didn't have to create a whole bunch of fake tension and drama.
The rehearsal sounds amazing, and when the girls rehearse on stage it's better again somehow. The build-up to the battle is massive, but when the girls start singing it's clear both are massive talents ... but Mahalia SMOKES Prinnie off the stage. The crowd and the coaches are right into it - it's an amazing duet, and crowd shots of Channel Nine talent David Campbell (there to support Mahalia) never hurt. The friends embrace as the song ends.
Delta chooses Prinnie as she couldn't stop watching her(!), Keith thinks the audience is the winner for getting to watch the battle (but picks Mahalia) and Seal talks a lot before advising that he'd pick Prinnie. Joel admits this is a very hard match up, so takes a time-out. The brothers converse in serious tones. In the end, Joel feels he could have gone with either, but considering it "was about this performance tonight" he has to go with ... BIG PAUSE ... Prinnie. Controversy, but everyone's a winner, baby, that's the truth.
Tuesday night we get to do it all again. Who will be triumphant? Who will deliver the best performance?