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Reality TV Recap

The Voice review: Have Kylie and Ricky given the show new life?

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Season 3, episode 1 | Aired Saturday, Jan 11 2014 at 19:00 GMT on

Here at Digital Spy, we've always been quite big fans of The Voice. Has it ever produced a star? Well, no, not really, though Bo Bruce and Tyler James have made a bit of a splash - and last year's runner-up Leah McFall is currently the centre of some pretty hefty hype. But still, as a weekly entertainment show, it had a certain charm, even if it never quite made the wider impact that the BBC was surely hoping for.

It's all change this year - loveable douche Danny O'Donoghue and seven-notes-when-one-will-do advocate Jessie J are out, to be replaced by cheekie chappy Ricky Wilson and bonafide superstar Kylie Minogue. But does the gamble work? How would the new kids in class gel with veterans Sir Tom Jones and will.i.am?

Kylie Minogue during The Voice UK's series three premiere

© BBC Pictures / Wall to Wall

Kylie Minogue


The short answer is: yes. Yes it works. And it works very well indeed. There had been reservations about whether Kylie would really manage to break through the nice girl mode to become even remotely entertaining, but it turns out that she has enough charisma to carry it off; she's never mean, but instead brilliantly watchable.

There was her sexy chair dancing and the revelation that she's so tiny she needs a step for her chair. There was her need to get behind her seat to compose herself and her giggly accidental come-on to Leo from The Streets ("Shut up Minogue"). And there was her fetching competitive spirit, whether it was her squeal that she didn't need to know Leo's name, or her shout at Ricky to be quiet when she was trying to nab a particularly good act. Yep, Kylie's definitely a hit.

But if all eyes were on Kylie before the launch, hopefully some attention will now be paid to Ricky as well, who proved to be utterly charming (with the puppy dog eyes Kylie keeps mentioning), modest ("It's quite satisfying beating the superstars on my right") and surprisingly invested in the competition. No other coach seems to overtly care as much as Ricky does. At times, he feels more excited to have grabbed an act for his team than the artist is themselves - the cartwheels are proof of that ("I can't do that," Tom grunted. "Not anymore.")

Ricky Wilson during The Voice UK's series three premiere

© BBC Pictures / Wall to Wall

Ricky Wilson


It works the other way around as well, and so when he fell in love with haunting harpist Anna - who did not make anywhere near enough of the fact that her name is McLuckie and she sang 'Get Lucky' - it was truly devastating to see him lose out to will.i.am (the moment when he put his hand up without even looking to stop Will from pressing his button was pretty special). For some time afterwards, Ricky seemed genuinely upset about being snubbed, sighing that the Black Eyed Peas star had done it just to annoy him (and even huffing that he was playing the drums in celebration).

Sir Tom and will.i.am have themselves settled into the new lineup happily enough - Ricky and will.i.am's ill-fated high five left me giggling out loud - and are still doing what they do best. Sure, Tom is still using his old favourites (two outings for "your falsetto is as strong as your full voice" this week), but he's also poking fun at his namedropping and proclaiming that he understands Will by using words such as "dope" and "fresh". As for Will himself, he's comfortably slipping back into his enjoyable will-isms, but he's reached the point where he can recognise that they don't always work and laugh at himself (it helps that the producers can't stop themselves from burbling with giggles either). It's fun.

This is a show at ease with itself, and coaches at ease with each other (the opening mash-up of 'I Predict a Riot' and 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' is infinitely more watchable than either of the previous two series' kick-off songs). And new hosts Emma Willis and Marvin Humes feel like they have been doing the job for ages; Emma was obviously already a consummate professional, but Marvin is surprisingly competent for a former boyband member. It's certainly not uncomfortable to watch like it could have been, and while I do like Holly and Reggie, there's something fresher and younger about Em and Marv.

The Voice UK series 3 presenters Marvin Humes & Emma Willis

© BBC / Wall to Wall

Emma Willis and Marvin Humes

Sir Tom Jones goes to press his button on The Voice UK

© BBC Pictures / Wall to Wall

Sir Tom Jones


But of course, all the new casting means nothing if there isn't the talent, and luckily The Voice has plenty to keep us entertained. Sure, there are the old tropes - someone singing 'I Have Nothing' (in this case it's Michelle Ryan lookalike Christina Marie, who is at least very talented) , a faded popstar (Leo from The Streets) - but few of the auditions are boring. Anna McLuckie is utterly captivating, Lee Glasson puts a twist on the someone-does-a-coach's-song with his entertaining take on 'Can't Get You Out of My Head', and York girl Beth McCarthy might be unpolished - her acoustic spin on 'Sexy and I Know It' wasn't quite there - but seems wildly promising and exciting. It helps that she's a bit bonkers, what with her talk of toilet flushes and Tom Jones having the voice of God.

The thing about The Voice, though, is that even those auditionees that don't make it through to the next stage leave us smiling. Sure, the exception is 16-year-old Ryan Green, who seemed genuinely gutted not to make it - but at least he had a supportive family and seemed like he could handle it. There certainly wasn't any mean-spiritedness to his 'no', and of course there were the requisite coach comments that they made a mistake by not putting him through.

Elsewhere, though, Nessa impersonator Tara Lewis provided some light relief - not because her singing was bad, but because her Ruth Jones impression was startlingly spot-on ("Not going to lie to you, Tom, I feels emotional") and because she was brazenly attracted to Tom to the complete exclusion of everyone else ("I didn't see anyone else. That's quite rude, really, isn't it? But I didn't.") She was full of good humour, and clearly went on the show for the right reasons, telling her upset son afterwards that she'd just had a lot of fun ("I touched Tom Jones!") It was warm, and lovely.

will.i.am smiles during The Voice UK's third series premiere

© BBC Pictures / Wall to Wall

will.i.am

Ricky Wilson, Tom Jones and Kylie Minogue on The Voice UK

© BBC Pictures / Wall to Wall

Ricky, Tom and Kylie


And there were similar feelings when Danielle failed to make it through but asked if her adorable daughter Anaia could come to meet the coaches. Anaia was basically everything you want from a 6-year-old, so when Marvin told her to ask Kylie why she hadn't turned for her mum, she replied wisely: "That would be a bit awkward to say on TV." From her expression of alarm when her mum didn't make it through ("sweet niblets") to her admission that she'd rather draw than sing to her revelation that she's met Peter Andre to Will spinning her around in his chair to her stern admonishment of Kylie that nursery rhymes are babyish, she sweetened the sadness felt when Danielle didn't get through and kept the show feeling warm.

Whether The Voice will find a star or not is moot at this point - it's far too early. What can be said for it is that it's feeling slick and polished. The 90 minutes flew by, thanks to coaches that genuinely care and like each other, artists that are diverse and talented, and little moments that keep things light-hearted and warm. I was totally taken by this episode of The Voice... how about you?

The Voice airs on BBC One.

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