When it comes to TV talent contests, there’s no respite. Just as we’ve seen off Britain’s Got Talent for another year, along came The Voice Kids (ITV) to fill its slot in the Saturday evening schedules. This franchise might have fewer dancing dogs and less Simon Cowell chest hair but the cute kiddie factor was even higher.
For the third series of the pint-sized croon-athon, open to vocal prodigies aged seven to 14, duos were allowed to compete alongside soloists. Those giant red seats – which make the judges resemble toddlers trying their parent’s swivel chair for size on Bring Your Child To Work day – were soon spinning.
Returning coaches will.i.am, Danny Jones and Pixie Lott were all back in position, supplemented by a new recruit –who was also an old recruit. Popstrel Jessie J joined the panel, having served on The Voice's grown-up version in its early BBC incarnation.
At least this gig was less random for the Londoner than her stint on The Voice Australia and, despite her being a fully fledged popstar, her bizarre victory in the Chinese version of The X Factor, Singer 2018. No, really. That actually happened.
Proceedings opened with the traditional group performance from the coaches – a mid-tempo mangling of Heroes that would have had David Bowie spinning in his grave. The contest then began, as always, with the Blind Auditions – The Voice’s sole unique selling point and invariably the standout phase of each series. Hopefuls tried to make the judges turn with vocal ability alone, while presenter Emma Willis and proud parents cheered from the wings.
The series winner secures a £30,000 bursary towards their musical education, plus a family holiday to Orlando – courtesy of, we were reminded at length, Universal Studios and Norwegian Air. Well worth their money, considering the shameless plugs ITV gave them.
The show’s first two duos both proved hits. Plaid-clad Ava and Alfie, aged nine and 10, bickered like long-suffering spouses but harmonised for a sweet take on Ed Sheeran’s Photograph. Dublin teenagers David and Ammani were even better, boldly tackling one of will.i.am’s own songs, Let’s Get It Started by Black-Eyed Peas, but flipping it into a barrelling bluesy anthem.
Twelve-year-old Ivy from Bromley strummed a stripped back NSYNC number, 14-year-old Amaree from Cardiff was like a mini Stevie Wonder tribute act and Charley, 13, from South Wales had a careworn, soulful tone which belied her years.
The standouts, though, were both solo boys. Closing the show with a fierce falsetto, 12-year-old Liam from Birmingham caused such a bunfight among the coaches to bag him for their team, they ended up serenading him. Willis said it was “the best pitch I’ve seen in seven years”.
Equally impressive was 13-year-old Sam, who played harmonica during Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, before reducing Willis to tears with one of his own compositions. Heartstrings were tugged by the revelation that his mother died from leukaemia last year but Sam was so gifted, he didn’t need a manipulative sob story.
Lott might be the most successful coach, having won both previous series, while will.i.am might be the official spokesman and resident japester. However, the scene-stealer was McFly guitarist Jones. He joined impromptu jamming sessions, let rejected contestants sit in his chair and was generally the warmest and most natural of the quartet.
The encouraging, relentlessly positive tone could begin to pall in a few weeks’ time and the pace was too ponderous, getting through just 10 acts in 95 minutes.
Still, The Voice Kids provided diverting enough family entertainment (at least for those old enough to stay up until its 9.35pm finishing time) until the higher-rated, more addictive contests – Strictly, Bake Off and The X Factor, albeit decreasingly so – arrive in autumn. There really is no respite.