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The Voice UK: A Class Act

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Picture the scene: it's the first ever episode of X Factor.

The lights dim. Spotlights pick out Louis Walsh, Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne. Suddenly, music starts playing and they launch into a pitch perfect and skilfully choreographed rendition of 'I Gotta Feeling' by the Black Eyed Peas. Sharon does the splits without missing a note, while Louis and Simon build to a rousing crescendo standing back to back.

The audience go wild.

Amused by that image? Well, you should be: it's quite funny. But shouldn't people judging potential music acts be able to sing, dance and perform themselves?

That's definitely the thinking behind The Voice, BBC1's answer to X Factor (Saturdays, BBC1). No one could dispute that Sir Tom 'National Treasure' Jones has a good set of pipes on him. Or that Will.I.Am, despite his love of inserting unnecessary punctuation into perfectly good names, is a skilled musician. Jessie J is a talented singer and...well, there's some bloke from Irish soft rock band The Script too. I'm far too old to know if he's any good or not, so let's move on.

The opening performance by these four judges - sorry, 'coaches' - highlighted the fact that this really is a singing contest rather than the deluded-wannabe-mocking festival that rival programmes Britain's Got Talent and X Factor have become.

Underlining the fact that it's 'all about the voice' is the rather odd central idea: the judges all turn their back while the auditionee is performing so they can't judge acts on appearance or age. If they like the singer, they turn around.

Effective, yes. Odd? Certainly. It makes it look like the judges are all in a massive huff with the singer: at least at the beginning of the performance.

But if they like The Voice (TM), they spin round like incredibly well groomed Bond villains. If only one spins, that's fine: that musician or singer joins their team. If they all spin, the judges have to fight it out, begging the artist to 'pick them' and making a case for why they'd be a good manager.

To woo the first 'Voice', Will.I.Am (Bombastic Spice) attempted to display his extensive knowledge of global music markets, but ended up just listing the names of countries he'd heard of: "Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Wales...er...Bolivia". He also boasted, joked, jumped on stage and even offered his services as a roadie at one point.

In contrast, Jessie J (Empathetic Spice) was calmer and more sensible, telling the girl she 'understands where she's coming from', as her success is more recent. Sir Tom Jones OBE (Impressive Spice) says he'd be good at helping her pick songs and The Bloke From That Irish Band (Not Famous Spice) says he can play an instrument, so he's a good mentor for, er, people who play instruments.

It gives the power back to the performer: something that's been sadly lacking in pretty much every incarnation of the competitive TV singing genre since it started.

Unfortunately for the acts, there's not that much to choose between the coaches. They're all famous, impressive people. The producers should have given them more bargaining power: baskets of puppies, helicopter rides, champagne etc.

"If you pick me, you can have this porsche. Full of unicorns."

After all that, it's a bit of a shame when absolutely none of them turn around for the second performer, an amiable shaven-headed chap who sang a Coldplay cover. He seems a bit familiar...wait, is it...could it be...

Yes, it's Sean Conlon from 90s hit boy band Five! Oh, if only he'd done "If Ya Gettin' Down". But sadly, it's not to be.

Poor Sean Conlon from Five.

Still, the judges gave him some positive comments and reminded him that they only get to choose ten performers each, that it's nothing personal, etc. It's a far cry from the 'what were you thinking? You sound like a cat that's been sucked into a combine harvester' attacks we've grown used to in recent years.

Televised rejection has almost never been so gentle, it's like voyaging back in time to the more innocent days of Fame Academy.

For viewers who enjoy exploitative audition stages, it might seem a bit too clean-cut and straightforward: but who cares about them? In Victorian times, they'd have been the ones taking guided tours of the asylum. For others, this will come as a breath of fresh air in what has- until now- been an increasingly harsh TV environment for singers and musicians.