Sometimes The Voice can seem like a dream, sometimes like a nightmare. As the show begins on Sunday, it's like some echo-mad feverish dream sequence. It's time for The Showdowns apparently, which is an excuse for the sound mixer to go crazy as Seal tells us "Showdown means an event that forces an issue to a conclusion".
Note to self: Seal's dictionary may not be an entirely accurate literary resource.
Tonight it's Ricky's team and Seal's team showing down, which in reality just means people singing against each other in the hope of garnering your vote, or the judge's vote for a position in the live finals.
Oh and just in case you weren't aware that some time has passed between the pre-recorded battles and the close-to-live showdowns, everyone has changed their hair. The pattern in Joel's hair has gone from leopard to obscure grid work, Delta's got a new shorter 'do, Ricky has some sexy facial hair, and even Darren has transformed his beard from homeless to trimmed. Seal wears the metaphoric hair of the life coach who visualises a three foot 'fro and knows that we're the ones failing if we can't see it.
So in keeping with the new hair-focused Voice, we'll get the show's hairiest singer up there as Team Ricky kicks things off.
Simon Meli, Hold On
Simon has enough hair for an entire seventies rock group and a groovy blue jacket to match. He's also admitted that he's worried he'll forget to breathe which can be easily checked with a baby monitor in my experience but no one is offering one. Simon needn't panic though, he's rockin' this out and showing no signs of collapsing from oxygen starvation.
Afterwards Seal says he can hear Ricky's influence while Joel says this is the sequel to the hit movie White Dude Dancing. That's "hit" with a silent and invisible first letter.
Then we get a relentless list of options by which we can vote for Simon, while he goes backstage to the sort of green room that leaves us all yearning to sit in the audience.
Imogen Brough, The Voice
Ricky tells us Imogen is primal, then tempts his captive cavewoman by suggesting she has issues that he has revealed through his insightful comments. He also quietly admits to us he has given her a song with the aim of tripping her up. All in all, Ricky's coming off as not a guy putting the "Tor-" back in "mentor".
The song choice has certainly pleased Darren who is delighted with the word play when he introduces The Voice on The Voice. Well done Darren, have a biscuit.
That word play is about the only good thing about the song unfortunately. Imogen was pitchy in the rehearsal and like a true professional has been careful to bring that into her performance. It's okaaaaaaaay if you sort of close your eyes and squint and put the TV on mute.
"You started strong ..." says Delta, who knows how to backhand her compliments like a tennis pro. Joel suggests Imogen was wrestling with the song but can't tell who won, which means it wasn't Imogen or anyone with ears in the vicinity. Seal worries Imogen has forgotten who she is, so it's lucky she has a profile on the official website that she can go check, though she may want to hurry as it might be greyed-out soon.
Ricky's feedback for Imogen is that "I'll always be here," which is Darren's cue to point out that she probably won't be as only two people can go through tonight. Ricky smiles as he successfully shows up his own team member in the showdown. See we can all do the word play thing!
Nick Kingswell, Army of Two
In the inspiring, invigorating highlights package from rehearsal, we see Ricky try to beat the country out of Nick which sounds like a euphemism but thankfully isn't.
Thankfully Ricky didn't choose to harpoon Moby Nick and has given him a song he actually can sing, which he in fact does so very well. So much so that Joel admits, under pressure, that he likes people who can play the guitar. Joel then gets in on the word play thing by saying Ricky is the "real deal, like Real Steel, like Hugh Jackman" which confuses the Boy from Oz out of everyone present. Delta on the other hand was reminded of Prince, while Seal was prompted to shake Ricky's hand because Nick made him a fan. So if you can imagine Hugh Jackman singing like Prince and making fans (and possibly other origami projects) you have a perfect mental portrait of Nick's performance. Or not.
Then just when you thought this couldn't get more interesting, Faustina carries out an interview with Nick that proves you were right.
Miss Murphy, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
One last time to shine in a rehearsal highlights video and Ricky doesn't disappoint, explaining that Miss Murphy is a panther. He's not much of a zoologist though as his next words are to advise her to fly. "Flying panthers" sounds like the sort of exclamation you'd expect from the caped crusader's offsider, and Flying Panthers Batman, it's all getting a little cray-cray in here as Ricky and Karen a.k.a. Miss Murphy start discussing Miss Murphy in depth in the third person.
Then Miss Murphy sings while Karen channels the performance into corporeal form and Floating Felines Ricky, that's fantastic! The mentors rave. Ricky rates it "perfection", which he says is all he has to say. He then proves himself wrong by going on to talk about Miss Murphy talking with her silence, which has about nine different layers of irony built in.
That's it for Team Ricky tonight. Miss Murphy and Nick would seem the strongest candidates while Imogen will be hoping we'll remember her audition and not her Celtic Woman assassination. Less chance of that now that we get reminded, once more, that we can indeed vote, with a little bit of the screen left to provide "highlights" of what's happened already tonight for those experiencing short term memory loss due to their medication.
Capering Cats Ricky, you really brought out more of the drenched moggy with Imogen.
Michelle Martinez, Dedication to my Ex
"You have the mentality of a back-up singer."
It sounds like an insult in muso-speak, but that would actually require accusations of trombone playing. Instead it's Seal's inspirational words to Michelle Martinez, who he separates from the herd by counter-intuitively sending her back to sing with the back-up singers from the show.
It's screwy logic, but it works its socks off as Michelle then owns the stage in her performances. She inspires Ricky to speak Spanish once more and wins the home-wrecker award as Joel yearns to be Michelle's ex and next. "Just hold me," he says. "Just don't do it on camera," say the producers.
Backstage Michelle reveals her greatest achievement. She didn't fall down the stairs. Yes folks, she may not have the mentality of a back-up singer anymore, but her ambitions aren't quite star material yet!
Alex Gibson, The Sound of Silence
Keeping up his trend of reducing singers to their labels, Seal reminds us that Alex is a busker, before asking him to take out his in-ear monitors so that they can carry out an impromptu episode of The Biggest Loser. Alex admits he's overweight and it makes him sad and Seal plots a swimsuit section of the showdowns in the hope of more tears, but in the meantime just soaks up the rest of the rehearsal by slowly pulling Alex apart. "Times up!" says Dr Seal and Alex whimpers off to the stage a shadow of the public performer he once was.
Broken is the new black though, and it rocks, as Alex delivers a fantastic Sound of Silence. Ricky compares it to a performance he once saw Paul Simon give, which is the sort of compliment laced with brag we love from the Latino legend. "You said the most tonight with the least," says Joel, who is struggling with his normal spitfire dialogue ... until he coins a "new" expression: "You're from Canberra? Well, you caaaaan bra!"
Coming to a bumper sticker and hashtag near you. #CaaanBra #ImSorry.
Seal tells Alex he was terrible but wonderful, that he sang his worst but also spoke for the unheard masses. Alex is confused and crushed yet hopeful and heads back stage to stare longingly at the buffet table, confused about whether to have anything or lie down on it and start talking about his feelings.
Seal can break them down. But does he have the technology to rebuild them ... only stronger? We. Will. See.
Hannah Darling, Linger
Darren admits that he missed us during the three-hour advertisement break for The Block that "briefly" interrupts the show, while we try to remember who he is and hark back to a time when shows used to be longer than the ads promoting them.
He then reminds us that Seal had to save Hannah in the battle rounds. Seal dobs on Hannah though, telling us of a time during rehearsals when Hannah ... didn't call him back. Vengeful bastard that he is, he punishes her by talking to her about fear forever when all she wants ... and very much needs to do is rehearse the song.
Next on the memory-jogging front is Hannah, whose performance reminds us why she needed saving. She stands atop a shiny black box, which possibly symbolises the empty coffin of the Cardigans song she is cutting up and feeding to the pigs.
The crowd liked it more than I did (not hard) and then we have an awkward moment where Joel claims she is really still on his team, and explains how happy he is that she got to sing ... without actually mentioning her performance in any way. Not by accident it seems, as Delta with no such qualms, lectures Hannah on phone etiquette before pointing out that she's just not up to it. Ricky didn't seem to like it either, as he charitably suggests she do better next time, though next time feels an unlikely event at this stage. Seal takes a moment to tell us there are great artists in this competition and by inference Hannah isn't one of them. "You gave a really grea... [Seal corrects himself] a good performance tonight."
The comments are universally awful and once she's off stage Hannah apologises to Seal. He asks why she's apologising, which makes me wonder if he isn't the short-term memory sufferer the "before the break" messages are written for. He tries to tell her not to say sorry because she gave him everything, only for Hannah to admit she didn't give him everything. Seal wriggles out of a now awkward conversation by assuring Hannah she doesn't need to apologise as long as she once thought about writing a post-it note reminding herself to try and give everything she could spare. Releived, Hannah goes backstage and ...
... well let's face it, packs her things.
Harrison Craig, Home
Seal's trademark rehearsal strategy of trying to get his artists to cry sees him talking to Harrison about his mother. He doesn't cry. They do hug. Harrison loves his Mum. Australia loves him a little more.
Harrison is tackling Buble and it's good, but perhaps he's left his croon set to stun, never quite killing this one.
Or not. The crowd give him a standing ovation and Delta says she loved it because of its subtlety, taste and precision. She declares herself Team Harrison. Ricky admits he and his mother are also on board, and his Mum says "hi" to Harrison. I can't help but suspect she actually said "ola!".
Joel is so affected by Harrison that he channels Charlie Sheen and recalls when he started "winning", which he says Harrison is doing now too. So I guess that makes Harrison a subtle, tasteful, precision warlock. Gandalf the Swiss?
"Why do you even need me?" asks Seal.
"To protect me from Joel," says Harrison, who actually melts Delta's heart by admitting he feels honoured to be in the mentors' presence.
Harrison understands winning. Winning is stroking the mentors' egos ... and returning their calls.
That's it. One from each team who performed tonight will be voted through. One from each team will be sent through by the judges. One will be locked in a room and forced to talk to Seal until they cry the tears of pure innocence.
Tomorrow Delta's team jousts with Joel's. And two advertisements for The Block will compete to be the first feature-length commercial in history.