Four red chairs, four large buttons, hundreds of hopeful singers – The Voice is back.
New coach Olly Murs, plus long-term favourites will.i.am, Sir Tom Jones and Jennifer Hudson, and returning presenter Emma Willis, tell Georgia Humphreys what’s in store
Everyone’s favourite spinning chair talent show is under way – and as fans of The Voice will confirm, it was a storming first episode.
X Factor star Olly Murs joins returning coaches will.i.am, Sir Tom Jones and Jennifer Hudson for the seventh series – the second since it moved from BBC One to ITV.
Presented by Emma Willis, the search for a star kicks off with blind auditions.
With their backs turned to each determined singer, the panel judge on vocal ability alone – if they like what they hear, they hit their button and turn to face the contestant. Dramatic, hey?
“We only get one shot at it and there is no time to review it and think about it,” says 77-year-old Sir Tom. “You either do it [spin round] or they’ve gone.”
Ahead of the contest heating up even further, we discover what the coaches are looking for this time round.
The last series saw Jennifer triumph with 21-year-old singer Mo Adeniran – he beat duo Into the Ark, who were coached by Sir Tom.
Asked if what he’s searching for in a star has changed over the years, Sir Tom says: “It’s hard to say until you hear it. I tend to go for solid singers, but sometimes I hear something in a sweet voice that doesn’t have to be big.”
He continues: “But it has to hit me, it has to come across as being real. The person has to get inside the song and live it.”
The producer side of LA-born will.i.am comes out when the same question is put to him.
“There are a bunch of songs [on my hard drive] I have that I have written with John Legend, David Guetta etc just sitting there, and now I’m listening for people to kill those hits,” the 42-year-old, probably best known as a founding member of hip hop group The Black Eyed Peas, shares enthusiastically.
Meanwhile, new kid on the block Olly adjusted quite quickly to his place on the panel.
“Jennifer and Tom love big soulful voices,” he says, “so I thought there was no point me trying to go down that lane and compete with them on that level. So I had to find my own vibe, and I have.”
“Olly picks out characters and I’m so intrigued by who is he going to pick,” reveals Chicago-born musician Jennifer.
It’s clear everyone agrees Olly – who was runner-up on The X Factor in 2009 – has settled in to the judging side of a talent show.
“How can you not fit in when you are someone like him?” exclaims 41-year-old Emma, who is currently also fronting Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5. “He is so easy and lovely.”
Will.i.am, who has appeared on The Voice since it started, seems impressed with his new colleagues too – he reckons “out of all The Voices, this panel is the best”.
“Olly is like, ‘Hey, this is what it looks like to go from a contestant to a singer to a host – now I’m a coach’,” he adds.
But how did Olly, 33, approach joining a team of such respected mentors?
“I just said to the producers when they asked me to do the job, ‘As long as you give me a chance to be me and do and say what I want, and as long as I have time to get to know the guys’, that’s all I wanted,” says the Essex-born hit-maker excitedly.
PRESSURES OF THE JOB
For those not in the know, if more than one coach turns round in the blind auditions, they have to pitch to the contestant to persuade them to join their team. And Olly admits he’s learning “all the time on the job”.
“The others have got more experience so I am listening to what they’re saying, but I’m also trying to be me and give them what I think,” he shares. “I don’t want to copy what Jennifer’s saying. My only tactic is to turn first.”
Even with her time on the US version of The Voice also on her CV, Spotlight singer Jennifer still finds whittling down the hopefuls a challenge.
“When we don’t turn our chairs and we have to let people go – that’s a feeling that you can never get used to,” admits the 36-year-old, who, after coming seventh on American Idol, went on to win an Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls.
Olly also describes pitting contestants against each other in the upcoming battle rounds as “really hard”.
“It’s so cut-throat, but in a way that’s what this industry is about,” he elaborates. “I did boot camp and judges’ houses on X Factor and I’ve learnt that this industry is not necessarily about making friends, it’s about being a bit selfish and going for it.”
It’s not just the contestants who belt out songs – all four coaches performed a stunning rendition of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good in the action-packed first episode.
And you can expect plenty more where that came from.
“Sometimes I start singing without even realising, at the drop of the hat, and then having Tom sitting next to me… you might catch a bit of singing between the two of us in our chairs,” teases Jennifer.
“On this [show] you have people who can actually sing and your entertainment is the coaches,” says Emma.
“You just wait until Olly gets going. They can be entertaining because they are so credible and phenomenal at what they do.”
You can tell how happy the mentors are to be on our screens too, with Welsh crooner Sir Tom sharing he now feels “more relaxed” on the show.
“The more you do it, the more you realise that you don’t have to try and be funny,” he adds. “You should just be yourself and everybody benefits from it – the viewers and the singers especially – if you give your honest opinion of how you feel and tell the truth.”
The Voice airs every Saturday night on ITV. Episode one is available to watch now via the ITV Hub.