You can lose yourself in one of the great, late Rembrandt self-portraits for an hour, and wake as if from a dream. But it is curious, to me, how a voice can feather you with goosebumps or lay you low within a bar or two, bring you to near to, or, to tears.

Short arc

The great charm about channel nine’s talent maker contest (any contest, really), The Voice, is that you don’t ever have to pay attention to any of the performers again. The irresistible pull all lies within three or five or seven minutes — only two of them in song — when success turns to face them, or declines. The judges, who will become coaches, listen with their chairs turned from the contestants. The performance videos have the simple brilliant see-saw arc of the unknown singer coming on with the room willing them on, followed by the denouement of praise or gentle criticism; though the critical rebuke of a unmoved chairback is painful enough. The stories are short and conclusive, and the audience gets to witness the possible birth of a nova.

The judges had to fight for their troupe, and their glib, sincere platitudes are delicious: I just wanted to be in your arms when I hear your voice (Seal); it goes right through you; you have *such* a beautiful soul (Keith (Urban)’s favourite trope); you captivated us; you earned it; I was overwhelmed; you have the voice; I love you (everyone’s trope).

The sweetest bit of nonsense was from the very smooth Seal (those fabulous facial scars) who told one contestant that she brought ‘gestalt’ to the show and explained that that meant gravity, as in gravitas. Marvellous!

The performance videos add up to 61 auditioners; @ twelve pickups by each judge, 48, means that 13 were let go. They were well culled to begin with; all sung very well and some were evidently outstanding — as I am in the happy position of being able to play what I want as I work, I adopted the great gimmick of the show — the singing is judged blind, and the judges only turn to see the auditioner if they want to claim him or her for their team — I watched The Voice with my back turned to the monitor (tv on demand), just like the judges. Several deliveries raised the hairs on my neck.

Blind luck; Delta tears; Keith wit

It’s a show designed for spectacular rhetoric and belters but a surprising number of soft-voiced beauties came through. One of the most surprising was Rachael Leahcar who dared to sing La Vie En Rose, partly in French, who turned every head, and all four judges’ chairs. Delta (Goodrem, they are all Single Name Stars), the most incoherent and banal speaker of the four, on hearing that Leahcar was blind, just 18, alluded to how at 18, she too had troubles (cancer) and how “the whole country was there with me”, dissolving into tears, and how she wanted to share her experiences with Leahcar. One is awed at how securely Delta identifies with her national stardom.

Keith, who exudes a well-worn, unchallenged ease, had the wit to say, ‘I love that the universe should so have it that the first time the four of us get to experience you is not by seeing you but by hearing you. It’s perfect, it’s exactly right.’ Keith, my man! Rachael Leahcar’s performance was tremblingly heart-rending, and her being ‘legal blind’ could only add to the pathos of that extraordinary song. Luckily for all concerned she confessed that Delta had been her lifelong inspiration and chose her as mentor.

Some of the auditioners managed their persuasion by imitation. Judge Joel (Madden) told one of the singers he had not turned around because it had sounded just like the songwriter’s (James Blunt’s) version. And the young woman who sang Wuthering Heights had little choice but to do a Kate Bush. The amazing Janis Joplinesque Karise Eden (only 19). But as the requirement is simply to display a splendid vocal rather than any original ideas, we can chance on hearing a terrific voice without the burden of differentiating them from the vast constellation of musicians out there. Which, one must accede, is why Seal keeps talking about making his selections Stars. And it’s gratifying that quite a number are under 20.

Two things: they must have worked hard to choose the sound of the judges’ red button: kind of a FHHhssszzzh, like a jelly explosion. I want one just like that.

The other is, what a superb backing back they’ve put on. The playing makes the singing, floating many of the lesser performers.

For what it’s worth my pick is Paula Parore whose moving rendition of Adele’s Don’t You Remember rivals the original, with a smidge of Tracy Chapman. She doesn’t look like the magazine ideal of a star (traditionally built, as Alexander McCall Smith terms it) but her access to feeling seems untrammelled.

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