The Best We've Seen: The 2010 ICCAs

Note: This is the final regular post for our 2010 publication season. Thank you to all of this year's contributors, and to all of our readers. Be sure to check back for news updates during the off-season. We will return to daily posting next season.

The Best I’ve Seen highlights the very best in collegiate a cappella, as seen in the admittedly biased and limited view of the author. In this special edition, ACB Content Manager Mike Chin and ACB Production Manager Mike Scalise team up and, on more than one occasion, butt heads about the best they’ve seen in the 2010 ICCA season.

Best Set
Mike Chin: The easy, objective pick here is The SoCal VoCals--after all, the group that wins the international championship should have put forth the best set of the year. I’m veering a little off course on this one, though, to instead offer up my pick for the set I enjoyed most this season, which would have to be the one put forth by The Washington University Stereotypes at the ICCA Midwest Semifinals. The guys started with a spot of high energy musical theatre with “Seize the Day” from Newsies, before taking on some old school Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young “With Carry On.” It was a solid opening to the set, but the guys really were just getting started. In one of the top five solos I saw this year, the guys let loose “Your Song” in the style of Moulin Rouge, to be followed by an impossibly high octane version of “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire. Sets just don’t get much more fun than that. Although the crew didn’t make it to the finals, it sure as heck wasn’t for lack of effort.

Mike Scalise: The best set that I’ve seen in the 2010 season comes from The SoCal VoCals at the finals in NYC. The group, which is tremendously talented, delivered three solid songs sung with near perfection. They began with “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday. The solo was clear and professional-sounding. Couple that with a strong visual performance by remaining group members and you have a hit. They continued with “Crazy Ever After” by The Rescues. I wasn’t very familiar with this song, but after hearing a number of soloists sing their hearts out, I was really moved. It was an amazing performance. The group completed their set with “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder. What stood out to me about this song was the group’s entertaining and energetic choreography which consisted of free-style dancing, hand gestures, and even a raising of the soloist (who, in case you were wondering, was exceptional). The overall set was hand over fist better than the rest of the competition, and rightfully earned this group the title and bragging rights for the ICCA 2010 season.

Best Song
Mike Chin: The SoCal VoCals put together a set like an a cappella highlight reel, but I think what I’ll remember most was their innovative imagining of The Rescues’ “Crazy Ever After”. With rotating soloists and rotating positions on stage, the group cleverly created a sense of group unity, while at the same time asserting the individual talents of the group members. Better yet, the constant shifting fit the "story" of the song well, illustrating the shift's in the narrators' minds, and the conflicted feelings at play. Emotionally heart-wrenching, musically sound, and altogether interesting to watch, this was the best song I saw in the 2010 season.

Mike Scalise: The 2010 ICCA season offered up a number of very good songs, both old and new, performed by the competing groups. I have to say, though, the best song I heard was “American Girls” by Counting Crows, performed by Casual Harmony at the Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Nazareth College. I like this song a lot – it’s by one of my favorite bands and I never thought I’d see it performed a cappella. It’s not that mainstream of a song, but it’s not that obscure either. Casual Harmony gave a very good performance and made it enjoyable to hear in a different context. I could see this turning into a situation where I start listening to the a cappella version much more than the original.

Best Solo
Mike Chin: Northwestern University’s John Park turned in the best solo of the year in my book with John Legend’s “Coming Home.” Park demonstrated a beautiful even tone, while knowing just how to punch his power notes and command the emotion of the audience as the song built toward its climax.

Mike Scalise: Hands down the best solo I’ve heard this season was by a member of the Potsdam Pointercounts at the Mid-Atlantic Semifinals at Rutgers University. The soloist sang “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” flawlessly. Every note, every inflection was point on (no pun intended) In addition, he had the right type of voice for the song – just a very good fit. I had also seen this performance at the Mid-Atlantic quarterfinal at Cornell University, where he rightfully won best soloist, but he outdid himself at the Semis. Ironically though, he was not awarded the best soloist distinction the second time around. Regardless, it ranked high on my list for the 2010 season.

Best Choreography
Mike Chin: I ordinarily hate choreography on a ballad, but when University of Rochester After Hours set their minds to staging “The Chain by Ingrid Michaelson, they were more than prepared to challenge convention and put together something uncommonly beautiful. From dancing in co-ed pairs at the start, to singing in a round while orchestrating a round of arm movements to match the music late in the song, this was simply a joy to behold.

Mike Scalise: When it comes to choreography, there’s no question that many groups are talented at creating entertaining and appropriate moves for their song selections. As a result, picking the best one out of the bunch has proved to be an extremely difficult task. The best I’ve seen in the 2010 ICCA season was The SoCal VoCals for their performance of “Crazy Ever After,” originally performed by The Rescues. The group starts off with their backs to the audience and soon turns to deliver a number of different solos throughout the song. Those who weren’t singing had a mixture of steps behind and to the side of one another, with certain members re-appearing in the front to deliver more solos or duets. At one point during the song, the group repetitively sang the word “stay” while reaching out towards the audience, which embodied all of the raw emotion they were portraying on stage. It looked like everyone had an integral part in the success of this group’s choreography. All things considered, this was an extremely well-performed and moving performance.

Best Song Selection
Mike Chin: There are a lot of factors that go into picking competition songs. You want to highlight your group’s strengths, show off a range of emotion, and engage your audience—not to mention create a performance that will match up with the interests of the judging panel. The University of Georgia Accidentals put together a really unique compilation of songs that I have come to appreciate more with the passage of time, looking back on it. From the vocal percussion showcase of “Comin’ Home Baby” complete with the VP guy’s back flip, to the power, beauty, and out of this world solo of “I Shall Not Walk Alone” to the biggest moment of the ICCA Finals in the dramatic build to “Come Together,” The Accidentals made the smartest picks for songs this year.

Mike Scalise: When it comes to song selection, it can be difficult to choose a best because you’re not choosing a great group nor a great song. You’re choosing the best combination – what song was the best selection for a particular group. There are numerous close calls on my list, but I think “Halo” by Beyonce, performed by Berklee School of Music’s Pitch Slapped at The Finals in NYC, was a great choice for the group. The soloist was phenomenal and the backing vocals and fluid choreography made for a great presentation overall. If one wanted to dig even deeper, he or she could take note of how there was a lot of meaning in their movements in addition to the song itself – linking arms together, raising hands together to give a sense of empowerment. This was a memorable performance.

Best Outfit
Mike Chin: While I ordinarily prefer a group to be dressed more uniformly, and I very nearly picked one of the mixed groups from The University of Michigan I saw at the Midwest Semifinals, I ultimately have to go with the Northeast champs, Berklee College of Music Pitch Slapped. The group dressed formally with the guys in white collared shirts, black vests, black slacks and black ties, the women in less uniform black and white dressy attire. Add in a couple baseball caps and you have a fun, individual and yet still refined look. Unique, urban, and classy, Pitch Slapped gets my vote here.

Mike Scalise: There was such a range of outfits worn by groups throughout the 2010 ICCA season. I saw groups with ties, dresses, button-up shirts, jeans, and even pastel-colored tee shirts with funky words written on them. However, one group’s attire stood out from the rest, completely blowing away the competition. This is ironic, because it wasn’t even a competing group, but rather a host group – Nazareth College Call4Backup. Naz’s Call4Backup acted as the host group for the fourth Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal. They sported a modern, yet classic look of sky blue A Cappella Blog tee shirts and jeans. The uniformity was unparalleled and visual presentation untouched. The all-girls group performed as well as their outfit was good. I like to think there was a correlation.

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Mike Chin

Mike Chin co-founded The A Cappella Blog in 2007. He continues to share leadership responsibility for the site, overseeing columns, reviews and features as the content manager. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD.