Event Reviews

ICCA West Quarterfinal at The University of Southern California

Event Reviews

On Saturday, February 4, The University of Southern California played host to an ICCA West quarterfinal. ACB correspondent Keith Tripler was there to review the show.

Overall thoughts:
There were some really memorable performances all around, but there were a couple of things that struck me across the board for almost, if not all of the groups.

First, microphone placement. Many of the groups’ basses and VP (even soloists at times) couldn’t be heard simply because the mic was a foot from their faces and/or off to the side too much. It makes a BIG difference when you do this right. The groups that had the best mic technique? The SoCal Vocals and The TroyTones. Huh. Funny how that is….

Second, matching the solo to the group. Several groups suffered because of a disconnect between their soloist and the ensemble. This mainly affected tuning, but general blend/feel as well.

Third, do your research. Research collegiate a cappella, past ICCA winners, who’s singing what, etc. Many of these judges have heard songs like “Fix You” and “Rolling in the Deep” more times than years you’ve been alive, so unless you have a great different version….it might not be a good idea to bring these songs to competition. Also, doing a song that previous winners did/have done is setting yourself up for a very tough comparison. For example, “Love On Top” is a song Pitch Slapped has become known for (winning Sojam with it, after the group won ICCAs) and they are arguably the best mixed group in the country --tough to try to outdo, better to find your group’s song.

Fourth, breakdowns are awesome (if done well, of course). Many of the groups had amazingly cool remixed, tempo changing breakdowns that really added spice to a popular song that was uniquely their own. This is really great to include, especially in ICCAs, as it showcases your group’s uniqueness and flavor, while still being in context of a song everyone knows. It makes the performance more memorable overall.

Now on to the sets themselves:

The Beat from UC San Diego – Very professional-looking group, obviously were well prepared for competition. This group’s strength was their chords and blend and, as a result, their softer, gentler sounding numbers were beautifully executed. “Hallelujah” (despite being a generally overdone song) was one of my highlights of the evening. Unfortunately, their quieter set and lack of dynamic contrast (both in song choice and within songs) were their downfalls.

Simply Vocale from Chapman University – These ladies fell victim to the first two points I mentioned above, and needed more sound and confidence in their singing. I liked their slowed-down version of ”Dancing Queen”, but as with the other numbers, I found the staging/choreo to be awkward. I don’t believe they mic’d their bass either – usually a good idea, at least for competition, especially when you have as many voices as these ladies did.

Men of Harmony from Chapman University – I didn’t catch these guys’ names at first, and in my notes they are labeled as “flatbrims and jerseys” – you can guess why. Though their attire may not have been the most traditional, it made them stand out/remember-able (yes that should be a word). Serious props for choreo to these bros--at least one of them is definitely a hip-hop dancer and a good teacher. These guys had original stuff, and executed it well. However, they sang a pet peeve song of many a cappella fanatics “Fix You.” This is a toughie--it has come to the point where unless you do something different with this song, it can hurt you. But in these guys’ defense, they sold it (emotion/feeling wise) and executed it well. Good set all around.

Khoir Practice from USC – This was the smallest group of the night with only eight people. These guys really surprised me with their big sound and confidence. They had great choreo for their size, and you could tell that everyone was singing their butts off despite them almost all really having solo parts. I’m a sucker for Bon Iver songs well sung, not just for taste but also the complexity and precision blend they require – which they nailed in “Woods.” I was a bit disappointed to hear “Rolling in the Deep” (definitely in the “Fix You” category) especially with mic placement issues with the solo, but their breakdown in the middle was really awesome.

Frequency from UC San Diego – This all male group started off with a bang, with great coordinated Sing-Off style outfits and an awesome R & B take on “Rude Boy” that had the crowd laughing and in awe. Their choreo was okay up until they chose to go over the top with the innuendos and….well lets just leave it at that. In my opinion, they took it a bit too far, overdoing it and eventually just becoming tasteless. It would be one thing if the vocals throughout really were spot on and then a few moves to get the ladies going--but they quite frequently achieved the opposite effect. They had trouble staying in tune, specifically with my 2nd point, matching the soloist and vice-versa. Overall, they have some great potential, but get the fundamental singing stuff down before and after the choreo.

The Troy Tones from USC – This mixed group came out firing on all cylinders. Sharp, original look; amazing full, bright sound; great soloists and they were visibly giving 120% to their performance. The Tones also had great breakdown sections, crisp syllables and jusssst the right amount of well-executed choreography. Their only drawbacks were a result of mic placement, yet again. They lacked on the bottom end a bit (bass mic not close to the bass’s mouth) and the VP wasn’t consistently audible (same placement issue). What set this group apart for me, though, was their song selection, swells within the music, their 120% effort and originality. A really phenomenal competition set overall. I was sitting two rows behind the judges, and halfway through ”The Circle of Life” they were all just watching and nodding their heads--a pretty good testament to the performance.

The SoCal Vocals from USC – This is consistently one of the top groups from the West, and repeat winners of ICCAs, not to mention that members and alumni have appeared in various configurations for The Sing-Off. I had high expectations for this group going in--and I wasn’t disappointed. They came out flying, show choir style, with flashy dresses and black ties/vests. It was very apparent that the group had done this before. Their mic placement was spot on, resulting in a great bass sound and winning the VP award. Aside from their bright sound, spot on blend they also had stellar soloists, and they knew it. Their set showcased multiple soloists, culminating in their best solo-award-winning finale of “Tightrope.” One of my favorite moments of the set was their group-riffs, a really cool/original sound and very impressive to hear. However, I wasn’t crazy about their song choice or their sometimes-melodramatic choreo. Perhaps that’s my origins in East Coast a cappella talking, but the choreo still didn’t do it for me at times.

The Medleys from UCLA – The Medleys were in a difficult spot as the third mixed group in a row, and singing directly after the two-time champs. They made some really interesting choices in their set, some of which worked, others not as much. For example, they did the stomp/clap choreo for one of their songs. Sometimes (in moderation) this can create a cool effect, but if your claps aren’t all perfectly in time and the right volume, they will ultimately distract from the soloist and background vocals, which is what happened here. When there weren’t claps etc., they had fantastic complex chords a very cohesive group sound in their first two indie-style songs. They also chose to do “Love On Top” (see overall point #3), and arranged it way too high for their soloist, while also speeding up throughout the song. Overall I think the Medleys had some good fundamentals, but kind of dug their own graves at times that could have been avoided.

Keith Tripler’s Picks for the Night

Overall Placement:
1. The Troy Tones
2. The SoCal Vocals
3. Khoir Practice
4. Men of Harmony
5. The Beat

ICCA Official Results

Overall Placement:
1. The SoCal Vocals
2. The Troy Tones
3. Men of Harmony

Outstanding Soloist:The SoCal Vocals for “Tightrope”
Outstanding Arrangement: The SoCal Vocals
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: The SoCal Vocals
Outstanding Choreography: Men of Harmony

ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Binghamton University

Event Reviews

On Saturday, February 5, Binghamton University played host to to an International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) Mid-Atlantic quarterfinal. The event took place in Watters Theater, a nicely-sized and comfortable venue with plenty of light. One of the most interesting stories heading into this show was that a number of the competitors have advanced to semifinals in recent years--only two could move on from this show, so the competition was sure to be steep. The show was hosted by two home groups--the energetic and engaging Binghamton Crosbys and smooth-sounding Kaskeset. A special thanks goes out to Will Browar for handling ACB photography for the night.

The show kicked off with first-time ICCA competitors The Dynamics from Muhlenberg College. This co-ed group arrived on stage with the girls wearing black dresses and the guys wearing all black attire with different color ties--a nice mix of uniformity while still allowing individual members to assert their identities.The group started its set with “Happier” by Guster. This was a very good song choice that allowed the group to showcase its vocal talents. However, I thought the solos were a little bit on the soft side and I couldn’t tell if it was the result of a lack of projection on the group’s part, or if the sound for the event had not yet been adjusted perfectly.Volume level aside, the group members sounded in tune and executed their first song very well.

Next up, we heard “Soon We’ll Be Found” by Sia. I love songs like this because they give the soloist the opportunity to channel the meaning of the song through her emotions. In this case, the soloist took no prisoners, reaching from deep within to convey the feelings of anger and exhaustion the song refers to. The subtle sways back and forth from the rest of the group supported the ideas of uncertainty and fatigue. Nicely done.

As we approached the end of the first set, I was hoping the Dynamics would pick a more upbeat number to both offset the sullen nature of the previous piece and to leave the audience and judges energized and engaged. They chose My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade,” which proved itself to be a microcosm of the group’s set, starting out slowly and speeding up toward the end. I thought it was a very good choice, and between the duet, vocal percussion, full backing vocals, this song came together nicely for the group. All in all, a nice set for the first-time competitors and good start to the evening.

Next to arrive on stage was Binghamton University’s ‘80s a cappella group, Rhythm Method. The girls and guys came out sporting mixture of red and black apparel, which made for a classy look.The group’s first song was Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” The solo was a bit soft during the verses but really picked up during the chorus, where the soloist was able hit the high parts really well and keep complete control of his voice, which was impressive.

For their second song, Rhythm Method chose the much slower (and arguably more powerful) “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper. The duet in this piece is what really worked for me--clear and in key. Group members started out in two distinct groups and, as the song progressed, came together into one formation, representing unconditional love.

The group completed their set with a Michael Jackson medley that included segments from “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal” – I like this transition back to a faster-paced number. On top of that, the choreography was entertaining, as the group interwove a number of signature moves, including the Thriller dance, and concluded with the quintessential MJ hand-up, head-down , crotch-grab pose. This was another solid performance to close out a very good set.

The next group to take the stage was Groovestand from Syracuse University. The group consisted of an almost even split of guys and girls, and members were dressed in varying articles of black and blue color. First song up was India.Arie’s “Therapy.” While there were several good parts to this performance, including a solid solo and rich-sounding backing vocals, the choreography stood out the most to me. The group utilized several side-steps, swaying movements, marches, stomps, and spins. The song lyrics would have you believe the choreography should be a little more subdued, but given the tempo of the song, I think the group had just the right amount of unique and fun moves to result in a stellar performance.

The group continued its relationship-themed set with Jordin Sparks’ “No Air.” I like this song for two reasons. First, the song's meaning was easy for audience members to relate to, which helps bring people into the song. Second, it enabled Groovestand to take full advantage of its co-ed-ness, with the vocal range to perform both the male and female parts, which they did in spades. In addition, the backing vocals were full and powerful, especially toward the end of the song when it looked like everyone was really getting passionate about the performance. Very well done.

I liked the way in which Groovestand transitioned to its third song--the group started with a slow rendition of “Turn the Beat Around” by Gloria Estefan, and quickly shifted to Usher’s “More.” As you might expect from an Usher song, the choreography was pretty cool, too. Group members started by marching in place, then began to smoothly step from side to side while synchronously alternating shoulder shrugs. Transition back to “Turn the Beat Around,” now with the entire group salsa dancing. Perhaps the most entertaining bit directly followed, when group members formed a “V,” while another member stood behind them and mimicked a propeller blade while the rest sang the lyrics “Turn the Beat Around.” Overall, great performance by the SU group.

On to another Syracuse group--Main Squeeze. The women wore black dresses, each member with a different color stockings. I thought it was cool.

Their first song was “Cosmic Love” by Florence and the Machine. Interesting selection that incorporated love, despair, and confusion. The solo itself didn’t convey the raw emotion I expected from a song like this, falling a little flat at times. I really liked that the members formed a group on stage, facing the audience and mimicked a heart beat with their bodies--first the middle third of the group convulsing, then the left third, and finally the right third, all while using heartbeat syllables like “bum, bum, bum.”

By the end of the first song, all members were lined up in front across the stage, which they used to transition into their second song, “Settle Down” by Kimbra. Good solo here, and again, some cool choreography to boot, with members circling the soloist on stage during the song. The piece concluded with the soloist approaching the edge of the stage, looking out at the audience. I was expecting a dramatic climax to hit at any moment--only for the song to simply end.

The group’s final number was VV Brown’s “Shark in the Water.” The soloist was extremely powerful as were the backing vocals. The group included a combination of sways and hand movements, including pointing at the audience at times. What’s interesting about the group’s set is that each of the songs had a deep focus on relationships--I’m not sure if the group planned for that, but I think a group “theme” in song selection is a unique way to differentiate itself, which, in this case, seemed to work well.

The last group to hit the stage before intermission was Syracuse University Orange Appeal. These guys sported the classy, yet casual jean, button-up shirt, and different-colored tie look. The group began its set with Bon Iver’s “Beth / Rest.” Although I normally prefer that groups lead off with a faster number and save the slow songs for the middle of the set, the power with which this was delivered was enough to grab the attention of any audience. The vocals were right on key, and the lack of any choreography throughout the song forced the audience to focus strictly on the collective sound. I was very impressed.

Next, the group sang “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder. I have to say, this song represented everything I love about competitive a cappella--a great mixture of strong VP, fun choreography with members side-stepping and pretending to play instruments, and a strong solo. On top of that, the group further entertained the audience with a cool effect on stage--while the soloist sang the line “you can feel it all…,” the percussionist stopped and extended the word “over” in a higher-pitched voice as if he “threw” it into the air--group members pointing upward at it--to be “caught” by the percussionist, who then resumed the song.

For their last song, the guys sang Coldplay’s “Paradise.” I thought this was a very good song choice, especially for an all-male group. The song itself has a good range, and the tempo enables groups to do a lot in the way of choreography. In Orange Appeal’s case, we saw a variety of movements, including a front-step, side-step, back-step weaving pattern and, at one point, group members pulled out their cell phones and waved them in the air. All in all, a very good set.

The next group up was The Haverford College Outskirts. This all-female group wore classic black skirts and white tops. The group started its set with Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Chain.” The women formed two lines toward the back of the stage and as the song progressed, the soloist emerged, then the rest of the group rounded out to form an arc, all before a word was sung. Very cool. The few- to many-, back to few-part harmonies throughout this song came together nicely. The amount of choreography was just about right for the song, and the complete lack of movement by the soloist really helped hone in on the song’s story of a girl waiting for her lover to come back.

To further assert themselves as part of a group to be reckoned with, The Outskirts followed with “Many Moons” by Janelle Monáe. This was an interesting selection primarily because it has so many different (and cool) parts between the verses, refrain, chorus, a cybernetic chantdown, and a closing lullaby. And trust me, the group capitalized on all of them. Group members started by forming two groups on stage, putting their heads down, raising them to begin what would be robot dance into a crouch sway, back into the robot dance. Intriguing start to the choreography. Vocally, I thought the first soloist sounded on key and had pretty good control of her range. The second soloist, who performed the chant piece of the song, was not quite as melodic, but I suppose that’s to be expected in a chant. What made this piece stand out even more was the group’s decision to have the vocal percussionist emerge from the rest of the group following the chant and give the audience a full-out beatbox performance, which was really neat--particularly coming from an all-female group. Nice work.

The group rounded out its set with “Who’s Loving You” by The Jackson 5. Absolutely killer solo here. From her facial expressions, arm movements and fist crunches alone, you could see how passionate she was about conveying this song’s meaning. Add in the vocals, and there was nothing left to question. The range was impressive, and she hit all of the highs and lows while seemingly immersed in the song and not caring what the audience thought, but rather singing for herself. The backing vocals were rich and strong too. Just the right amount of choreography here. All in all, this song was a great way for the ladies to finish up their set.

Next up were The Deaftones from Westminster Choir College. This group of 21 (yes, 21) members dressed in black, with the guys wearing green suspenders and ladies wearing green belts. The group positioned itself with every member’s back facing the audience and began with a short intro of Iyaz’s “Replay” which quickly turned into “Africa” by Toto. I’m not exactly sure what the connection between the two songs was, but I was willing to go with the flow, since I’ve seen crazier things turn out really well. The solo and subsequent duet sounded very good, but on at least two occasions, one of the male members of the group would come to the front of the stage, and at the same time sing the chorus to “Replay,” which, frankly, muffled what was a fine duet. I thought this would have been a much stronger performance had that been omitted.

I have to say, the Deaftones turned it completely around with their second song, “Skyscraper” by Demi Lovato. This was the type of solo that just pierced you. I mean, it looked like the girl didn’t open her eyes at all during the performance and you could tell the audience was hooked. This song has a wide range of parts—highs, lows, fast, and slow, and the soloist could handle it all with complete control. While the soloist was belting out fantastic notes, the rest of the group members produced loud and rich sounds themselves that complemented the solo and enhanced the overall performance. This was undoubtedly one of the best vocal performances of the night.

For their final number, the group chose to sing “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba, an upbeat song of which I am a huge fan. I loved the energy, too. The group started out in the huddle formation with which they ended their previous song and went right into an all-out dance party with stomps and hand movements--I was really getting into it. Then, the group formed two lines with the guys in front and women in back and alternated crouching down and throwing hands in the air (this would repeat throughout the song). The group was able to stay in tune throughout all of the movements, which, itself, was quite impressive. The various solos and duets throughout sounded pretty good, but the heart of this song, in my opinion, was in the collective performance, and group did quite well here. The song concluded, as you might expect, with the ladies singing “pissing the night away” and one of them even passing out in front of the group (intentionally). All in all, a solid set for The Deaftones.

On to the second-to-last competing group of the night, Casual Harmony from Rutgers University. The all-male group had on its traditional jeans and different-colored-button-up shirt getup. For the group’s first song of the night they chose “Give a Little More” by Maroon 5. I thought the tempo and melody of this song made it a great choice to lead off with. The guys leveraged everything they could with it--they started with some smooth choreography which included the entire group seamlessly leaning to one side and then returning to a full upright position. Shortly after, the group threw in a slow pelvic thrust that originated from a crouched position, which really got the (female) audience going. The soloist had a unique sound and a great aptitude for hitting the high notes, which lent itself well to this song (and any song Adam Levine sings, for that matter). In addition, the three-part harmonies throughout the song made for a clear and vibrant sound, and the theatric hand movements, and shuffles in the background made this a really cool showing. The VP also caught my attention--nicely executed. The song ended by Casual Harmony coming together to form an “M” on stage.

Next for Casual Harmony was “Say” by One Republic. At the start of the song the group was still in its “M” position and even after the soloist began, swayed to the left and right until it slowly broke into two separate groups on stage, which I thought was a cool visual. The soloist sang this song with a great falsetto and strong conviction--a powerful combination that really worked for the guys. The visual presentation for this one was really unique, including an imaginative move in which group members crouched and swung their bodies in a circular motion. The song ended with the group members in a tight huddle facing one another while the soloist stood a few feet in front, facing the audience with his head down. The audience applauded for much longer than the three seconds they were instructed to at the beginning of the show.

The group finished its set with “Valerie,” originally by The Zutons. The group just looked like they were having a great time with this song. The soloist was working the stage, pacing from side to side, crouching down and singing to specific members in the audience (who loved it). This goes to show you that in competitive a cappella, it’s about more than just the voice. Stage presence and likability play a large role. I’m not saying that this soloist's vocals were lacking in the voice area, but he probably could have gotten away with a less-than-perfect solo. Fortunately, he and the rest of the group didn’t need to worry about that. While the soloist was swooning the audience, the rest of the group was busy filling the theatre with their rich backing vocals and entertaining choreography, which included snapping, side-stepping, and pretending to row a boat and play instruments. A nice little amalgamation of elements that packed a punch. Great work on the part of the group.

The last group of the night to take stage was University of Rochester Vocal Point. This all-female group came out wearing simple, yet stylish pink dresses. Vocal Point started its set in a “V” formation with the soloist at the point (the vocal point, if you will *rimshot*). They chose to sing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me.” I thought this was a great upbeat number with which to begin a set, as it allowed for some cool choreography while demanding a strong solo. Speaking of which, as the song’s tempo picked up, the “V” widened and became two lines of group members swaying back and forth, which turned into alternating shoulder shrugs, which turned into a plethora of other motions that, as the song suggests, looked like the group was “having a good time.” I thought the soloist was good vocally, hitting a lot of the right notes, and only falling flat a couple times, but I would have preferred that she not move across stage so much, only because the rest of the group had enough choreography going on. Not a bad start, though.

For its second song, the group sang “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine. I liked the song selection a lot. The solo was very good for the most part, but she didn't quite hit some of the higher notes. The backing vocals sounded spot on, offering the right volume level and fullness, and the incorporation of clapping throughout the song really jazzed it up and energized the audience (who, after eight other groups, needed that nudge). The song concluded with the women shifting their heads left and right before stopping abruptly.

The final song of the set was “Cathedral” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The song started out very slow, with only four members singing in front, while the remaining seven stood in a line behind with their heads down. As the song progressed, the back row joined the front and began to sway back and forth until the song started to pick up speed and the group formed a quasi-“W” and began to sing louder and more pronounced. The fluctuation in pace and choreography kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of the next move. Aside from the visuals, the four-part harmony was right on key, both in the beginning and after the song picked up speed, and the rest of the group’s vocals complemented them nicely. What really made this an exceptional end to the set was at the conclusion of the song when everyone in the group formed a semi-circle toward the audience, flattened out the circle, and collectively sang the last verse. Really good stuff.

All in all, this was one of the best ICCA quarterfinals I've ever attended and therefore one of the most difficult to critique. Making my picks for the winners was not easy, and I'd like to congratulate all of the groups again on their extraordinary performances.

Mike Scalise's Picks for the Night

Overall Placement:
1. Casual Harmony
2. Groovestand
3. Orange Appeal

ICCA Official Results

Overall Placement:
1. Casual Harmony
2. Groovestand
3. Main Squeeze

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Casual Harmony for the entire set
Outstanding Choreography: Groovestand
Outstanding Soloist: The Deaftones for "Skyscraper"
Outstanding Arrangement: Main Squeeze for "Settle Down"

ICCA Northeast Quarterfinal at Boston University

Event Reviews

On Saturday, February 4, 2012, Boston University played host to an International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) Northeast quarterfinal. The show took place in a sold out Tsai Performance Center, a really pretty venue with some cool paneling illuminated in it different shades at the back of the stage.

Just before the host group took the stage, the announcement went out—no cameras allowed. Sorry folks, only the picture of the empty stage from this show.

Speaking of the host group, Boston University In Achord opened things up. They’re a co-ed group and start with Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World).” Fun intro with just the guys singing, and taking it on chorally in comically low voices. Soon enough ,the group spread into the traditional a cappella arc and a female soloist took the lead. Nice number to kick off the evening.

Holli Matze from Varsity Vocals offered the traditional introductions before handing over things to In Achord’s Tina and Joe as the emcees for the evening.

Emmanuel College For Good Measure was the first competing group. The all-female crew took the stage in black blazers and skirts, white tops, and pink and blue pastel-colored matching bows and sneakers—cute look. Their first number was Hall & Oates’s “You Make My Dreams.” Nice pulsing energy on the intro. The soloist did a good job of working the stage. There was a lot of choreography at play, and most of it was overtly girly. That’s OK, and can be quite effective if you’re willing to go full-tilt with it and bring the audience in (think Delilah’s take on “Heat Wave” on The Sing-Off). While these women had the right idea, the choreography came across too self-conscious to really sell the crowd on it—plus, there was enough of it that the best moments got lost in the sheer mass of visuals. Similarly, on the aural side, this song really lends itself to some monster dynamics to sell its bigger moments, but the group didn’t take full advantage of that potential, staying pretty even keel.

To their credit, For Good Measure created a really cool transition from their first to second songs, slowing down the first number dramatically at the end, and without taking a breath, sliding right into Adele’s ”Someone Like You.” The group switched through soloists over the course of the first verse before a new lead ripped the mic out of the preceding solo’s hand. This cued a dramatic shift into Katy Perry’s ”The One That Got Away.” I have mixed feelings on that transition. On one hand it really undermined audience expectations in a great way, tempting us with one song and at a key juncture taking it in another direction. It’s awesome when a group can take control of the audience’s emotions like that and pull of a legit surprise. On the other hand, when they moved on to a pretty straight forward cover of the Katy Perry song from there (never circling back around to Adele, much less mashing the songs together), it sort of made the first part of the song seem random and there for no purpose other than the element of surprise. Anyway, nice little breakdown section with some real precision on the staccato notes, and a prudent decision to match up the sound with some sharp step choreography for an impressive close to this song.

Just as the crowd seemed poised to applaud, a group member cut them off, singing the first note to the third song, Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out.” Neat, unique vocal on the high-pitched lead. The group kicked into gear as the tempo lifted and they had some really pretty harmonies going into the first chorus. I think the most impressive thing about this song, and the set as a whole, was the group’s talent for dramatic flair and undercutting what the audience would predict. Really cool song selection. The group put together some neat images with their stage positioning that could have been all the more impactful had it not grown a little redundant—most of the formations recurring two or three times with very little variation. That’s a relatively minor quibble. The group finished on its strongest song, wrapping up a good set.

Second up was SUNY Albany Serenditipity. The all-female group wore stylish black dresses. The group opened with ”Locked Up” by Ingrid Michaelson. Fun, staccato sound in the background of this one, and not unlike the best of For Good Measure’s choreography, they matched it up the sound well with measured, stilted step moves. As the chorus opened up, so did the movement , with sweeping motions across the stage—nice way of making the visual presentation organic to the music, which most groups overlook too often. Cool clap-stomp percussion/choreography bit. The control the group demonstrated throughout the piece earned them the right to let loose a little on the instrumental bit at the end of the song, which felt like it dragged a little, but on the positive side, gave the percussionist a nice opportunity to show off her talents.

Serendipity members turned their backs to the crowd, standing in their arc, then turned one-by-one, with some real attitude at the start of Avril Lavigne’s ”What the Hell.” I love the sass on this group. The choreography was really well managed, including the shrewd decision to only have a few of the girls carry out certain moves (just one member “going crazy” on the corresponding lyric), with more members taking part as the song moved on to show progression and keep the performance visually engaging. Very good precision of sound from the group. The group worked in a really fun sample of The Ting Tings’ ”That’s Not My Name.” In addition to fitting in melodically, and offering a humorous aside, this sample helped demonstrate just how much fun and complexity a group can weave into even the silliest pop song, to create a really interesting piece. Artful interpretation of this song.

Serendipity closed with Oasis’s "Wonderwall”. This was one of those really interesting moments when you immediately recognize the song based on the lyrics, but it takes you a minute to really place it. Serendipity handled the song mostly chorally, and really made the song its own. Lovely sound. Awesome visual, with a slow motion walk on the “all the roads we have to walk are winding” part. The perc sort of stuck out here--while the song may have grown dull without it, I get the feeling they should have cut it, used the percussionist more sparingly, or just had her go at it a bit more softly. Cool little sample of “Champagne Supernova” and a slick transition back to the original song, with a really pretty, well-blended finish. This song turned out to be a well-tied bow to top a surprising and cool gift of a set.

On to our first mixed group of the evening, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Partial Credit. The co-ed group wore a slick combination of black and teal. They opened with a medley of songs by The Who that started with ”Behind Blue Eyes.” Nice swell of sound as the low end echoed the solo heading into the first chorus. Fun transition into ”Who Are You.” The soloist got to show some real chops with the bigger sound this song called for—in all honesty, the entire group seemed more at ease and to be having the most fun on this segment of the piece. Cutesy, but well executed little wave move as the group members formed two lines and leaned in and out in undulating fashion. The percussionist led the final transition, into ”Baba O’Reilly”. The group went for a clap-along, but the crowd seemed uncertain and ultimately did not join in. Worse yet, the crowd did not applaud after the song. I’ve seen this happen at a number of shows over the years—when the Varsity Vocals producer calls for minimal applause between songs and it gets misinterpreted to mean no applause. In a case like this, it really looked like the group was a little deflated, and robbed of some of the energy they should have had going into their second song.

The group spaced the stage, then met the first lyrics of Nightwish’s ”The Islander” with sharp turns of their heads, for a cool visual. Good solo, and an excellent effect, adding the pristine voice of the female backing solo as the song moved forward. Nice use of the mixed gender dynamic of the group, with the guys often lined up right behind the soloist to back him like a crew of fellow seamen, while the more ethereal high harmonies came from the back of the stage. I appreciate the group’s willingness to take a chance on a song like this that sounded more like a sea shanty than contemporary a cappella. The long instrumental sections and unnecessary fake out ending undercut the piece a little, creating the illusion that it dragged, even though the song wasn’t particularly long. All in all, it was a strong middle song that could have been all the better with a touch more polish and editing.

Partial Credit closed with The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Snow (Hey Oh).” I really like the idea of this is as an a cappella song, and there were some fine parts to it—I liked the harmony the backing solo provided the lead, and the ambition of the solo itself. While the primary soloist had the cadence to make this work, he couldn’t quite pull off the enunciation to go with it, which made him sound a little muddled and uncertain throughout—the guy was clearly more at ease, and flat out better, during the slower segments of the song. Similarly, I loved the ambition of the choreography, but the group didn’t seem sure enough of itself to really sell its moves to the crowd. This wasn’t a bad performance, and I certainly admire the group for swinging for the fences on its closer. Unfortunately, when you put all of your might into the bat, you’re bound to hit a foul ball or two. Uneven closer.

Next up, we heard from The Girls Next Door from The College of St. Rose. The women wore black and neon pink. They opened with Kansas’s ”Carry O nMy Wayward Son.” Cool visual as they started in a cluster and raised their heads as each part entered the choral opening. The group spread out into a line from there--and boy, did they ever have a move for every transition in the music. To their credit, even if it was over-choreographed, they sold all of their moves. They switched between two soloists, then went for a three-part lead on the chorus. Holy air guitars—like I said, they went for it! The three-soloist lineup stuck going into the second verse. The group attacked its vocals boldly and sounded great when they were big; the blend fell apart a little on the soft parts, as it seemed not everyone got the memo about the decrescendo. Nonetheless, this was a bold and assertive opening number.

The group formed a big cluster at center stage and used it to transition to “City” by Sara Bareilles. Nice solo, and I loved the understated nature of the percussion—keeping the beat, but softly enough to never distract from the rest of the music. My only real qualm with this one was the group’s continued insistence on choreography, including a touch-step and a synchronized snap move that did take me out of the music, losing some of the integrity of the piece. Case in point, the best part of the song, aurally and visually, had to be the final chorus when the group spread out, stood still, and focused on the music.

The Girls Next Door poured a ton of intricacy into the opening of Adele’s “Turning Tables.” It’s a real treat to hear a group offer a sound that complex and well-executed. The truest highlight of this song belonged to the soloist, though, whose unbridled intensity paid huge dividends. This is the kind of solo for which a blind person could swear the soloist was seriously wounded and deaf person could read the story of the song on the lead’s face. Excellent stuff, made all the better for the soloist’s control—restraining her sound early in the song before she ripped into the latter stages. It’s a subtle thing, but the women in the cluster standing behind her held hands—I honestly don’t know if they were doing that the whole time, or I missed the transition. Nonetheless, this was exactly the sort of subtlety of presentation I hoped for from this group all along—not throwing anything in the audience’s face, but more simply selling the emotion and furthering the metaphorical impact of the group standing behind its lead. Easily the best song of the set, and a performance strong enough to elevate The Girls Next Door right alongside Serendipity for the top group of the first half.

Following intermission, Skidmore College Drastic Measures took the stage. The co-ed group wore a fun, provocative mix of black, red, and white and kicked off their set with The Beatles’ ”Helter Skelter Nice, bold energy from everyone on stage, and particularly the soloist and vocal percussionist. The group was at its best when the sound got bigger. The choreography was a little scattershot—moments like the guy who sang the guitar part strumming his air guitar, then smashing it, were really fun but could have been used to better dramatic effect if they fit the song better. All in all, this was harmless good fun, capped off by the soloist’s unaccompanied cry of “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”

The group followed up with "Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. Nice soft, smooth , choral sound from the group .The solo was quite good, demonstrating a nice combination of emotion and control. Nice visual as the group built upon the “I know”s by clustering in with hands on the lead’s shoulder before he broke free for a big moment. This song was good all around, but the problem with this performance was that it didn’t serve up anything new—this is a song that’s been done a lot and if you’re going to bring it to competition in 2012, you need a bit more than an above-average solo to justify it.

The group finished its set with Simon & Garfunkel’s ”Ceceilia.” This one was really distinctive—and I mean that in the most positive way possible. For “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Drastic Measures did nothing to innovate; this send up of a classic, to the contrary, was all about doing something quirky, fun and new. The group stepped from side to side. One of the girls sang “yo,” then multiple group members joined her for the next one. A really imaginative, broken down intro followed. Choral treatment of the song from there, with lots of stomping and clapping to provide both the percussion and some really neat reaching-high-stooping-low visuals. My only qualm here is that I think the piece could have connected a little more with the crowd were a traditional soloist to have taken over after the first chorus, but it’s an artistic call, and I can’t really knock them for it. Interesting break down on the “making love in the afternoon” segment with high parts singing the lyrics first and low parts echoing. Really strong finish to the set.

Next up, we heard from The Northeastern University UniSons. Hard to believe we were up to our sixth group and this was the first all-male one. The guys wore black collared shirts, jeans, white ties and white belts. Choral opening with the vocal effects guy changing the radio dial to change up the song before settling on “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Hereos. Slick transition to the rap part and the rap was quite ably handled with the right cadence, clarity and swagger to make it all work. Good solo. The group demonstrated more stage presence and sheer confidence than anyone else to perform up to that point. Lots of readjustment of position without choreography per se, and lots of freestyle dancing that the guys sold like they were having fun—that’s how collegiate a cappella should look.

Next up was The Goo Goo Dolls’ "Black Balloon.” Great vulnerability from the solo in the first verse, which made it all the more impactful when he popped the end of it en route to the chorus, which led to the group sound swelling. Cool group choral echo of the solo—using the lyrics in such a fashion helps keep the background interesting, which counteracts the very real threat of losing the audience in a melancholy song like this. Some nice use of dynamics. Interesting choice for the lead to fall out so a small group of guys could take the bridge—not sure I liked that because it was a power part of the song—I would have given them part one of the verses instead for a more subtle portion to handle.

The guys wrapped up their set with medley of Muse songs: “Undisclosed Desires” and “Time is Running Out.” Nice, bold sound from group and they employed some fun, simple choreography like beating hearts in hands, and clawing on the “like demons” line. Very smooth transition to the second song, with the “Black Balloon” soloist back at the helm for another fine showing. The choreography with guys bouncing up and down was cool but not quite in synch—that’s the sort of thing you should have an objective observer watch you do before competition, and cut if you can’t pull it off. On a minor point, I really liked the guys’ willingness to challenge the front of the stage, particularly on this song. Most of the groups had stood back further, but these guys seemed completely comfortable in the audience’s collective face—compelling, and fitting for Muse songs. The solo got a little carried away toward the end—nailing the high notes then convulsing on stage—a little too consciously humorous for the context. The high part came back around moments later—they probably could have trimmed the song to just do that once and maximize the drama, but it was impressive nonetheless and offered a solid finish to a strong set.

The MIT Chorallaries hit the stage next. The co-ed group wore black and red. Sensational swell of sound on the opening—this crew just sounded fuller than anything we had up to that point. The first song was “Something to Believe In” by Parachute. This is another group that looked like it really had fun with the choreography, selling it 100 percent. The soloist worked the stage really effectively, and I loved the creative decision for him to stand off to the side and dance during the break down—it gave the rest of the group room to have the spotlight while he subtly grew progressively more spastic and had the audience back in the palm of his hand by the time he took back the lead on vocals. The group took us to church on the ending—a wrap up that would have been all the more effective had they succeeded in getting the crowd to clap along with them. Once again, the crowd just wasn’t having it.

Next up, The Chorallaries brought us “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Really strange song choice, and I’m pretty lukewarm on that selection. Granted, it’s distinctive, but also not the kind of song that I think many fans are really clamoring for—it’s a subjective criterion, but when you’re pulling in a vintage song, it usually only clicks if it’s the sort of song that makes people say “man, I love this song! I forgot all about it!” OK, enough on that rant. Good solo that fit well for the song and really good bass sound. Nice fullness of sound--you can pick out really interesting bits from every part as this went on.

The Chorallaries wrapped up with John Legend’s ”Shine.” This is a message song, which is one of my favorite approaches to finishing a set, but you need to bring the drama and the power to make yourself heard on this kind of piece. Good charisma on the solo, though I would have liked a bit more fire and sheer volume out of him. The choreography was more visibly plotted out on this song than the two before it. Nice bit where soloist asked for help and the group started to follow his lead. Really good crescendo on the finish, as the soloist finally ripped loose and the group finally got big. Good close to a song that probably should have been a bit more impactful.

The Olin College PowerChords took us home from the competition perspective. The emcee informed us the group represents five percent of the student body—and it sounded like at least five percent more that school sat in the audience based o the reception the group received. The co-ed group had its guys in blue collar shirts, white vests and black slacks, the ladies in black tops over blue shirts and black slacks. They opened with A-Ha’s "Take on Me.” Fun stuff. Good charisma from the soloist who nailed the high part. Solid perc. Really strange fight choreography in the background on the choruses—I really wasn’t sure what the point of that was. It was sort of funny and they synced it up well rhythmically, but it’s important to think about how your presentation matches the song itself and the broader message of the music. The soloist looked at the crowd and dared them to clap along—and lo and behold, it worked! I guess needed that overt nudge. Fun, soft break down on the finish, spotlighting the basses.

Next up, we heard Bonnie Raitt’s ”I Can’t Make You Love Me. Nice emotion on the solo. Lots of conducting on stage, which I don’t hate as much as a lot of people, but it doesn’t look great next to a bunch of other groups who didn’t use it. The basses were a little overpowering—especially noticeable because their part didn’t have a lot of variation to it. Nice call for the group to drop out at points to let the emotion of the song sink in. Good facials from many of the group members—visually, that is a difference maker.

The PowerChords wrapped up with a mashup of Jessie J’s ”Price Tag” and ”Where is the Love” by The Black-Eyed Peas. Let’s start with the good news—I love the concept of this mashup. You take two hip songs that are all about positivity and construct some really fluid transitions between the two. Great idea. The problem here is that the group lacked some of the key talents necessary to really pull off the sound they were aiming for. Some people who followed The ACB coverage of season three of The Sing-Off misunderstood me and thought I didn’t like rap in a cappella. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. The thing is, I hold that rap only works in a cappella when the rap is good and the music holds up. As good as their rapper was, and as good as the group may have been in an everyday context, Urban Method didn’t deliver the music to a Sing-Off quality level (in my humble opinion). The PowerChords were very brave to attempt this piece, but, I’m sorry, the rappers (with the possible exception of the lone female rapper) just didn’t have what it took to make this a viable choice as a competition piece. Putting that aside, I really did appreciate the group’s energy and ambition. With a few different pieces to the puzzle, or putting their considerable arranging skills to a piece better-suited to the members’ talents, this group could have something really special. As it stood, I wasn’t feeling this closer.

In Achord entertained the crowd for the deliberation period. Nice set, including “How You Love Me Now,” “Gimme Sympathy,” “Mr. Brightside,” “Some Hearts,” “Inside Out,” and “I Should Have Been After You.” The set didn’t quite give the judges enough time, so we transitioned to a “perc off” beatboxing competition which the The PowerChords guys won with their really entertaining dubstep routine.

As In Achord sang, I worked on my personal picks for the show. Really tough race for first place. The Chorallaries’set structure had the feel of a winner, but I just couldn’t help feeling that they never realized the full potential they hinted at in their opening song. It was a solid set, just not as epic as it felt at first blush. The UniSons had almost the opposite problem, not taking their song selection quite seriously enough, but quite arguably over-achieving at every turn to arrive at a really solid set. They also really benefited from not having other all-male acts to compare them to. The Girls Next Door set was a little uneven and over-choreographed, but when they delivered, they scored with a slam dunk, rocking every piece of “Turning Tables.” And then there’s Serendipity, which didn’t have quite the firepower of the other contenders, but nonetheless demonstrated a real intelligence in how they put together each song and the broader set. With all of that said, I gave Serendipity the duke and had The Chorallaries eeking out second place.

Girls Next Door took the victory. I thought it was really close, so I can’t really argue the point—no injustices here. Their encore song was Maroon 5’s “Misery.” Fine finish to a solid quarterfinal.

Mike Chin’s Picks for the Night

Overall Placment:
1. Serendipity
2. The Chorallaries
3. The Girls Next Door

Best Solo:
1. The Girls Next door for “Turning Tables”
2. The UniSons for “Black Balloon”
3. For Good Measure for “Shake It Out”

1. Serendipity for “Wonderwall”
2. The Girls Next Door for "Turning Tables"
3. Drastic Measures For “Cecilia”

Visual Presentation
1. The Chorallaries for “Something to Believe In”
2. Serendipity for “Locked Up”
3. Drastic Measures for “Cecelia”

Best Vocal Percussion
1. Chorallaries for “Something to Believe In”
2. Drastic Measures for “Helter Skelter”
3. The PowerChords for “Take On Me”

ICCA Official Results

Overall Placement:
1. The Girls Next Door
2. The Chorallaries
3. Serenditipty

Outstanding Soloist: Girls Next Door for “Turning Tables”

Outstanding Choreography: Serendipity for the full set

ICHSA Mid-Atlantic Semifinals at Northern Highlands Regional High School

Event Reviews

On Saturday, January 28, Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, NJ played host to the International Championship of High School A Cappella Mid-Atlantic Semifinal. The event featured 10 competing groups and A Cappella Productions did an excellent job running sound. Before we get to the review, a quick summary:

The Competitors:
Montgomery Blair high School InToneNation
The Mardela Middle & High School Insongniacs
Rye High School Rhythm on Rye
The Mahopac High School PACapellas
The The Hun School Edgertones
The St. Andrew's School Noxontones
Haddon Heights Baptist Regional School Vocal Forte
The Northern Highlands Regional High School Highlands Voices
The Masters School Dobbs 16
The Ridgewood High School Maroon Men

Guest Groups:
Ramapo College of New Jersey 4GotteN SuitCase
TheWestminster Choir College The Deaftones

Photos of the event are available now here and on our Facebook page.

The show turned out to be a sell out—quite a statement for the state of scholastic a cappella! Ramopo College’s co-ed 4GotteNSuitCase kicked off the evening, performing while the audience filed into the auditorium. This is a neat alterative the BOCA or BOHSA CDs—it gives the audience a more dynamic form of pre-show entertainment and gives an additional group some exposure. I couldn’t help feeling a little bad for the lack of attention the group received while it sang, though. Selections included “The Lions Sleeps Tonight,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “The Lazy Song,” “Runaround Sue,” a lovely mostly choral version of “That Lonesome Road,” an ambitious treatment of “Welcome to the Black Parade,” and “Rolling in the Deep.”

The Montgomery Blair High School InToneNation kicked off the competition portion of the evening. The coed group wore black and red for a sharp look, and started its set with Sade’s “Smooth Operator”. Nice percussion on this one, and well-plotted out movement—the way in which the group crept to spread out the stage was really engaging, and with more experience on stage, I think the rest of the choreography the group had conceived of will come off all the smoother. The group incorporated an excellent soaring soprano line to back up the closing measures of the song.

InToneNation transitioned to “The Scientist” by Coldplay. I really liked the visual of the group clustering together, only for the soloist to emerge from the middle. Speaking of the soloist, he was very good musically, but all the more effective for the way in which he sold the emotion of the song through his facials and desperately clutching the microphone with both hands. The group made the wise call for the VP to enter on the second verse, which mixed up the sound and kept the audience interested at a point when the lurching melody might have otherwise lost some people. On a similar note, the group made the right call to clip the song a bit—the lengthier instrumentals of the original would have tested anyone’s attention span in the a cappella format.

The group closed with Duffy’s “Mercy.” Nice fluid motion on intro with group members crossing past each other to take their places in a line at the back of the stage. The soloist delivered a truly excellent performance--soulful, rich, confident and very clearly articulated. She came across very mature as a performer. While the group had made good use of movement up to this point, “Mercy” marked the point at which the group truly shone with choreography that was both purposeful and creative. Really fun moment with two girls talking in backtrack part. I’m not sure if it was the song itself or its place as the group’s third song on stage, but this was undoubtedly the point at which InToneNation really hit its stride, and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t hear more from them afterward. The group executed a well-rehearsed bow to leave the stage in an orderly, professional manner.

Next up were The Insongniacs from Mardella Springs high School. The co-ed group wore blue, black and gray. The set started New Found Glory’s ”Hold My Hand.” Fun visual to start with the group in two lines, after which they spread out to reveal the soloist. The solo was really charismatic here, demonstrating a level of stage presence and confidence beyond his years. The group showed a lot of ambition in its tempo shifts and dynamic variation, and retained a really high energy level throughout. Nice work on the percussion.

The group followed with “I am Ready for Love” by India.Arie. The Insongniacs demonstrated a nice level of patience in transitioning from the previous song to this much slower one. I loved the stage presence of the soloist, letting the mic stay on its stand and grasping the air with her hands—anytime a soloist can communicate the meaning of a song with more than just her voice and the lyrics, it’s a real plus for the overall performance. Really good crescendos as the group’s sound swelled in a controlled and purposeful way that helped break up the potential monotony of a slow song.

The group closed with a mashup of David Guetta’s “Without You” and U2’s ”With or Without You.” You’ve gotta love the ambition of a performance like this that layers melodies one atop the other, and incorporates some real theatrics. The story of the song was a male and female lead crooning back and forth with an additional young woman—presumably portraying the character of a jilted lover—stealing snippets of the solo for herself as she pined away. The male soloist, in particular, did a great job of showing restraint while also communicating some of the sheer of jubilance of young love. If the members of this high school group can retain this level of creativity in staging performances as they develop as musicians, they’re going to have something really special in the years ahead.

The third competing group was Rye High School Rhythm on Rye, a co-ed group from NY. The members wore different shades of blue t-shirts on top and black bottoms. They opened with ”Tainted Love”. Great attitude on this soloist, who seemed to have a hint of Fiona Apple in the sheer nuance of her voice. Jazzy, soulful, and nice, full sound from the group. The choreography included fun moments like a slow motion run which visually demarcated a tempo change in the piece. The drummer delivered good percussion throughout. Solid opener.

Next up was The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” The basses come through nice and clean on this one. Lots of shifting on the solo, which helps to underscore the diverse talents of the group. It’s a subtle point, but I really appreciate the degree to which the groups actually moved and repositioned itself on the choreography rather than settling for touch-step kind of moves. The group delivered a really nice moment toward the close with selected singers stepping forward to harmonize with one another.

Rhythm on Rye closed with U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Names.” Nice, high energy transition from the slow opening chords to the up-tempo first verse of the song. Solid percussion again. The choreography on this song was mostly good, but probably would have been even more impressive without so much repetition—certain parts like having members pushing their hands up looked good the first time around, but were distinctive enough that they came across as much less interesting the second time around. To contrast with that, the group incorporated a really fun free style dance break (complete with one guy breaking out the disco moves). I also appreciated the way in which the group visually bookended the song, starting and finishing on slow motion raises and drops of their arms. The moments at which the group went choral really delivered.

The Mahopac High School PACapellas were fourth out of the chute. The co-ed group wore purple and black, with sparkles for the women. The group opened with David Guetta’s ”Without You”, which is apparently great fodder for mashups, because they, too, opted to mix it up, in this case working in the Goo Goo Dolls’ ”Iris.” I really liked the component pieces of this number, but the transitions felt a little more abrupt than they needed to be. The female backing solo harmonized really nicely on “Iris.” Tons of energy on the movement, and the choreography was well-planned, between the group members starting out crouched around the soloist, and later forming two lines for the soloist to work his way through.

Next up was the Mission Impossible theme. It’s really ambitious for a scholastic group to attempt an instrumental number, and The PACapellas did an admirable job of capturing the audience’s attention through movement, complete with two hands-free backflips, a barrage of sunglasses, faux gunplay and tons of other theatrics. This was a lot of fun.

The group wrapped up with Lady Gaga’s ”Edge of Glory”. The group members started with their backs to the crowd before their staggered, slow motion turns. One of the strongest solos of the night on this one—so much charisma and clarity of sound. The movement demonstrated good energy again, particularly with some really sharp fist pumps and reaching motions on the choruses. The percussion really pumped through the song. All in all, this was the kind of performance for which you could really tell the group was enjoying itself—and that’s exactly the sort of difference that can elevate a really good group to sublime status, if just for a few minutes.

The Edgertones, an all-female group representing The Hun School of Princeton perfomed next. Blue tops, black bottoms, and necklaces for the ladies. They opened with Regina Spektor’s “On the Radio.” Excellent charisma from the soloist who delivered a confident, but perfectly understated lead. Smooth slick sound from group, demonstrating a ton precision, particularly on the tempo changes. Solid percussion. A few girls deliver some really fun “uh-oh” echo sounds—a pretty literal interpretation of the original song, but they nailed it. The group demonstrated excellent control as even their clap/snap body percussion faded out elegantly on the finish. Really strong opening song.

The group huddled together for its second song, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence.” Choral treatment of the song, which once again highlighted the group’s precision and tuning. I would have liked to have heard a little more variation in dynamics or tempo to spice up the piece—for a song so many groups have performed a cappella, groups need to think about how they’re going to distinguish themselves. Things did pick up toward the close of the song as the group split up parts more on the final leg and executed a perfect dip to a pianissimo sound to finish.

The Edgertones closed with Jessie J’s “Price Tag.” After two songs that were all about precision and restraint, it was really enjoyable to hear the girls go for it on an up-tempo pop song that incorporated its fair share of choreography. Regarding the choreography, this is the type of visual presentation I’d love to see more of from groups at any level—completely unself-conscious movement that you can tell the group members had a lot of fun planning out. Similar to the group’s first solo, this song’s lead demonstrated both great stage presence and control. Fun moment as one of the members donned sunglasses to rap the breakdown. Excellent choice for a closer to show the group’s most human side and keep the crowd smiling.

After intermission, The Noxontones from St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, DE took the stage. Red tops, black bottoms for the co-ed group. They opened with “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane. The group clustered at the start, then spread out into arc over the course of the first verse. While I would have liked to have heard a little more nuance to the execution, this was a smooth, polished performance. Nice fall out from the group, then gradual re-entry into the last chorus. The group came together for a fine bit of unison, raising their hands as they sung at that point. The group pulled off a good visual in returning to a clustered formation in front of the soloist to finish the song.

Up next, we got a medley of songs from The Lion King. The group demonstrated a really good consciousness of stage formations over the course of this piece, circling behind the leads, spanning out to forma long arc along the back of the stage, and pouring in some real theatrics. It was a nice touch for groups members to retain their “parts” throughout the song, including recurring appearances of Simba, Timon and Pumbaa—though, presenting the narrative songs out of order was a little disorienting (e.g., Simba leaving behind his friends in “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” before he first meets them in “Hakuna Mata”), but that’s a minor quibble. The piece reached a real climax on “Circle of Life,” complete with a cool whistling effect in the background, an excellent solo, and a beautifully layered set of harmonies. Strong finish.

Vocal Forte from Haddo Heights Baptist Regional High School competed next. The co-ed group wore all black with untucked tops over black bottoms, and red, white and blue striped ties. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the group had a real air of professionalism when it stepped on stage.The group kicked off its set with “Sing A Song” by Point of Grace. Powerful, almost gospel-like sound from the group. We heard rotating pairs of soloists, including some really striking vocalists. It’s a compelling way of introducing the diverse voices of the group to the crowd. The percussionist proved to be the truest showman of the group, putting on a clinic during his drum solo and introducing the various vocal parts of the group, one by one, to join him. Excellent opener.

The group members knelt toward the soloist, standing in middle of the stage for Kelis’s “A Cappella.” Very cool song choice to deliver a layered meaning in this setting. Very nice solo and pounding percussion here. Fun visual rearrangements in the background. The coolest part of all for this song was the complexity of the arrangement, including plenty of tempo shifts and a pattern of having vocalists join one another to organically build the sound as the song went on. Nice fade out on the ending.

Vocal Forte used its ending positions on stage to set up the third song, John Legend’s “If You’re Out There.” Exceptional female lead on this one, who showed good restraint early on, and particularly on portions of the song when she sang unaccompanied; but who also proved fully capable of belting when her moment arrived. Lovely layered harmonies on the chorus. The perc entered on second verse, which was a nice artistic decision to diversify the sound as the song progressed. Once again, the group demonstrated some really compelling decision-making in terms of how the group entered and exited the song, and particularly how backing vocalists echoed the solo for this song. A couple of the visuals reminded me of The Washington University Stereotypes’ inspired rendition of this song from last year’s ICCA finals, but the group did an effective job of making the song its own, and literally drew goose bumps for me at some of its biggest moments. The crowd positively roared on the finish of this outstanding closing song.

The Highlands Voices drew the unenviable task of following Vocal Forte. Nonetheless, the co-ed group from Northern Highlands Regional High School proved up to the task. Clad in black and red, they led off with co-ed Sugarland’s ”Stuck Like Glue”. Slick solo here that really commanded the stage, and only got better with the addition of a male backing solo on the choruses. The group sound and the percussion were both exceptionally polished. In addition to everything that went right aurally, the group was a treat to watch, with dancing transitions that were confident and smooth, and included one explosion into freestyle dancing that spanned the stage. This is one of those groups where you can look at any individual group member at any given time, and they’re all “playing the part” having fun and performing every moment. Excellent first song.

The group crouched down with its soloist standing in back for the start of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something. The group started really soft and even on the opening measures, before growing bigger. The perc, in particular, was really impressive as he subtly worked his way in, showing impressive control of his craft. A second soloist joined the lead for a nice male-female dynamic. At last, the song burst into full tempo with a third soloist, fast and fun, before slowing back down and giving way to another lead. This is not an original song choice, but The Highlands Voices put on a clinic in terms of demonstrating how you can take a classic and make it vital again. Very strong performace.

Next up was Gloria Estefan’s “Conga.” The song opened with guys’ backs to crowd, and the girls showing off their best dance moves for a really fun visual. Excellent moment as the guys took over with the brass and full percussion section in which I’m pretty sure I actually heard vocal sandpaper blocks—very cool! Great dueling female solos. One of the guys took the lead to sample Ritchie Valens’s “La Bamba” for a very nice mid-song surprise. Fun stop-motion moments embedded in the choreography. My only knock against this was that the transition back to “Conga” at the end was a bit abrupt and clipped—I would have drawn it out a little longer. That’s a pretty minor issue, though. Stellar song to wrap up a stand-out set.

And then it was time for The Dobbs 16, a co-ed group from The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY. The group wore red t-shirts and black bottoms. Really fun audio effects with the bass and perc guys sampling “Drop it Like It’s Hot” on the intro and directing the movements of the group, from slouching down to re-elevating. I might have suggested the guys save the audio effects to transition between songs, but it was an entertaining moment nonetheless that helped assert the groups’ personality from the get-go. The Dobbs 16 launched into “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. Very strong solo here, and a nice visual with group members reaching toward the soloist. The group sounded great as its sound swelled, and particularly when it featured the bass and perc guy again on the bridge. The soloist delivered a nice power moment launching into the final chorus. Very clean sound all around.

Next up was “Everything” by Michael Buble. Good solo here, and the percussion functioned as a rock to keep this all together. Really fun band moment as the group members simulated different instruments, most noticeably a trombone in the middle.

“Breakeven” by the Script followed. Really nice, clear bass sound on this one. The VP was stellar again. The group executed the arrangement really nicely for this song with temporary swells of sound for each aprt, and dynamic variation to really pop into the chorus. Impressive falsetto from the soloist who shows some real maturity and range on his vocals. This proved to be a really strong wrap-up for an inspired three-song set.

The last of the evening’s competitors were the all-male Ridgewood High School Maroon Men. The guys took the stage in black t-shirts and jeans and kicked off their set with “Good Old A Cappella.” Very clean sound on the classic, with lots of firepower and a really nice tenor on the opening. They kept the tempo really quick, which was impressive, though I think the performance on the whole may have been a touch more successful slowed down just a nudge. The group rotated through three good soloists, the last of whom sung his part particularly well, and introduced the group to the crowd, saying they were excited to be there. It’s a fun bit of showmanship when groups do that—unconventional for competition, but one of those subtle things that helps establish a group’s personality and make the performance feel more casual. Good opener.

The group moved on to George Harrison’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You.” Really fun sound on this one all around. Nice dynamics, shrinking the sound down and demonstrating impressive control, particularly for an all-male group this age. Nice, smooth solo work.

The guys’ third song was Sister Hazel’s “It’s All for You.” Excellent backing solo leading into chorus. The primary soloist himself was really good, but could have been all the stronger with a touch more animation and stage presence. The group implemented a fun clap-along at the end. All in all, this song did a good job of summing up the Maroon Men set—entertaining performances and crowd-pleasing, familiar song selections from a group that would probably fit right in performing in just about any setting.

The Maroon Men wrapped up with Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me.” Cool, slick sound leading into this one, with rotating duel soloists throughout. The use of so many soloists seemed to communicate the universality if the song’s subject matter—of men lamenting loves gone by. Nice slow, clean choral finish to round out a good set.

While the judges deliberate, The Deaftones, out of Westminster Choir College, did their guest group duties for the evening. They took the stage in their trademark black with green suspenders and belts. I always love the clean, precise sound of this group. They have a tendency to pass on so many contemporary trends in favor of paying close attention to musicality and tuning. Combine musical professionalism with a willingness to pick less serious songs with which to showcase their abilities, and you have the unique sound of this group. Their set included “We Built This City,” “Blow,” “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” “Suddenly I See,” a startlingly faithful then creatively disparate version of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” a surprising mashup of “Africa” with “Replay,” “Skyscraper,” “Tubthumping,” and, as the deliberations continued, a really fun teach-the-audience sing-along.

It was an interesting competition because, as I saw it, things were very tight for both first and second place and third and fourth—two high stakes positions because only the first place group would go on to the ICHSA Finals, and fourth place wouldn’t get announced to the crowd. For me, Vocal Forte and The Highland Voices were duking it out for the win, with a pair of sets that inspired, innovated, and delivered for all three songs. Meanwhile, I had The Edgertones and The Dobbs 16 right behind them—The Edgertones for a more controlled and precise approach to the music, and The Dobbs 16 for creativity. Overall, I had The Highland Voices just nudging out the victory and, because I’m not a judge and don’t have to make the really tough decisions, placed The Dobbs 16 and The Edgertones in a tie for third. The judges seemed to have similar feelings, at least for the top two, as the official ICHSA score report showed The Voices nudging out the win by just two points over Vocal Forte. (The full report of ACB and official picks appears below.)The home group, and newly crowned regional champs, closed out a top-notch evening of a cappella with a sweet rendering of The Platters’ “Goodnight Sweetheart.”

Thanks for checking out this review, and be sure to check back in the weeks ahead for a series of ICCA event reviews.

ACB Picks for the Night:
Overall placement
1. The Highlands Voices
2. Vocal Forte
3. TIE: The Dobbs 16 and The Edgertones
5. InToneNation

Best Solo
1. Vocal Forte for “If You’re Out There”
2. The Edgertones for “On the Radio”
3. The Highlands Voices for “Stuck Like Glue”

Best Vocal Percussion
1. The Dobbs 16
2. TIE: Vocal Forte and The Highlands Voices

Best Visual Presentation
1. The Highlands Voices for “The Conga”
2. Vocal Forte for “If You’re Out There”
3. The Highlands Voices for “Stuck Like Glue”

Official ICHSA Results
Overall Placement:
1. The Highlands Voices
2. Vocal Forte
3. The Edgertones

Outstanding Soloisst: The Dobbs 16 for “Everything” and Vocal Forte for “If You’re Out There”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: The Dobbs 16 for the full set

Outstanding Arrangements: Rhythm on Rye for the full set and Vocal Forte for “If You’re Out There”

Outstanding Choreography: The Highlands Voices for the full set

The Sing-Off Christmas Special

Event Reviews

The show opens with members of Pentatonix singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”—they pass the solo around nicely on it, then hand things off to Committed, backing them with Pentatonix’s rhythm section truly takes the sound to the next level all around. Nota adds some Latin flavor on their entrance. With all due respect to Nota, I think they’re the least musically awe-inspiring of the champions—nonetheless, their years together and touring show as their stage presence is unparalleled among those on stage. Really fun convergence on the end with the soaring high parts of Pentatonix, the slick harmonies of Committed, and the classic blaring horn sound of Nota coming together on the finish.

Delilah and The BackBeats join forces next on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” The song selection seems far more in The Backbeats’ wheelhouse—it’ll be interesting to hear what they can do. How cool is it to see Courtney Jensen beatboxing on national TV again? This is really good, and honestly, I wish we had been able to see more of this side of Delilah this season—this is the more feminine, fun aspect of their character that I worry the judges kind of shut down when after the ladies sang “Heat Wave.” Good stuff. Sara calls the groups a magical pair, and said it was all she could do to keep herself from climbing on stage with them.

The Dartmouth Aires come out next for The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”. Love the song, but I’m not sure I buy it as a Christmas song (Love Actually not withstanding). Also not sure how I feel about those signs—The Aires are so much better than that. Oh well. Lots of fun choreography, par for the chorus, and the guys get the chance to spread the spotlight around more than we typically saw from them this season. Really dig the moment when the guys jump up and down, chanting, “LOVE LOVE LOVE,” which is just really emblematic of what this episode of the show is all about—fun, celebration and, what they heck, love. Great breakdown on the end, and I love the decision to retain the sampling of “She Loves You” in the background.

Committed and Afro-Blue share the stage for The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child. Such a slick sound all around. Committed takes the lead first, then hands it off to Afro-Blue. Ridiculous tempo changes as we go. As a recorded product, I’d actually say this is too complicated for its own good, but in the context of an all-star show, I can’t really knock the concept. Great to hear the Afro-Blue bass get a moment in the sun. Ben calls these groups the standard-bearers for their respective seasons, and lauds them for applying thought and craft to their art form.

Next up, Street Corner Symphony is joined by a member of The Collective for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallellujah.” Pretty, if straightforward handling of the song on the first verse, with some neat bell sounds coming in on the chorus. Nice choral moment that builds to letting the soloist’s voice shine through, then have a couple measures all to himself on the mic. Best moment of the song, for sure. Nice emotion around the final bend, particularly from the lead. I think this would have benefited from a quieter, more subdued beginning to let that build really pop, but it’s a pretty minor quibble. Moving stuff all the same.

Holy dream pairing--Ben Folds and Sara Bareilles join forces for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Instant iTunes buy, I don’t even need to hear it first. Cute little lead-in video with the two of them poking fun at one another. Ben cheats by playing piano, but the a cappella crew in the background gets most of the instrumental spotlight (if too-little camera time for me to positively ID them all—nonetheless, it’s five dudes including the Afro-Blue bass and McKay from Vocal Point). Excellent horns in the background—perfectly understated. Supremely cool stuff from Sara and Ben of course. Just to finish out the friendly-chiding portion of the evening, I almost wish they would have Shawn give them some critical comments from the judges’ desk. Nick gets awkwardly creepy/quasi-homophobic for a second in talking about cozying up with Ben and Sara—just kidding, only Sara. OK, then. Ben and “The Sing-Off Five” play us into the commercial break.

Pentatonix is back with Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe.” Sorry to those who don’t share my bias, but it’s a real credit to the group how they can make Bieber sound so legitimately musical. I love the tenor’s sustained slice of the solo—his voice kind of reminds me of Jason Mraz this time out. Lovely choral finish.

Next up, a performance that’s sure to be the talk of the town (pun not only intended, but steered directly into…) with Jerry Lawson taking the lead with a wide cross-section of past Sing-Off stars behind him. The song of choice is Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” appropriately, a song that highlights so many old songs, representing the tradition that this performance is all about, celebrating music across the generations. You get the feeling a lot of these performers are under-utilized on this one—particularly the ladies who don’t have much to do besides say “yeah-yeah-yeah” and do the choreography, but what they hey, this is just plain fun. Serious props to the VPers in back. Great stuff. Shawn pays his respects to Jerry, call him a trailblazer and calling the performance electrifying.

The Beelzebubs, On the Rocks, and The Aires team up now for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Something tells me my testosteronimeter is about to bust. The Aires lead it off, then turn to On the Rocks, before The ‘Bubs take it away. Fun set up with each group behind its own podium in mock-debate style. The groups converge from there, dancing as one mass that is remarkably polished given how many dudes are out there. The sound shrinks down for the build up to the finish. Individual soloists get plenty of room to shine, with Michael form The Aires and Peter Hollens from On the Rocks among the truest stars. Nicely done.

Urban Method takes the stage next for “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Love this bass solo, and kind of love Myke playing the Grinch part. Interesting little salsa sample here, a bit out of character for them. So much is a build up to the inevitable rap and its executed quite ably as per usual, with a very smooth transition back to the more traditional vocals. Fun little number.

Shawn Stockman joins Nota to sing Donny Hathaway’s ”This Christmas.” Cool little rattling effect on the intro behind Shawn’s lead vocal. The Nota horns are perfectly suited for this number. Everything from the slow tempo to the decision to start out seated gives this number plenty of room to grow—very smart. Nice breakdown, first spotlighting Nota’s usual front man, then cutting back to Shawn with some Spanish singing of his own. Nice performance all around.

Vocal Point returns to the Sing-Off stage for their take on Sinatra’s “Let It Snow.” Cute visual with the guys in scarves, huddled for warmth. Plenty of tempo variation, and each segment of this is just plain good. Nick Lachey dons a fedora to tag team it up on the lead. And—oh gosh, the roof is leaking—it’s snowing…you know, in Southern California. Cute. Ever the showmen, the members of Vocal Point collapse to the ground on the finish, and promptly start making snow angels.

It’s time for Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” featuring , Pentatonix, Urban Method and, well, Flo Rida. Performances like this are cool if for no other reason than how little the original performer needs to change up his style to fit in amidst an a cappella band. I worry that the basses get a little swallowed in the sheer volume of voices, outside of a few moments when they’re really spotlighted. Ton of energy from everyone on stage, and this is a lot of fun.

Taking us home, the 14 groups who have appeared in some formation on this show come together for John Lennon’s classic “Happy X-mas (War Is Over).” The leads from Nota Delilah, North Shore are among the finest in the early going. Afro-Blue makes a nice entrance from one of the side portals; The Collective follows suit from the other side. Kind of cool to see the group members so intermingled throughout the auditorium. Great to hear Jerry Lawson’s little insertion from the stands. Ben Folds looks 100 percent conscious of how cheesy this all is as he sways at his desk, holding his electronic candle between his hands. Aww shucks. This is what it is, and I’ll forgive the enormity of the cheese factor ten times over for how powerful this conglomeration of vocals truly is. Fine end to a fine first three seasons of The Sing-Off.

… and, in case you hadn’t heard about it yet, the movement is on to encourage NBC to facilitate season four. Check out the video below.

Thanks, everyone! Happy holidays!

The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 11

Event Reviews

Here we go with the finale! Three groups remain, but only one can emerge as champions. Time for the opening number. The Dartmouth Aires front man kicks things off with the solo on Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” The Pentatonix lead takes it from there, followed by the female lead from Urban Method. Interesting, slowed down version—huh, I thought you weren’t supposed to change up the tempo on a Jackson song (my hat’s still off to Sonos…). The sound isn’t exactly clean here, but it’s fun and the groups move quite well, working out the choreography. This may be the best creative use of the Urban Method rapper this season—adding some real drama and flavor to the number. Fun little ending as the singers toss their fedoras to the crowd on the close.

We catch video snippets of Pentatonix visiting The Trevor Project to record an anti-bullying PSA. Good stuff. On the live stage, they perform “Without You” by David Guetta featuring Usher. Interesting formation on the start with an outward facing circle. The bass and perc are great as always and the harmonies sound really clean and pretty here, supporting the solo quite nicely. It’s always interesting to hear Sing-Off groups live, without het benefit of post-production, and Pentatonix is holding up quite nicely. Very nice decision for the female lead and the tenor to each get a sliver of the solo pie here, too. One of the smartest things the group did this year was utilizing those two just enough to remain sort of a “secret weapon” while spotlighting them enough to help deliver slam dunk performances when the group really needed it.

Pentatonix makes Sara cries. She calls them daredevils and lauds them for taking songs apart and putting them back together. Ben singles out the bass and drum, and talks about how the group delivers surprises, while remaining focused and heart-felt. Shawn recognizes the sweet and sassy female lead, the arrival of the tenor in the spotlight, and calls the lead solo “ri-damn-diculous.”

Next, we get to see Urban Method checking in with the Sickle Cell Foundation, working on some arts and crafts with the children. On the live stage, the group sings “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine. Nice application of the rapper here and the group looks to be having more fun in this performance than, well, they ever have on the show. The ladies, in particular, seem so much more at home on stage now than they did in most of their other performances. Great energy on the rap. The blend falls apart a little heading into the endgame, but it’s still fun. As was the case for Pentatonix, the bass and perc are the foundation here, and go a long way toward making the performance.

Shawn talks about Urban Method creating a new sound, and being authentic. Sara gives a shout out to the ladies, and discusses their development as artists over the course of the season. Ben calls the group’s sound massive, and lauds the production and confidence they bring to their performances.

The Dartmouth Aires spent some time with Saving Strokes, an organization that promotes stroke rehabilitation through golf. On stage, they bring us Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Cool, theatrical, high energy song choice for the guys. As always, the soloist is a heat magnet. Say what you will about The Aires worthiness of the finals, but I defy you to think of any bigger individual star this show has ever made than this soloist. Really fun moment as he brings the Delilah front woman out on to stage with them. She’s far from taken by surprise, armed and ready for an electric solo segment of her own. Neat! The two have a really fun exchange as the Aires dance across the middle of the stage—unfortunately the camera angle loses most of the choreo there—it looked like a lot of fun from what we saw. Ultimately, The Aires delivered in the way they always have—super high energy, well-planned movement, and a blow-away solo.

Ben talks about how The Aires have focus and a theatrical edge that helps them stand out from the sea of other all-male collegiate groups. Shawn praises all the groups for their charity work, and says The Aires filled the room with a wall of sound. Sara comments on the group’s ability to have fun, and how clear it is that the guys love each other, which always makes for a compelling performance each time out.

Pentatonix is joined by Nick Lachey with 98 Degrees’ “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche).” Stellar performance all around—in terms of sound, Nick kind of fits like a glove; early in the season I knocked this group for sounding thin in the middle, and I am going to go ahead and call back to that here just to reference how much fuller this group does sound with five voices for instrumentation behind a soloist. No one’s going to deny that this is great group as a fivesome, but I think the right sixth member really could have taken this group to another level. Positively sultry Spanish insertion from the female backing lead. The more complex choreo is a little outside Nick’s range, but on straight up stereo movement, this gels nicely. Top to bottom, a lot of fun.

Sara Bareilles is teaming up with Urban Method for a performance of Sara’s own “Gonna Get Over You.” Man I love Sara’s vocals, and it’s all the cooler to hear this return to her a cappella roots. The Urban Method flavor is nicely understated with the rap intro, and then a pretty straight forward a cappella take on the song from there. Pretty impressive amount of choreography built in here, particularly as Sara sits and crosses her legs to chat with the ladies, then dances on over to join the guys. And—what’s that I hear? Dynamics? From Urban Method? Who’d have thunk it? Nice little ditty.

Here comes Ben Folds, joining The Aires for his own “Not the Same.” He leads the audience through the choral effects he often does at live shows (can’t tell you how much I love Ben live). This has the makings a performance that’s a lot of fun. Sort of strange given the melancholy vibe of the song itself, but this is what Ben does. The group’s energy is, if anything, a little subdued for this number—like Sara with Urban Method, it’s clear who the star of this performance is. Ben ends up sitting back in his usual chair at the desk to sing, giving the guys more of a spotlight for the live audience, while those of us at home just don’t see them at all for about 30 seconds as the camera stays glued to him. Very fun close with Ben standing out in the stands, guiding the studio-wide chorus through the closing bars.

All-female all-star group performance coming up—I approve! Though, I really feel like they should have dialed up Lo Barreiro to join them—girl power! Anyway, the ladies sing “Natural Woman”. Pretty cool to hear the diversity of female personalities from this season, particularly with the ladies of Delilah rounding out those low parts I’m not sure this ensemble could cover otherwise. Stunning performance all around.

Time for the all-male powerhouses to team up for Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” The sheer mass of voices kills it on the opening instrumentation. The Aires lead slips into his classical voice a bit on the opening, but settles in soon after. The Pentatonix lead seems right at home. As if he’s trying to redeem Vocal Point’s badass image, we hear their representative positively rock out a growl. Really fun to hear reps from groups like North Shore and The Yellow Jackets back on stage. The Urban Method rapper gets to do the count off—much better decision than letting him actually rap on this one. Fun, straight forward take on a classic. The sheer numbers allowed the guys to do a very big song justice.

Smokey Robinson is in the hizouse to sing “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” with Afro-Blue. How’s that for a consolation prize?! One of the really cool things about Afro-Blue is that even on these throw-away celebrity soloist numbers, you can still hear such complexity in the group sound. Lovely layered harmonies. And how on earth can Smokey still get that high? Stellar.

Nick introduces our top three. Shawn extols the virtues of Urban Method, talking about how they fought through the season and rose to the occasion. Sara talks about how The Aires hit the sweet spot with their big sound and theatrics. Ben says Pentatonix has potential to take a cappella into the mainstream. And now, it’s elimination time. Urban Method is out. The group swan songs it up with Diddy’s “Coming Home.” Between their rap foundation and the gradual rise of the group’s female contingent, this is probably the perfect song for them to leave on. Nice final sound bite.

We get highlight videos for both groups and, well, there are still ten minutes left so we’d better head to another commercial break. Sigh.

And…. it… is… time. Nick gives one last run down of each group, the dramatic music kicks into overdrive, and……………. PENTATONIX WINS! PENTATONIX WINS! PENTATONIX WINS! The confetti pours down. As it should be—congratulations to a group that undeniably earned its hype and deserves the recording contract that awaits them. No swan song from The Aires? Nick tells us it’ll be online. And, surprise, surprise, next week we get a live Sing-Off holiday special featuring groups from all three seasons. Cool beans. The members of Pentatonix celebrate their victory by singing “Eye of the Tiger.”

And that is officially a wrap for season three. Thank you everyone who joined us for the duration of this season—it was a lot of fun. Be sure to check back for further coverage of tonight’s finale later this week.

Next Page
ICCA West Quarterfinal at The University of Southern California
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Binghamton University
ICCA Northeast Quarterfinal at Boston University
ICHSA Mid-Atlantic Semifinals at Northern Highlands Regional High School
The Sing-Off Christmas Special
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 11
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 11
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 10
SoJam 2011 Collegiate Competition (Plus, Sundry Thoughts from the Weekend)
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 9
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 8
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 7
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 6
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 5
The RIT Sing-Off 2011
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 4
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 3
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 2
The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 1
Johns Hopkins University Battle of the A Cappella Groups 2011
The 2011 ICCA Finals
ICCA Northeast Semifinals at MIT
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinals at Rutgers University
ACB ICCA South Semifinal at The University of South Carolina
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Penn State
ICCA West Quarterfinal at UC Berkeley
ICCA South Quarterfinals at Johns Hopkins University
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals at Rutgers University
ICCA South Quarterfinal at Clemson University
The Sing-Off Season 2, Episode 5