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The Sing-Off, Season 5

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The Sing-Off is back! Shawn Stockman and Jewel are back. Ben Folds is... woefully missing. But Patrick Stump from Fallout Boy is here. And, wait, Pentatonix is, too? Neat!

Opening number is Kim Wilde's "Kids in America," led off with The Exchange before the groups rotate through and team up. Does The Sing-Off have the best opening group numbers in reality TV? No question. Slickly executed, and a nice little sample of what each of these groups is about.

Nick Lachey is here and calls it a special edition of The Sing-Off. He shares that this episode will start with a signature song, then go on to a judge's choice number. The winner scores $50,000. On to the judges. Patrick Stump shares that Ben Folds is on tour, so he'll fill in as musical nerd. Jewel says she's looking to be entertained and moved. Nick says that Shawn consistently brings the flash and makes reference to his flashy jacket. Shawn tells the groups to leave everything on the stage and not to have any regrets.

Timothy's Gift is here. The women met at their church in Nashville and describe themselves as a little bit country, a little bit rock. They do most of their singing in maximum security prisons, and say they do so to inspire hope in them.

The women kick off the competition with "Ghost" by Ella Henderson. Nice lead vocal here, and some pretty, simple harmonies in the early going before the perc keys in and the group grooves into place. Very nice unison, before a transition to a new lead, en route to the wall of sound. I love this song choice to reinforce the group's identity and show off many sides of their talent.

Jewel says the group is really different for an a cappella group--showing up without a bass and VP. She said they sounded warm and maintained their roundness nicely. Shawn applauds the work the group does with inmates. He says he enjoyed the performance and how Abby flipped her voice. He said it took him a minute to figure out where they were going, but soon enough he did get it and he loved the performance. Patrick says the group had great leads and harmonized nicely, but could have backed off at some points a hair. He asks what it's like to perform at a prison.

a.Squared is up next--five dudes from Yale with the benefit of both looping pedals and super hip black-and-white into color lighting effects in their intro package. They demo the harmonies that the loops allow them to produce. They talk about wanting to experiment with new approaches to a cappella. They talk about the risks that come with live looping and how if someone makes a mistake it can be repeated over and over again on account of the technology.

The guys sing Bastille's "Pompeii." They let their soundboard guy work the effects liberally in the early going to show what they're working with before breaking into a more traditional take on the song with plenty of bells and whistles swirling around them. I don't know that this act would work with anything shy of spectacular voices and a mastermind at the board. Fortunately, a.quared had it covered.

Shawn calls Jacob the Steve Jobs of a cappella, and Jewel lauds the way in which he visually performed. Shawn says the arrangement was ambitious, and their approach to the genre could change a cappella. (Somewhere, the members of Aurora collectively throw their looping pedals at the TV... or, more diplomatically, appreciate that The Sing Off has come around to such things... because they're cool like that.) Shawn says things could get overwhelming in the performance. He concludes on the thought that it is hip to be square. Jewel says there's nothing square about it. (Take note, kids--figure out a name that it's easy to riff puns off of, and you will be remembered!) She calls the group half man, half machine and cautions a gimmick will make people listen, but emotion makes us remember a group. Patrick lauds the group for how difficult their approach is to pull off and calls them talented singers.

Traces is up next. They talk about coming from very different careers and finding time to sing together. They have a style often described as gospel, whether it's what they originally intended or not. They talk about their appearance on The Sing-Off being a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Traces sings "River Deep, Mountain High" by Tina Turner. Love their groove early on and the take-no-prisoners approach of their soloists from the very beginning. The group hints at its power as the tempo picks up. Excellent choice to go all out on the chorus then reel back the volume, but keep the sass turned up to eleven when they head into the next verse. Shrewd call to go for the clap-along on that second chorus and finish big.

Shawn talks about the group performing like forty-year vets, He says he can forgive imperfections--they elevated the stage. Patrick says everyone was so good. There were points when he wanted to hear more VP. Jewel says this group has the lowest female bass the show has heard, and she heard so many influences in their work. She says the group did its homework and had incredible energy.

The Exchange is up next. They talk about the members meeting on The Sing-Off via The YellowJackets and Urban Method (not to mention, Chris's unmentioned behind-the-scense work for the show). They talk about touring the globe to entertain in small venues, sacrificing money and their personal lives to pursue this music.

The guys sing "Love Runs Out" by OneRepublic. Slow, grooving start. You can tell these guys' experience in this medium in how they carry themselves from the word go. The solos are spectacular, and the low end is positively scintillating througout this one. Killer staging to boot, playing iwth a lot of traditional a cappella tropes, but bring ing them to life, covering the stage with ridiculous proficiency for just five bodies.

Shawn says the group carried on the vibe of the original song, but translated into their own style. He singles out Richard and Chris's perc and bass moves for keeping the music tight. Jewel says the chords were dynamic. She notes that the lowest voices can sometimes sing the highest and she dug Chris's work. She notes the operatic tone to Jamal's vocals and praises Alfredo's solo work. Patrick talks about how the group shared the lead and mixed roles so fluidly.

The SanFran6 is together. They talk about assembling a dream team from the best talent they could find. They talk about trying to graduate from their daily lives to being full-time singers. They intend to explode on stage.

The group performs "Break Free" by Ariana Grande. Cool buzzing intro as the camera works with the group to pan across the stage and reveal them, culminating with the soloist (who sounds great!). Nice, organic movement for this number and the group boasts a tight rhythm section. I love the techno-oriented VP effects this group weaves in to take what could have been a run-of-the-mill (albeit expertly done) song, and revitalize it.

Shawn asks Danny waht he was doing. He responds with his vocal melodica. Shawn asks him to free style, and he obliges. Pretty sweet. Shawn says there were points when the arrangement could have been beefed up. Patrick disagrees, and says he loved the arrangement and was entertained the full time. Jewel says the soloist sounds like a pop singer and she likes it. She liked the way the group used dynamics.

The Melodores out of Vanderbilt are up next. They talk about singing together and one of the guys coming after performing as in Pitch Perfect 2. They talk about this being a perfect send-off for the group's seniors.

The guys perform "Trumpets" by Jason DeRulo. I can hardly tell you how much I love seeing truly electric energy and professional brand of choreo these guys have been executing for years debut for a national audience. Nice falsetto bit in the middle there. We're on to a kickline. Nice vocal trumpet on the finish.

Jewel says William is "cuter than kittens on YouTube." She praises James's solo and says the guys hit a variety of different aspects. Shawn liked the way the guys changed rhythms and kept the audience engaged. He praised Auggie's vocal fluglehorn. Patrick talks about how impressive it was to get so many guys on the same beat, though he noted pitchy moments in the early going.

Pentatonix is here for for a Christmas mashup. Man is it good to hear this crew back on this show. I remember a time when I was skeptical of this group, in the early stages of Season 3. Three years later, they've firmly established themselves as the most ivnentive, engaging, timely, wildly entrtaining group I know. They've transcended a cappella to become a truly commercial draw--and that's aside from taht whole Grammy nomination situation. Kudos to the five-some for coming back home to NBC for a night.

It's elimination time. Really, a one-night show needs eliminations? The Exchange, Traces, and The Melodores survive.

Traces sings Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston's "I'm Every Woman." I'm stunned by the way in which every one of these woman carries her share of the load. They're passing that solo torch and positively attacking the vocals. Another excellent showing for this crew.

Shawn says that attitude is everything for this song and the group pulled it off. He talks about the stunning vocals and particularly Tameka's low end. Patrick talks about no one overpowering each other and everyone getting a chance to shine. Jewel plays the Ben Folds role, breaking down what the group did musically. She digs them, too.

The Exchange is back with Ed Sheeran's "Sing." The guys keep it subtle on the opening, before Jamal's falsetto makes Shawn holler "What?!" from the judges table and start clapping along ahead of the audience. The guys build the sound from there. Three-way fast-paced harmony between Aaron, Jamal, and Alfredo while Chris and Richard hold it down on rhythm. That's one way of handling the rap. You know, if you happen to have immeasurable talent at your disposal.

Jewel says she's a big fan of the group. she liked the way the guys built with their dynamics and broke the rap into a three-part harmony. She talks about the audience clapping along to become another band member, and how shrewd that was. Shawn singles out Jamal's high notes and says the guys showed range in a matter of just two songs, and says they were entertaining and harmonic. Patrick says the rap was flawless, but the connective tissue made it feel like the group was just waiting for better parts.

The Melodores are back to sing "Take Me To Church" by Hozier. Dark sound, dark lighting on the opening, casting both a figurative and literal spotlight on the soloist. He's up to the task. The guys not only sound great but, man can they put together a visual. Killer staging. Excellent use of dynamics to explode on the ending and get Jewel checking her arms for goosebumps. Me too, Jewel. Me too. So few groups capitalize on the capacity for silence to generate drama and contrast. This was a masterful intepretation of the song.

Patrick says this is a tough song, and Dan did an amazing job on the lead. He talks about how sparse the song is, and how the guys did wonderfully using silence to their advantage. Jewel talks about how this song was a gauntlet thrown down for the group, and that Dan's solo was authentic and powerful. Shawn says The Melodores took us to church. He says he's a fan of music and when he goes to see a show, he wants to see the sides of a musician spilt on stage--and that was the kind of performance Dan delivered--he says that's what makes singers legends, and the group backed him up the way they should have. He says that's "storytelling."

It's time for the judges and Home Free to break it down for us all, with Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." Lovely sound all around, and Shawn Stockman makes a nice addition, but I'll be darned if Jewel's little segment of that solo didn't just steal the show. Nicely done all around, though, and I'm definitely a bigger fan of Patrick Stump's rock star skills than his voice as a judge.

It's time to find out who wins the seaso--er... special. The judges give each of the groups their regard, and Shawn talks about how each group has been exposed to millions of viewers--it's up to them to keep it up from here.

The Melodores win it! I have to be honest, I was really torn between all three finalists--I suppose that's what happens when groups only have one night to distinguish themselves and break free from the pack. I am pleased to see a college group take it, though, formally dispelling the myth that a scholastic group never can win due to the contractual obligations that follow.

This was quite an episode. I wish we could have heard a parting song from the victors to lend the show a sense of closure, but I understand there were time constraints and, well, we did get to hear Pentatonix and Home Free, so who am I to complain?

Thanks for reading this review and thanks to all of you who watched along with me on Twitter during the broadcast. Here's hoping for many more Sing-Offs in the years ahead (and more episodes when they happen!).

The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 7

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Here comes the season finale!

Ten, Vocal Rush, and Home Free start things out with Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." They all sound fantastic per usual, but if you look at the opening number as a de facto competition, I've gotta give this one to Vocal Rush for sincerity points.

And the entertainment keeps coming with a series of previously eliminated groups chiming in to back up Nick Lachey as he serenades Jewel with "It Had To Be You," focusing on her being the natural pick for the new judge spot this year. Jewel handles another mic to riff off the performance and eventually team up on the lead. Harmless fun, and I liked the pseudo-impromptu take on it.

The AcoUstiKats take us into the first commercial with "Jingle Bell Rock."

Interesting format so far this episode, consistent with the tone of the collaborative sing-offs and whatnot: the show much more focused on generating the best entertainment the collective cast can, as opposed to the competitive element of the show.

Ten joins Shawn Stockman to sing "Joyful Joyful" from Sister Act 2. Shawn leads off the song, demonstrating the boy has still got some pipes. Ten excels as a backing choir... but isn't part of their story that they were all backup singers waiting for a chance to break out? Sh*t just got meta. Very smooth backing here just the same, and a nice pop of energy as the tempo picks up and they can show more personality, though this was a little soft and safe for them--yes, they are the group that "takes us to church" but they've also been at their best when they're edgier, and we didn't get to hear that on this song.

Street corner Renaissance sings us into the next break with a very fun, bass-heavy take on "White christmas."

The Filharmonic sing us back in with "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." Can't deny the charm. I mean this as a compliment: of all the groups, they're the most ready for a career in singing commercial jingles.

Pentatonix is here to serve as the coaches for the finale. How. Cool. Is. That? The quintet takes the stage for "I Need Your Love" originally by Calvin Harris, featuring Ellie Goulding. Yes, this is the premier group to emerge from The sing-Off ranks, but it's still pretty magical to hear them two years later and catch just how polished their act has grown. The only knock I ever had on this group was a lack of fullness to the sound and there's not even a hint of that here. The trio at thh top grooves the heck out of this song, Avi Kaplan remains extraterrestrial on the bass, and Kevin's perc keeps this one moving. Wait, did Avi just get a sliver of solo? I. Love. It.

Calle Sol wants to wish us a merry Christmas with "Feliz Navidad" on the way back from commercials. This may be the best they sounded, adding the credence to the theory that, despite their awesome dancing abilities, they're a far better singing group hen they stand still.

Here comes Home Free. They've got "I Want Crazy" originally by Hunter Hayes. Austin kicks off the solo unaccompanied. Not sure I love that decision, though it does make for a pretty great moment when the groupenters behind him. The guys open the song seated, in a bit of a trademark posture, but rise from their chairs this time around as the music picks up. The rhythm section really blows up this song on the way to the bridge. This thing keeps on building, and I love it. This group is just so good at infusing drama via elevating over and over again to a climax (no, not that kind of climax, Jewel). Stellar showing.

Shawn says the group has been so good since day one, but didn't it feel good to do something different? He says they were awesome and America will love their sound. Ben praises Adam and Tim's groove and says the performance defied category. Jewel says the group has always sounded great but they've been visually stagnant--she says they--particularly Austin--looked hungry tonight and it was great.

Jewel fills in for Nick Lachey to set up 98 Degrees singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." And, yes, they do it a cappella. Interesting that they go with a mostly choral take on it. That approach may not have the most commerical appeal, but I'll be darned if these guys can't put together a compelling harmony. Nick steps out front to take the lead on the finish. Awesome performance.

The Footnotes take us into this commercial break, perfectly at ease with a remixed rendition of "Deck the Halls."

It's Secret Santa time for the judges. Jewel gives Shawn a ring... with a jewel ring. Shawn gives Ben a blue velour bowtie. Ben gives Nick an a cappella vocab book. Nick gives Jewel a picture of himself shirtless. And then he gives the same picture to the other judges... and the crew guys. And Ben writes a song about it. Sh*t just got so very real, very quickly.

Ben Folds joins Vocal Rush to sing "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" originally by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It's a good performance for sure, but neither Ben nor the song really seem like an ideal fit for this group. Remember Ben riffing off of Street Corner Symphony back in the day? Remember Vocal Rush lighting things up last Thursday? This vehicle isn't really serving anyone particularly well.

Element is "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" on the next transition.

VoicePlay joins ous on the other side for a variegated take on "Jingle Bells."

Ten is back to sing Beyonce's "Love on Top." Intro is a little messy, but the group grooves into the verse. I love the transition to the second soloist. Reall interesting record scratch transition on the key change--that's one way of both making the song your and evading one of the stickiest spots of the song. All in all, this was a good take on the song, but felt a little rushed and, aside from Imani's solo, never really kicked into the next gear to deliver something special.

Ben talks about the group playing with the lead vocals over the groove and doing interesting things with it. Jewel praises the leads and talks about the journey this group has taken from the premier to gel as a group. Shawn calls it an official stankface performance.

Jewel teams up with Home Free for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Surprisingly high harmonies on that opening and I was legit surprised to see it wasn't Jewel singing them. Wow, does Home Free have depth! Very nice, sultry solo from Jewel here and group is perfectly at ease, if they don't seem particularly challenged playing the backing band for this number. Fortunately, they get a nice choral spot toward the end. This was certainly my favorite of the star collaborations tonight.

We cut to a prerecorded package on aca-vocabulary. Fun enough stuff and I dig that the show not only took a moment to educate the audience, but also proved that their commentary is not gibberish.

Next we have... wait, Pat Benatar? That's for real? I actually kind of love Pat, but this feels more than a little random on this show--particularly with Neil Giraldo on the guitar at her side. In any event, much of the cast backs them up for a very nice rendition of "We Belong to the Night."

Vocal Rush is in the house one last time, singing Katy Perry's "Roar." Mixed feeling on the song choice--not sure it has enough swagger or bite for this group, but it is an energy intensive piece, which plays right into their youthful hands. The first verse rocks, but the tuning feels a little off on that first chorus from where i'm sitting (my living room, in case you were wondering). Perfectly serviceable performance, but it didn't really feel like all-the-way Vocal Rush, which is a shame for their last performance of the season.

Jewel says that she was sucked into the group's gravity. Shawn says he feels like a proud uncle, and he sees promise and potential in this group. Ben credits each of the leads and tells the group not to lose their energy and spirit.

Aaaaaand it's results time. Truth be told, I think this finale did a nice job of laying out a very clean cut first, second, and third place. Home Free has had the crown locked up from very early on. Vocal Rush has all the potential in the world, and is already one of the best groups in the world--I had them locked in at a tight number two (that sounded more bathroom humor-y than I meant it. Ah well, going with it.). Ten has all the chops in the world and improved significantly over the course of the show, but I didn't think they rose above third place, particularly with their performances on the finale.

That said, officially, Vocal Rush takes third place, Ten comes in second, and the gentlemen of Home Free are indeed the champions of the a cappella universe v. 4.0. Great season chock full of great talent and in a post-PTX a cappella world I can only assume we'll be hearing much, much more from many of these groups on YouTube and on live stages in the months, if not years, to come.

Congratulations to Home Free and my hat is off to everyone who worked on The Sing-Off for assembling another phenomenal set of episodes. Here's hoping for season five in 2014!

The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 6

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Here we go with judges' choice night!

Our opening number is Florence and the Machine's "Shake It Out"--interesting tonal shift here to something a little less mainstream, with a little darker core than we've grown accustomed to for the opening number. This song about redemption and recovery really should be a spotlight song for Ten and I'm glad to hear them get the biggest parts of it.All that said, for me this is still is, and may always be an a song that belongs to The Florida State University AcaBelles circa 2012 in the a cappella world.

We're down to the final four. Nick Lachey is the unofficial coach and tells the groups about the songs the judges have assigned to them for this episode.

The Filharmonic kicks things off with "Baby I Need Your Loving" originally by The Four Tops. I love the old school moves and look on the intro. The low end is certainly carrying its weight here, and the guys are as charming as ever. This is a tricky performance to assess fairly because it's relatively lightweight fare, but, for better or worse, that's The Filharmonic's style and the judges recognized that in assigning the song. This is very enjoyable to listen to and watch, but I just don't think it was impactful enough to hang with the competition this late in the season.

Shawn dug the choreo and says the group figured out how to get screams from the ladies, and they locked in their harmonies. He wants the group to take the song higher and didn't feel they got there. Jewel says she was missing a climax and that's frustrating. The guys point out the obvious joke there. Ben says the rhythm was the issue here--they're better but still have a little ways to go.

Ten has Ike and Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" tonight. The group wisely points out the challenge of this song--sing something iconic and you either bring the house down or sh*t the bed (my words, not theirs). The group kicks things off slow and sultry but does not waste time rolling us all down to the river. Mean groove there and this is an excellent solo matchup. I felt the rhythm got away from them for a second, but they recovered nicely. Excellent call for the group to fall out and let the crowd clap along to carry the beat. Not flawless, but the raw power was there in all the right places to make this song work.

Ben praises Victor's bass guiding the beat early on, and compliments the group for the risks they took with the arrangement, while encouraging them to make more. Shawn gives it up for the solo but also says the group could gone at the song with a little more gusto. Jewel liked the choice to set up a band, backup singers and a lead, but still wanted to hear more from them to prove they're ready to make records.

Home Free presents "Colder Weather" originally by Zac Brown Band. The guys sing this one seated. Very nice soft opening with guys harmonizing under one of the prettiest solos we've heard from these guys, courtesy of Rob. Once again, these guys prove themselves as the group most comfortable in their own skin--not to mention the most ready for a record deal. Though the performance was not overly complex, simple twists like handing off the solo between Rob, Austin, and Tim did a lot to shift the mood and intensity of the song, and the guys pulled off the shifts in the backing harmony absolutely seamlessly.

Shawn liked it a lot but heard some fluctuations in pitch. Ben says some of the best moments in a musical career are the scariest--he sensed a little nervousness on this song and wants to hear them continue to explore outside their comfort zone. Jewel says less is more when you have the talent, and it works for these guys, though she also challenges them to experiment more. She finishes by saying the guys are stars.

Here comes Vocal Rush with Fallout Boy's "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark." Of all the judges' choices, this is the one I'm most dubious about. I like giving the kids a contemporary song they'll know, but stylistically it doesn't seem like a natural fit for their wheelhouse--but we'll see. The group attacks the chant opening. The group is doing a lot of dancing tonight and the vocals don't sound quite as cohesive to me here. The group looks hot and the flame effects help sell that full tilt. I didn't feel this one really hit its stride until the rap, but thank God that moment was there. The whole group re-entered with a collective lead after that and the energy all around got so. much. bigger. Rocky start, but that finish was absolutely sublime.

Jewel says the group, collectively, sounds like an artist and that's not something you can teach. She comments on the group vocal living up to the pyro blasts. Ben says he was rocking out. He liked the sense of playful drama to the song. He thought the chord before the chorus felt a little weak, but the performance was otherwise fantastic. Shawn says the group takes on every song with reckless abandon, and says they're cute. His only criticism is the group not giving itself enough room to continue building after the bridge.

Jewel may not have reached her climax, but this show has--it's time for the ultimate sing-off. It's The clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" in play here. Power songs very much play to Ten's strengths in this format. The Filharmonic doesn't back down, but they're looking a little outgunned here. Still, another fun performance all around--par for the course on the ultimate sing-off format, which I think proved itself once and for all last night.

The Filharmonic is headed home--Ten survives to the finale.

And so, our final three are set: it's Home Free vs. Vocal Rush vs. Ten. Home Free still has to be considered the favorite, but if any two groups from the season are capable of upsetting them in the endgame, it's these two. Should be a heck of a finale and--wait, did they just say Pentatonix is going to be there, too? Must See TV is back on NBC.

Catch y'all on Monday!

The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 5

TV

Strap yourselves in--it's time for episode five, "Movie Night!"

The opening number de jour is "I Had the Time of My Life," with the Home Free bass rattling our bones on the intro. While I hate to see groups go home, these opening numbers do get more cohesive as the season progresses. Interesitng hcoice for a mixed selection of group members to make their intros collectively, rather than having the groups cordoned off from one another as they typically have been up to this point.

Six groups left and there will be no fewer than three ultimate sing-offs tonight with two groups going home. Jewel is the coach/challenge levee-er this go-round.

Home Free sings Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." Hot perc lead-in, and Austin's owning the lead early on with a bass backing lead midway through the verse. I love the choice to spotlight Tim--whether anyone expected it or not, he's approaching Avi Kaplan-level breakout star of the group.Very nice fallout moment where the soloist breaks away to serenade Jewel and the guys shift to soft, stacatto instrumentation in the background before the drum solo leads off a sprint to the finish, featuring their most traditional take on the song's original hook.

Ben notes that the group diversified the style and any given one of the styles would have worked, but he liked what they did. Shawn points out that the departure from the original hook had him worried, but says they worked it out, bringing it in on the finish. He lauds Austin and Tim's performances in particular. Jewel notes the difficulty of the group's transition, filling Roy Orbison's shoes, and points out that Tim is a dancer.

Vocal Rush is here, bringing Phil Collins's "Against All Odds" to the stage. Really interesting song choice for this group, and I love the idea of hearing the softer side of them. Really lovely solo here and I love the subtlety of the harmonies behind her as they build into the first chorus, and the warm hum of the bass holds down the anchor. New lead on the second verse as the original lead swings into VP mode. Great emotion from the group. This is riveting a cappella right here. While the interpretation is ostensibly pretty straight forward, the group does a wonderful job of letting subtle dynamic and rhythmic shifts tell a story.

Shawn lauds the soloists and VP, and talks about how cohesive the group is. Ben observes that the group members seem to each stand for something and praises the leads, too, though he thinks there are small technical holes in what they're doing. Jewel says they don't know how to not be emotionally honest. She lauds the first soloist for being vulnerable.

The AcoUstiKats are back with Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll." Old school choral harmony on the opening, before the guys hand it off to the lead, leaning on a jukebox. The intro video was correct that this song is, for many of us, inextricable from the movie moment it represents in Risky Business and I couldn't help feeling that most of this looked a little too rehearsed and careful to capture the spirit of that film scene--an effect that was not helped by the creative choice to switch up the style and tempo so much in the arrangement. Fun bit as Ron gets the lead for his best solo of the season to date--this guy oozes talent, but I didn't feel either of the group's first two selections really showed off his talents the right way. Here we have it. Three of the guys strip to their boxers to pay homage to Tom Cruise in their high-energy finish.

Jewel talks about the guys using energy and fun to blow up this song, and praises the underwear choreography. Shawn says the guys were rocking and rolling, though he could have done without the physical over-exposure. He says sometimes the harmonies wavered with the choreo. Ben liked it but says he's not sure he was sold on so many styles of music being represented and says he could have used more rock and roll, though the guys sold the song well.

The Filharmonic hits us with Aerosmith's "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing." Unaccompanied solo on the opening. Good combined visual aural effect as the guys offered up a soft, warm, buzzing harmony behind him then switched the lead. Great build into the first chorus--I might have waited for that solo switch to the chorus to maximize the drama there. Better emotion on the leads this time around, though I'm still seeing too many boy-band-generic smiles in the background. Excellent soaring tenor on the breakdown. Every a cappella group needs to try its hand at a ballad here and there and I'm glad the guys held out to this episode, because it was an excellent stylistic shift for them.

Jewel compliments the emotional sincerity of the performance. Ben says the timbre of Joe's voice was an awesome strength for him, and praises VJ's lead as well, but notes the group needs to be careful not to blow any harmonies. He calls on the VP to be more careful about its use of cymbals, because they're often not necessary. Shawn loved that the group made the song its own, though he seconds the group's need to lock its harmonies and says The Filharmonic can be better.

Voiceplay in the house with "Don't You Forget About Me" originally by Simple Minds. I'm hesitant about the song choice for inevitable Pitch Perfect comparisons, but, as the brilliant Lindsey McGowan pointed out to me, two of the same arrangers from the film work on this show. Very Breakfast club opening with the group dressed in its nerd-jock-burnout-princess best, and start the song poised around a table straight out of a high school library. Well, not my high school of yore, but maybe a Hollywood one. Pretty soft, slow take on the song, building to the emotional finish as group members removed visors, glasses, and other accoutrements to challenge the front of the stage together. Excellent power moment there and this may be Honey's best lead to date.

Shawn praises the arrangement and Honey's delivery. He says he wanted a little more of a peak, getting to the true payoff moment of the song. Ben says Honey's solo was fantastic and he liked the symbolism of the group members removing pieces of their high school personalities and moving forward. He didn't think the shift to half-time was necessary, and thought the performance lost a little energy there. Jewel says she's proud of Honey for letting her honesty come through. She liked the polyphany of the song with different distinct melodies going on from each group member. Shawn simplifies and rephrases: "It was dope."

Ten sings Adele's "Skyfall." Very cool intro with the group reserved and bass-heavy behind Peach's deep lead as the smoke machine works overtime delivering the dramatic effect. This group definitely wins the superlative for most improved blend this season. Excellent shift to the second lead. Visually captivating. Huge dramatic moments, merging the slick vibe of the song with the group's church instincts. Wow, what a statement. I had kinda sorta pegged this group as one of the two to go home tonight, but it does not look like that will be the case.

Ben says the performance was really good. They hold back the groove like no one else and he praises the choir. Jewel lauds the leads and the intricacies of the harmonies. Shawn says it's a joy to see this group develop and he's watched the group get better and better from show to show, and says they're finding their voice now.

It's Sing-Off time. The AcoUstiKats-Voiceplay pairing is up first, singing Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger." Slick intro on this one with the groups more acompanying one another than competing. Fun workout montage from the 'Kats, then Voiceplay which takes a more specifically boxing-centric approach to their visual presentation. Voiceplay shrewdly drives a mix up to the tempo. This is certainly the most overtly collaborative of the ultimate sing-offs to date. As such, I have a really difficult time picking a winner between the the two groups, though I'd have to give Voiceplay the duke for their overall body of work (not just this performance).

Ben calls this performance a demonstration of the inherently collaborative nature of a cappella as the groups clearly worked together. Shawn says the performance was a lot of fun and lauds the choreo. Jewel says the performance was funny and the music was sound.

Vocal Rush and Ten go head to head for "Fame" originally by Irene Cara. Sultry opening lead from Sarah Vela. I'd have to call this one of the toughest sing-offs to date to call from a talent perspective, and considering each group's long-term potential for the remainder of the show. Very interesting little salsa sample here and awesome sound from the assemblage. I'm gonna go ahead and cop out here and say each of these groups deserves a pass.

Jewel says the groups did not diss\apoint. She found the performance nuanced and fun. She compliments the crescendo as they mixed the two groups together. Ben says the groups seemed to rub off on each other--it was a youthful performance for Ten, and Vocal Rush tightened things up. Shawn says the performance took him back to his performing arts school days saying the groups brought vocal gymnastics to the stage.

I just had an epiphany--I think I understand this collaborative "sing-off" format now. It's Deke Sharon's evil mastermind plan to show America the best a cappella possible. I'm not mad at it.

Home Free and The Filharmonic close the show with "I'm All Right" originally by Kenny Loggins. The Home Free guys are very, very at home on this vocal, doing their thing in simple, straight forward fashion. The Filharmonic modernizes the sound a bit with a very nice solo from Joe. Killer bass rush from Tim on the second tempo shift. VJ leads us into the next transition saying he's going to "make it sexy now." Very fun perc off in the end game. These groups are both pretty fantastic and do some pretty wonderful things on this collaboration, but as good as they are, I don't think The Filharmonic are quite competitive with Home Free (if we're going to look at it as a competition... which I'm not convinced we're supposed to).

Shawn praises the gopher dance moves and likes that this performance showed off the respective skills of these two groups. He likes each crew showing off its personality. Jewel says she has not stopped giggling, and compliments the groups for highlighting their commonalities and differences. Ben praises the groups' ability to cram stuff into that performance, saying it was like a video game and lauds "America's first beatbox off." I love you, Ben, but I also invite you to any ICHSA or ICCA competition in which the judges' deliberations run over time.

Elimination time. Vocal Rush, Home Free, and Ten are all safe! How about that--the powers that be and I seem to agree on our top three! The Filharmonic joins them in venturing on this season. It's Voiceplay and The AcoUstiKats headed home. Tough to watch these groups go, though I feel that was probably the right choice at this point.

That's all for this time. Excellent episode tonight, and two more to go. Catch y'all tomorrow!

The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 4

TV

The opening number is a medley of “Talkin’ Bout My Generation,” “We Will Rock You,” “It’s Time.” Per usual the best opening numbers in reality TV are located right here.

Ben Folds is our challenge giver/coach this episode. VoicePlay understands the immensity of this situation. Chart toppers from the groups’ respective generations is theme of choice.

Home Free opens things up with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Soft, slow choral opening with a bass spotlight. Soulful stuff happening here, then the VP makes its entrance and we’re off to the races. Bass solo here—good call to put the group’s budding star front and center. I love the stage presence of these guys—able to own the performance space with simple movement, rather than choreography per se. Impossibly low note on the finish.

Ben says the piece was perfectly executed and loved “the massive, heavy note” at the end. Jewel talks about the history of the song and talks about the poignancy of the performance, calling it a cappella country reggae. Shawn loved the reggae dance hall beat and calls Austin’s voice smooth as butter. Ladies and gents, your Sing-Off season four odds on favorites.

Voiceplay is singing “Don’t Speak” originally by No Doubt. Nice breath-perc intro. The solo’s a nice fit for Honey’s tone. Straight forward take on the melody—well-executed, but I’d like to have heard something a little more creative from this arrangement, and solid as this group is, I think they were right in their intro video about not carrying heavy emotion well—there might have been better fits for this theme.

Shawn appreciated the different side of themselves the group showed and liked the high note in the middle. Ben says the group benefited from its varying dynamics, and that they made everyone feel it in the chorus. Jewel says Voiceplay showed the audience their hearts and echoes that their use of dynamics was great.

Element is singing ”You Keep Me Hanging On” originally by The Supremes. Hot opening as the group enters piece by piece. The tempo feels a little off to me as the group gets into the verse, but things slide better into place on the chorus. The way they space the stage is phenomenal, though a little more oriented toward the live audience than the camera. I’d like a little more emotion and personality here, which I think remains the Achilles heel for this group.

Ben says the performance was a step in the right direction, but he’d like to see the group get more pissed, demonstrating more emotion. Jewel says the song is about female empowerment and the solo was very sincere. She praises them doubling up on the harmonies. Shawn says the group looks lovely, and he likes what they did but the harmonies felt a little muddy at points. He wanted more change in the song, but he wraps up by saying they are professionals.

Vocal Rush is here singing Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.” Killer buzzing bass on the intro and ermegerd Sarah Vela has the solo mic, therefore magic is on the way. I dig the intensity of the intro, spreading layers of tension into the first chorus. The intro to the next verse is electric and I love the infusion of the rap sample to diversify the presentation. I know folks talk about scholastic groups not having a shot at winning this competition on account of recording and touring obligations to follow, and that’s likely true, but putting that aside, this was the best performance of the night so far, bar none.

Ben lauds every aspect of the performance. Shawn says the group is young and has no fear, plus they’re musically intelligent. He says things fell apart just a little bit but they picked themselves up. Jewel lauds the rap and the group’s energy, but says the youthful exuberance can get them ahead of the tempo at times.

Time for ultimate Texas death match sing off. It’s Element versus Vocal Rush riffing on Destiny’s Child’s ”Survivor.” Nice presentation from Element on the opening raising themselves from a bent posture by degrees. Finally some raw emotion from Element, though Vocal Rush very organically out ‘tudes them from the start. Love the transition to the rap. Element may be marginally more technically proficient, but I’ve gotta give this one to Vocal Rush on soul. Plus, when Sarah Vela is your secret weapon in the endgame, you know you’ve got some depth.

The judges do indeed save Vocal Rush. Tough to see Element go this early on, but the talent pool is deep, and out of this foursome it was probably the right call.

That’s all for tonight. Catch y’all again with the next episode on Wednesday!

The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 3

TV

Here comes episode three. The roster is split in two, and we're on to #1 hits night.

The group number of the night is Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." the Fliharmonic kicks things off, followed by Street Corner Renaissance, then The AcoUstiKats, then Ten--one rep stands front and center from each group while the rest of the masses remain in back and the judges sing along, un-miced from their table. Very nicely executed. One by one another representative of each group steps up to bring the song to its climax.

Shawn Stockman steps in to coach the groups this week. A Street Corner rep notes that he watched Boyz II Men grow from boys to men, and reminds us of that group's aca-days.

Here comes Ten with Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools." Love the set up here withe soloist front and center, the rhythm section set up in back, the rest of the group on either side back up singing and dancing. Solid groove. And then CHURCH! The group upped the tempo, ripped loose and went all gospel on everybody in the audience. Hot finish there!

Shawn offers up some truth: "Here's the thing that sucked about that performance--it wasn't long enough." He said that performance is Ten's signature. Jewel wants to go to that church, she praises the lead, then goes by section by section to laud every piece of the group. Ben loved the space they created at the top and that the group is starting to sound like a band, but cautioned the rhythm section from turning it into a polka.

The AcoUstiKats are back, and this time they're taking on "Amazed" by Lonestar. Shawn points out the fun fact that Boyz II Men had the option of taking on that song and passed on it.He suggests the guys pick a girl in the crowd and sing to her. Choral take on the opening--perhaps the best harmony we've yet heard from the boys.This songs seems so much more comfortable than anything else we've heard from this group so far. The blend is clicking. The guys are emoting.This is exaclty the sort of performance this group needed to reignite its chances in the competition.

Ben says he wondered how the group is going to separate itself from other college groups--and says they just did it. He liked the choral approach and loved Ross's vocal on the lead late in the song. Jewel says she was worried about their ability to hand the sincere vocals, but things this was a great pick for them, and they did very well with a difficult song. Shawn says the group went to its choral roots and it works, though he thought it was a little reticent at points. Then comes the moment when Michael from the group calls up his girlfriend Maggie from the crowd and proposes. And she says yes! Aww... very sweet moment there. And if there was any doubt as to this group's safety, they all but guaranteed it there.

Street corner Renaissance is here, singing Cee-Lo Green's "Forget You." Nicely executed little take on this song. Love the lead. Love the bass, but the performance overall is feeling a little static in this outing. Fun, but in a strong episode, that one may not cut it.

Ben says the song is timeless, as are the guys. He thought the crying was groovy and he liked the way the bass cut off his notes. Jewel says the song fits the group well, but they could tune up the harmony a little. Shawn says they did their thing and he's honored they took his syllable advice. He praises the falsetto. He would like to hear the group do different things, though.

The Filharmonic is up next, singing Maroon 5's "One More Night." Fun lead-in video with the guys settling into their boy band persona. Very nice groove on this one, and the lead is great... Filipino Adam Levine indeed! I love the way these guys spread the stage and work the audience. The only real criticism I give, which isn't entirely fair, but warrants saying in a competition is that they just weren't quite as good as Ten or arguably The AcoUstiKats this evening, which doesn't bode well for them staying out of the ultimate sing-off fray.

Shawn points out the groups tightness and success dancing while holding down the music. Ben thought the performance was tight but not as strong as previous showings. He lauds the group's personality. Jewel likes the group's charm, but says the performance felt a little light, lacking the dark edge of the song.

It's ultimate sing-off time. Street Corner Renaissance and The Filharmonic are going to war. The song of choice is Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss him Goodbye." This may be the most evenly matched sing-off to date. It's a shame one of these groups is gone. The Filmarnoic hold their own in the attitude department, but Street Corner is so professional and slick. Everyone sounds great. This showdown is a dead heat, but I've gotta give the nod to Filharmonic, if only because they have more legs moving forward in the season. Sure enough, Street Corner is headed home. All the dudes hug it out for the classy finish.

That's all for this one--see you Monday!

The Sing-Off, Season 5
The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 7
The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 6
The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 5
The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 4
The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 3
The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 2
The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 1
Celebrating The Sing-Off