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!