It’s mashup strikes back/judges’ choice tonight, and boy are the groups mashing the heck out of this opening number. The Pentatonix frontman leads us off with a sample of “Bittersweet Symphony,” then the ladies take us in a different direction on “Hollaback Girl,” before The Aires transition us onward into “Baba O’Reilly.” The ladies of Urban Method take the lead on the weakest link in the chain, “Last Friday Night (TGIF)” then the mashing gets fast and furious with bits of all the preceding songs weaving into one another for the strongest part of the medley.
Pentatonix has the opening spot, and brings us a mix of Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” I love the effects from the perc guy on the opening—comedic while still sounding great. The female lead is good on the first leg of this. This isn’t the male soloist’s best showing when he takes over on the Cee-Lo part. This is really picky, but it kind of irks me that they start by acting as though the two soloists are on the same page, fired up about getting wronged in a relationship gone awry, then they seem to be singing against each other… then they’re singing in unison when they get back to Kelly Clarkson. Just odd. Awesome mini-beatbox battle between the perc guy and the bass—easily the MVPs of this song as they are most times the group hits the stage. When the song really mashes, I’ve gotta say, it just sounds incoherent to me. Musically, it’s pretty seamless, which is no small feat given the disparate base sound for each song. But a part of any a cappella performance is communicating your take on the meaning of the song, and this was just kind of all over the place from a narrative perspective.
Ben compliments the group on making the non-sequiturs entertaining, and gives major praise to the rhythm section. Ben says the group got a little out of town mid-way through, but not significantly so. Sara calls it a great performance, lauding the lead singers. She applauds the way in which the group told a story throughout the song, and she was entertained. Shawn enjoyed the performance, finding the presentation really fluid. He calls the bass and VP parts meat and potatoes, providing a consistent foundation to the piece.
Urban Method is up next, bring us mashup of “Hot in Herre” by Nelly and “Fever” by Peggy Lee. I love the opening seconds of this with a jazz background sound, headed up by the ladies, supporting the Nelly intro. This is by far the best we’ve heard this female lead—it sounds like we’ve finally arrived at a part to truly take advantage of her strengths. The group does an excellent job of weaving the songs together in a way that makes sense as a story—none of the contradiction we heard from Pentatonix. Really fun moment as the group gets down and dances to the Nelly riff. The closing part with the same female lea, and a backing female vocal sampling “Hot in Herre” is excellent. I’ve never been a huge fan of this group, but I’ve gotta say this was sexy, cool, and smart. By far my favorite showing from the group all season.
Sara praises the group for successfully fusing two really divergent songs. Shawn lauds the raspy, sexy lead, and just how much was going on in the group. Ben credits the group with an engaging arrangement, a fine sax solo, and smart approach to sharing the spotlight.
Here comes Afro-Blue singing R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” blended with “Fly” by Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Soft, stirring opening. Great bass sound, and some really pretty harmonies. Fantastic little bass drop to segue into the R. Kelly song. Man, I love this solo. Not gonna lie, the mashing point gives me goose bumps here. It’s one of those moments when you can 100 percent tell that this group feels every note its singing, which is exactly the line that divides what’s cheesy from what’s sublime—this is something special. And here we go with the rap. Remarkably good—while it was missing a little of the bravado I would have liked, it’s a pretty spectacular effort for someone who doesn’t rap by trade, and just short enough of a sample not to expose her. The ending is a little abrupt, but it’s a minor quibble.
Shawn praises the way the group brought the songs together and made them their own. He compliments the rap, then goes on to talk about the way in which the group has grown over the course of the season. Ben talks about the complexity of the arrangement in making the songs really blend, despite having two distinct medleys. He liked the rap too, though he wanted her to have a little more space to operate. He calls the piece moving. Sara says she loves Afro-Blue for the heart, humility, and courage the group shows. She loves the message of empowerment the medley carried.
Next up, The Dartmouth Aires are hitting us with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” The theatrics are off the charts from from the Stones soloist, with devilish mannerisms in every move he makes (only accentuated by his red leather jacket—great visual touch). Good vocals all around. Nice visual transition from the first to the second solo via handshake, though the musical handoff is pretty abrupt. Another superstar showing for this soloist. I love everything about this visually, but it still feels oddly like two songs thrown together for an awkward little bit. It comes together musically a little more as it progresses, but the narrative still makes little sense. The group is at its best on the Gaga number, and while I liked both component parts, I can’t say the piece, on the whole, was coherent enough to really work for me.
Ben talks about the complexity of the story the guys told. He comments on the bass going out of tune a bit, though those were also probably the most entertaining parts. He calls the Stones solo a really good interpretation. Sara, too, comments on there being a lot going on, though she thought this one came off the rails a bit. She compliments both soloists. Shawn applauds the group’s flair for the dramatic, though he says the number wasn’t his favorite from the group. He says The Aires are always entertaining.
Time for the second half. Pentatonix strikes first, singing Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” Nice understated opening with just the solo and a hint of bass recurring behind him, then hints of harmonies on his elongated notes. The sound builds nicely heading into the chorus. Nice way to fuse the sound with the visuals as the group advances toward the edge of the song as the sound builds. Great decision for the whole group to fall out while the tenor has his way with the crowd, riffing on his own. This is the kind of moment this group seems to have learned to develop over the course of the season, adding such depth and drama to their presentation, and making it all the more effective when the group comes back in and the original soloist rocks the eff out. Really nice performance.
Shawn calls Pentatonix ridiculous, delivering serious audio drama. He talks about the ear candy the group worked out over the course of the song. Sara lauds the group’s natural gifts and abilities to use it, and outs 3/5 of the group as being jjust 19 years old. That I did not know. Sick. Ben compliments the group on the volume of surprises they achieved over the course of the song.
Urban Method is back, this time performing “All of the Lights” by Kanye West featuring Rihanna. The group is a little too big on intro, overwhelming the sound of the first female vocal. The rap takes over from there. I gotta say, when he tries to be mean I find him a lot less likeable—not in the theatrical villain way I think he’s trying for, but more in the sense that I’m actually not connecting with him. The song is at its best when the whole group gets big, and sounds like it’s fighting. I’m really not feeling female lead on this one— it’s technically fine, but I’m just not hearing the level of confidence we’ve heard from her before. Nice little trumpet effect in the background. Uneven showing overall.
Shawn talks about how exciting the performance was, the emergence of the female lead, and how much the group has evolved over the season. Ben praises the build of the arrangement. He says the middle harmonies were shimmering. He lauds the rap solo and its transition between singing and rapping. Sara says the group has blossomed into a new entity with a lot of confidence and she really liked the mic trick of sliding the mic closer to and away from their mouths.
Afro-Blue sings next, bringing us Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Great song choice. Very cool simple start. The opening verse of this song is a microcosm of what this group is all about, with the simple bass rhythm behind the solo, then the backing harmonies evolving little by little from there. The key to this group’s success is sounding simple, while actually executing incredibly complex stuff, and that’s just what we start to hear her. Nice slow, steady dynamic build from the soloist and the group on the whole. You hear bits of jazz influence, but it’s never overwhelming. Man, that bass is working overtime. Sensational solo. Smart call to give the solo a very brief period all alone on the mic. I could have used just a touch more drama to really sell this number, but that’s all I can complain about here. Great, emotional showing all around.
Ben says he’s really happy for the group, and they hit their sweet spot with that song. Sara got really emotional listening to the performance, and says the group is back to where they were always supposed to be. She calls the soloist an angel, and says the rest of the group sounded like one voice behind her. Shawn says Afro-Blue took us to church—it was honest, melancholy, and everything the Sam Cooke original was. He says it was beautiful, and the group’s best performance.
The Dartmouth Aires take us home with The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” This may have more fun potential than any song this whole season—perfect pairing of a cappella group and song selection. Let’s see what the guys can do. The guys are a little more prim and cheesy than party animal on the opening here. The solo is nicely restrained, which is just fine as long he’s headed for an explosion. The anticipation is palpable when the group falls out on the “Wait a minute” and reenters on some soft oohing. The solo riffs the heck out of this moment, backed by a nice little high vocal guitar bit. And here comes the pop. The groups spreads on out and--wow, the soloist is actually doing a split! Nice little call and response with the crowd, then more specifically the judges—lot of fun, and it makes you wonder why more folks haven’t ventured off the stage to this point—it’s a great charismatic moment. Cool sound on the end. Lot of energy, a lot of fun, and the soloist just about broke himself in half making it work. With all of that said, I really wanted to see the group loosen up more there. This may sound like a strange criticism given how dynamic the guys were, and I don’t want to sell them short. Just the same, I wanted to see and feel the spontaneity of an out-of-control, drunken wedding dance party, and what we got came across remarkably rehearsed to me. That’s what divides great performers from the ones who genuinely make you forget you’re observing a performance at all, and make a critic put his keyboard aside, stand up from his couch and dance himself. As good as this was, it did not arrive at that point.
Sara comments on how the solo owned the room, and how fun the group was. She notes that they had pitch problems, but were really entertaining from the start to end. Shawn calls the group an instant party, citing the soloist as a superstar, and calling the song The Aires at their best. Ben says he grew up on these kinds of records—he says he hasn’t heard singers move him so authentically since he was a child listening to that music. He does observe the pitch train wrecks, but wraps ups calling the performance a load of fun.
Elimination time. Urban Method is safe. Pentatonix, too, is headed for the finals. Nick Lachey tells us the judges haven’t decided who is going home yet—it’s time for a do or die encore of the group’s best song of the season. Another weird twist in the elimination story. This is a fun concept in and of itself, but the inconsistency is killing me. Afro-Blue sings first with a clipped version of the heavy jazz-heavy “American Boy” by Estelle featuring Kanye West. Solid stuff, but one of the strengths of this song was the way it moved over its full length, and we really don’t get to see all of what the group can do in this quick snippet. Next up are The Aires, whittling their Queen medley down to just “Somebody to Love.” Smart call, to bring back the best 45 seconds of their most iconic performance, for a sampling that is infinitely more charismatic than what Afro-Blue brought to the table. Impossibly long fermata from the soloist that actually gets the bass to crack up on camera, waiting impossibly long for his cue. While, on a cumulative scale, I’d send The Aires home out of these two groups, they made a much better call on this encore song—so, if that’s truly the basis for elimination this week, we’ve gotta keep The Aires.
Elimination time f’reals. Sara gives The Aires the thumbs up. Shawn gives Afro-Blue the nod—observing their inconsistency, but saying he thinks they have the potential for a long career in music. Ben votes for consistency and keeps The Aires alive. It’s time for the Afro-Blue swan song. They’re singing The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” drizzling it with vocal sunshine and honey. Sweet, upbeat little ditty that takes them home nicely.
In case the voting info went by too quickly for you to catch it, here’s a summary:
To vote for Pentatonix (which, in my humble opinion, you should)
Call 1-877-674-6401 or text 1 97979.
To vote for Urban Method
Call 1-877-674-6402 or text 2 97979.
To vote for The Dartmouth Aires
Call 1-877-674-6403 or text 3 97979.
Voting is open until November 27 at 9 a.m. EST. You’re permitted 10 votes per voting method.
Be sure to check back throughout the week for the final update to the season 3 Power Rankings and the penultimate edition of The 3 Gs.