Event Review: The Sing-Off Season 3, Episode 11

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.

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Mike Chin

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