The Pros and Cons of The Sing-Off Season Five

Measure for Measure

Since its initial run in 2009 The Sing-Off has become one of the most celebrated brands in a cappella. It has served as a launching pad for acts like Pentatonix, Home Free, and Street Corner Symphony, and perhaps even importantly than that, the show has played a key role in bringing a cappella into the living rooms of American television viewers who may have never heard of CASA or Varsity Vocals.

The show’s broadcast has been a rollercoaster. It started with a four-episode season, moved up to five episodes in its sophomore run, then ballooned to a full-on half-season of eleven episodes the third time around. That much a cappella, stretched out over three months and put up against stiffer broadcast competition yielded the shows lowest ratings, and we would need to wait two years before it came back again. The show did return, though, with a more manageable series of seven episodes. And now The Sing-Off is back again, starting on December 17 and--well, ending on December 17.

There are a number of interesting factors in play for the 2014 iteration of the show and so, in this special edition of Measure for Measure, we’re looking at the pros and cons of The Sing-Off season five.

Before we get into the meat of this article, a quick clarifier I am aware the The Sing-Off has already been taped, but will nonetheless refer to the show in the future tense because the overwhelming majority of us haven’t seen anything more than NBC has released to us. In addition, please note that I have not heard any spoilers from the tapings—everything you’re getting here is based on information released from the show, or based on my pre-existing knowledge of the show and performers associated with it.

Pro: The Sing-Off sings on. For a column in which I will be bashing parts of the creative direction of The Sing-Off, I do feel it’s important that I lead off by saying I love the show and am thrilled that it’s going to be back at all.

Con: We’re only getting one episode. As much as season three of The Sing-Off was my personal favorite, I get that eleven episodes is too much for the casual fan base that makes up most of NBC’s target audience. That said--really? One episode? Unfortunate upshots include that only six groups will get screen time (and after commercials, behind the scenes videos, commentary from the judges, and maybe a guest performance or two, not that much of it), and that we’re not going to have the time to see different groups thrive in different themes or demonstrate their worthiness via consistently strong performances over a period of time.

Pro: The Exchange is in. One of my reservations about The Sing-Off in the past has been that there are so many groups assembled just for the show, who get national exposure over groups that had been singing together for years and didn’t make it out of auditions. While The Exchange may, at first blush, look like a made-for-TV super group, in reality it’s a group of five incredibly dedicated men who have been singing, touring, and recording as a unit for almost three years. Moreover, the group features a collection of true a cappella stalwarts. There’s Christopher Diaz who used to work behind the scenes on the show and before that cohosted the Mouth Off a cappella podcast, and before that helped Florida State All-Night Yahtzee to three straight ICCA Finals. There’s Alfredo Austin who came up with University of Delaware Vocal Point and went on to sing with Hyannis Sound, Overboard, Blueprint, and others. You have Jamal Moore and Aaron Sperber who performed with the University of Rochester YellowJackets throughout their college careers and went on to appear with the group on The Sing-Off season three. And then there’s VP specialist Richard Steighner who loyal Sing-Off fans will recognize as the ultra-talented drummer from Urban Method. To me, that’s a heck of a line up, and the guys have already put out some darn fine music. I’m excited to see them do their thing on a national platform.

Con: Ben Folds is out. I’m still mourning Sara Bareilles’s departure from The Sing-Off judging panel (#ComeBackSara), but now we lose one of reality TV’s most earnest, technically proficient, and consistently likable adjudicators with Ben Folds bowing out for season five. Fortunately, we still have Shawn Stockman and Jewel was better than I expected on season four. For now, I’ll hold off on judgment for Patrick Stump as the new third man, but he’s got mighty big shoes to fill…

Pro: More all-female groups per capita. A few years ago, the American a cappella scene was abuzz about the void of top-performing all female groups. That sector of the genre has enjoyed a partial renaissance with the rise of pro groups like Delilah and Musae, and acts like The AcaBelles, Divisi, Noteworthy, Vocal Synergy, Crimson, The Highlands Belles, and The Edgertones holding it down at the scholastic level. That said, I’m psyched that out of just six competing groups on this year’s Sing-Off two of them are all-female. I haven’t yet heard music from Traces and Timothy’s Gift but here’s hoping they reveal new sides of what the female voice can do and inspire even more women around the country (and abroad) to perform a cappella at the highest levels.

Con: Instruments are allowed. Like the addition of Patrick Stump to the judges’ table, I’m going to hold out judgment until I see the show, but when the powers that be announced before auditions that instrumental accompaniment would be allowed on this season of The Sing-Off my first reaction was that they were going damage this show’s most unique defining quality. Here’s hoping the vocals remain front and center, and the music remains as strong as it has previously been.

Pro: We’re in the loop. The upside of The Sing-Off loosening its rules is that they’ve opened the door to live-looping technology. (Imagine if they had made this change when Sonos was on the show!) Word on the street is that looping is a key part of A-Squared’s game, so I’m looking forward to hearing one of a cappella’s coolest innovations get some exposure on a national stage.

What are you looking forward to about the 2014 edition of The Sing-Off? What are your complaints? Let us know all about it in the comments section.