The ICCA quarterfinals are done, and over the next two weekends a cappella fans across the US will be treated to a series of five ICCA semifinals, the winners of which will progress to the ICCA Finals in New York City. But which semifinalists are the best? And which groups have the best shot at Finals, much less of winning the entire tournament? In this special feature, I’m taking my shot at predicting the top 30 groups remaining in the ICCAs.
In the interest of full disclosure, there are a number of semi-finalist groups I have not seen perform live this year, and there are some I have not even seen video of. The rankings are based on a combination of my experiences with the groups, the groups’ past track records, word of mouth, quarterfinal scores, and a healthy dose my personal opinion and intuition. A more scientific, numbers-driven approach to power rankings appears at the bottom of this feature. Please feel free to chime in with your own top 5s in the comments.
1. The SoCal VoCals: Two out of the last four years, The SoCal VoCals have earned the International Championship. The years they didn’t win? Oh right, they didn’t compete. After a first place finish at their quarterfinal, the group has a semifinal on its home stage to look forward to. Until someone can pull off a victory over the USC juggernaut, they have to remain the odds on favorites to win the whole tournament.
2. The Melodores: In 2011, the guys from Vanderbilt incorporated a little bit of hip hop, a little bit progressive rock, and a whole lot of attitude into one of the most memorable sets in ICCA history. Though the group finished second in its quarterfinal, they were a mere 10 points away from winning, and this time around, they have home stage advantage.
3. The Stereotypes: After coming within inches of reaching The ICCA Finals in 2010, the boys from WashU exploded onto the New York scene in 2011 with a take-no- prisoners set that had many pundits placing them among the top three, and some going so far as to proclaim them the uncrowned champions of the tournament. Following up on their victory at quarterfinals, the guys have home stage advantage and look poised for a repeat trip to Finals.
4. The Accidentals: This elite all-male group from the University of Georgia wowed the crowd at ICCA Finals in 2010 and edged out The Melodores at their ICCA quarterfinal this year. Don’t mistaken this for a run-of-the-mill all-male power group; their sterling rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” showed just the right mix of careful arranging and near-perfect execution last month, and they have every chance of finessing their way back to New York.
5. The Octopodes: As of late, it seems that not one year goes by without The Octopodes making major strides in their sound, their stage presence, and their general aura. The mixed group was untouchable in its quarterfinal at the end of February, topping the closest runner up by over 100 points on the judges’ scoring sheets. As competitive as the South is, you can’t sleep on the JHU group this year.
6. Fermata Nowhere: With a well-earned reputation as one of the most adventurous and rambunctious a cappella groups in the world, Fermata Nowhere has an institutional memory of more than one trip to the ICCA Finals and remains a perennial threat to come out of the wild, wild West. After a solid victory at their quarterfinal, this group has every chance of turning heads at semis.
7. The AcaBelles: After winning the ICCA South in 2009 and 2011, and giving Pitch Slapped a run for its money at SoJam this past November, The AcaBelles have a very real claim to the title of alpha-female group on the collegiate scene. This may be the most competitive year yet for the South, but do not count out the smart and diverse set the ladies from Florida State have put together.
8. Noteworthy: Nipping at The ‘Belles’ heels in this ranking, Noteworthy is one of just two all-female groups to ever win an ICCA Championship; while that was five years ago, let’s not forget that, since that time, the group has remained a top competitor for the West crown (besides which they sent an incarnation of the group to sing in front of a few million people for a little show called The Sing-Off). What can I say? There are certain groups you can just never count out; Noteworthy has done plenty to establish just that reputation for itself.
9. The Nor’easters The only thing standing between this co-ed group and a Northeast regional championship last year was the eventual international champions, Pitch Slapped. The only thing stopping them from winning the 2011 wild card spot in The ICCA Finals was The Melodores. The more obvious of those two obstacles is out of the group’s way this time around, and after a decisive victory at their Berklee College of Music quarterfinal, they look poised for a run at The Finals this year.
10. DeCadence: Bold is the group that wears capes on stage, but just the same dares you not to take them seriously. This co-ed group out of Berkeley made major waves in February with their rendition of Florence and the Machine’s “Drumming Song,” pulling off a big win against stiff competition on their home stage.
11. N’Harmonics: As 2008 Northeast champions and all-around bad mamma jammas of the collegiate a cappella universe, The N'Harmonics have every chance of arriving as the de facto home group at this year’s ICCA Finals. Doubt them? Just give a listen to the unreal emotion on “The Wayfaring Stranger/Nothing But The Water” (Outstanding Arrangement winner at their quarterfinal). This group is going places.
12. Voices in Your Head: The co-ed group out of University of Chicago won its quarterfinal by an 83-point margin and took home Outstanding Arrangement and Outstanding Choreography honors along the way. There is plenty of potential for them advance out of semis.
13. Casual Harmony: Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, the boys from Rutgers have come painfully close to The ICCA Finals on several occasions. The Mid-Atlantic field is as open as it has been in years with repeat regional champs Ithacappella and The Buffalo Chips out of the mix. After a strong showing at an ultra-competitive quarterfinal in Binghamton, can the guys make their NYC debut this year? They’ll have the chance to punch their ticket on their home stage.
14. The Scattertones: Fresh off of a first place finish in the inaugural Los Angeles A Cappella Festival Scholastic Competition, The Scattertones finished second only to DeCadence in their quarterfinal. ACB Regional Coordinator Andrea Aquino went so far as to rate the group as number one for that show. While the cast of returning ICCA champions in the West is daunting, this co-ed upstart just might have some surprises in store at USC.
15. The Class Notes: This mixed crew from Cornell took the shock and awe approach to set construction for a powerful outing, highlighted by an unreal interpretation of “Set Fire to the Rain.” The Mid-Atlantic will have one of the most open semifinals, and this group has every opportunity to make a big statement.
16. Reverb: In a stacked South region, it’s easy to overlook this relatively unfamiliar face at semifinals. Let’s not forget how they won their way into the second round of the tournament this year, though, edging out the reigning South champions, The AcaBelles, for a first place finish at quarters. The gentlemen of Reverb just might ride their dark horse all the way north to New York.
17. ‘Til Further Notes: Don’t let the fact this group has only been around for a few months fool you; many of its members were a part of the Rider sibling ensemble Vocalmotion that came within one place of reaching ICCA Finals last year. This group demonstrated much of the same depth of talent and dramatic presentation of the other Rider squad; there’s a very real chance they’ll sing their way through semis in 2012.
18. 7 Days: Longtime ICCA mainstays 7 Days came within two points of unseating the reigning ICCA Midwest champs, The Stereotypes at quarterfinals, in a set that earned them plenty of praise, including an Outstanding Soloist superlative. They’ll have a second chance at getting the job done in St. Louis this month.
19. APC Rhythm: This NYU group has no shortage of ICCA experience. In a decisive quarterfinal win at Brown University, they racked up more points than any other group in the Northeast this year. Watch out for them in Boston.
20. Buck That!: After barely a year together, Buck That! became the first group to represent Ohio State in the ICCAs. And how did they do? Not so bad, considering they won their quarterfinal and picked up Outstanding Arrangement and Outstanding Choreography honors along the way. Can this Cinderella story keep rolling along through semifinals, or will the clock strike 12 in St. Louis?
21. The Troy Tones: When folks talk about USC a cappella nowadays, they tend to mention The SoCal VoCals first, but you just can’t sleep on this sibling group which ACB correspondent Keith Tripler went so far as to pick over The SoCal VoCals at their quarterfinal, based on their originality and effort.
22. Divine: This all-female crew gave Noteworthy a run for its money at the Oregon quarterfinal. With a set that included a powerhouse solo on “Not Ready to Make Nice,” Divine has added an intriguing new set faces to the West semifinals picture. While I don’t necessarily see them making Finals, I could see them surprising more than a few onlookers en route to placement in LA.
23. Faux Paz: In the star-studded South, Faux Paz quietly won its way to semifinals at Duke, building off the back of some phenomenal harmonies and top-notch soloists. They can’t be considered favorites to move on to New York, but they’re also a fundamentally sound and smart enough group that you can’t really count them out.
24. The Pennharmonics: This co-ed group out of Penn State has been bouncing around the ICCAs for quite sometime (fun fact: as recently as 2005, they were classified as part of the Midwest Region). After winning their quarterfinal on their home stage, they have plenty of potential to turn some heads at Rutgers.
25. Acappology: I had my first experience with Acappology at SoJam this year. No, they weren’t as sublime as Pitch Slapped, and no they didn’t own the stage quite as adamantly as The AcaBelles, but just the same, I couldn’t help feeling that this NC State group offered one of the most distinctive sets of that night, and perhaps a glimpse into a cappella’s future with their fascinatingly electronic sound. While this group can’t be considered favorites in the South, this semifinal could represent a true breakout performance for the co-ed crew.
26. The Girls Next Door: Sometimes an a cappella group can be best characterized by just one song. Although I wasn’t entirely won over by this all-female group’s quarterfinal victory in Boston, everything from the soloist to the dynamics to the visual presentation synergized for a simply sublime performance on their set closer, “Turning Tables.” If the group can channel that level excellence into the rest of the set, they very well might be capable of an upset in the Northeast.
27. Dicks and Janes: In their thirteenth straight year of competing in the ICCAs, the quintessentially named co-ed group out of the University of Michigan is no stranger to ICCA semifinals and always puts on an excellent show. Might this be their year to advance to an elusive trip to The Finals? After winning their quarterfinal, they’re off to a good start.
28. A Cub Bella: After multiple ICCA semifinal appearances, A Cub Bella has asserted itself as one of the pre-eminent all-female acts in the Midwest. They came out on top of their home quarterfinal at Missouri State, earning Outstanding Soloist and Outstanding Choreography honors along the way. They just might be primed for a big showing at semis.
29. Groovestand: Not since 2004 has a Syracuse a cappella group reached the ICCA Finals (it was The Mandarins who did it then). 2012 will mark Groovestand’s second straight trip to semis. The co-ed crew made a strong showing for itself at least year’s Mid-Atlantic semis, taking home Outstanding Soloist honors. They won Outstanding Choreography at their quarterfinal this year, and should be an interesting act to follow at Rutgers.
30. The G-Men: With a well-earned reputation as one of the most consistently entertaining a cappella acts in the Midwest, The G-Men’s sets are a staple for that region’s semifinals. Look for the guys to put on another memorable show for the crowd in St. Louis.
Now, for a different perspective, it turns out that while I was writing up my own power rankings, Jason Nop a former member of The Sing-Off’s Men of Note and Rutgers Deep Treble, was also working out his own numbers-driven system, by which he added semifinalists’ final scores to their margins of victory over the closest following act at their respective quarterfinals. Check out the results of his analysis below.