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ACB Preview: An exclusive look at NBC’s The Sing-Off--including group profiles, predictions, details on the judges and more!


For those a cappella enthusiasts who have been living under a rock, breaking news—NBC will be airing The Sing-Off, a four night competitive a cappella show, starting in less than two weeks. There has been a lot of speculation about the show, and plenty of scattered pieces of news around the web. Like your favorite nerd in high school, here at The ACB we have done our homework, and are happy to share the answers with you.

The terms of competition have been, at best, vague up to this point. A number of sources have alluded to fan voting determining a winner, but from what we’ve seen, NBC has not confirmed this. By the same token there is going to be a panel of three celebrity judges in place.

What we do know is that The Sing-Off will start Monday, December 14, airing from 8-10 p.m. on NBC. From there, the show will continue the following two nights, same time, same station. A live finale will follow on Monday, December 21, during the same time slot. It’s during that finale that a winner will be crowned, and the group that comes out on top will earn a recording contract with Epic Records/Sony Music.

We also know that Nick Lachey, of 98 degrees and Jessica Simpson-wedded fame, will serve as the host for the show. We know that one of the judges will be singer-songwriter, piano rocker Ben Folds. Recognizing just how many collegiate groups across the country were covering his stuff, Folds shored up his place in the hearts of a cappella aficionados last fall when he announced an a cappella video contest, the rewards of which were the opportunity to record with Folds himself, creating the Ben Folds presents University A Cappella album, the profits off of which went to VH1’s Save the Music Campaign. We know that another celebrity judge will be Boyz II Men member and a co-author of seminal classic “Motownphilly” Shawn Stockman. We know that a third celebrity guest will be Nicole Scherzinger, a Popstars standout who cut her teeth with The Pussycat Dolls before going on to record alongside P. Diddy, Timbaland and others.

A Cappella News has reported that the groups will not be performing music from their own repertoires, due to licensing issues, but that they will instead be assigned songs with which to compete that they will only have a few days to learn.

And then we know about the eight competing groups. Some are all-male, some all-female, some mixed. They represent a variety of geographic areas and demographics. There are collegiate groups. There is a barbershop quartet. There are acts that no strangers to the national stage, and ones that, to this point, were far from household names. A cappella set to explode on the backs of these eight groups, and here’s what we know, and what we predict about each of them.

Group Name: The Beelzebubs
Hailing From: Tufts University in Boston, MA
Group Type: All-male, collegiate
Founded In: 1962
The Skinny: The ‘Bubs are the real deal—a group with a long history, generally accepted as one of, if not the greatest collegiate a cappella institutions ever. In addition to rocking live performances from coast to coast and abroad, The ‘Bubs greatest notoriety of all may stem from their prominence in recording. In just shy of fifty years, the group has 30 albums to its name. 2003’s Code Red was a pioneering effort as the group teamed with Bill Hare for an innovative production experience. Supporters call it the most important a cappella recording of all time. Detractors point to it as the turning point at which over-production became the norm, replacing the traditional a cappella sound in recording. The follow up recording, 2005’s Shedding marked a return to basics, and its conception was one of the major strands of Mickey Rapkin’s Pitch Perfect book. While not nearly as controversial, the album was at least as lauded as the one to precede, further cementing the group’s place among the world’s elite.
Prediction: With a long history and deep repertoire, The Beelzebubs have a very real chance of winning this thing. It’s also possible, though, that they’ll fall victim to perceptions. If this becomes a program about human interest rather than the music, as it very well might, The ‘Bubs will need to be careful to turn on the charm and make every effort not to come off as frat boy douchebags, lest they become the heels of the show.
Learn more about the group: Here

Group Name: Noteworthy
Hailing From: Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah
Group Type: All-female, collegiate
Founded In: 2003
The Skinny: Despite its relatively short history, Noteworthy positively exploded on the international scene in 2007 when they earned their first International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella championship, defeating reigning ICCA champions and brother group BYU Vocal Point, preeminent all-female superpower Divisi, and one of the strongest crops of ICCA finalists in recent memory along the way. Noteworthy is the sort of group that makes you forget your preconceptions about all-female a cappella. They can belt it, move, and offer up all the swagger of any of their male counterparts. That’s not to mention that they’re as musically sound as they come and not afraid to mix up genres and who they’re covering (their 2007 finals set included Stevie Wonder, a gospel standard, John Legend and a Bulgarian folk tune).
Prediction: Given their experience and recent success with competition, you have to believe that Noteworthy will be front runner on The Sing-Off. The Mormon connection could also give the ladies a boost if this comes to a popular vote. Like The Beelzebubs, though, Noteworthy may also need to remain hyper-conscious of perceptions. The root of their strength is that they’re strong women, but that can easily come off as unlikeable to a TV audience, particularly if the production crew wants to paint that picture.
Learn more about the group: Here

Group Name: Face
Hailing From: Boulder, CO
Group Type: All-male, post-collegiate
Founded In: 2000
The Skinny: Face is a group of six, made up primarily of alumni from top notch collegiate ensembles. Since taking shape nine years ago, the guys have enjoyed their share of success in the Harmony Sweepstakes, including arriving as runners up in the national finals in 2005 and 2007. The group just released its third CD last month is certainly a rising power in the world of a cappella.
Prediction: It’s going to be very interesting to see how the post-collegiate super groups stack up alongside the collegiate powers. The silky smooth sound of these guys brought them as far as they’ve come to this point, and they may earn the favor of some just based on how few they are in number. Expect for these guys to put on a show, but I’m pegging them not to finish up above the middle of the pack.
Learn more about the group: Here

Group Name: MAXX Factor
Hailing From: Baltimore, MD
Group Type: All-female, Barbershop
Founded In: 2004
The Skinny: MAXX Factor is one of only two all-female groups in the competition, and the lone barbershop quartet represented here. There is probably no better group than them to represent these demographics though, given that these four women stand as the reigning Harmony Sweepstakes champions. Musically sharp, dedicated, and exceptionally professional, this group stands to turn a lot of heads on the show.
Prediction: MAXX Factor will find itself in a very interesting position in this competition. Despite the surge in popularity that the contemporary a cappella style has enjoyed in recent years, barbershop still represents what the majority of the general public thinks of when they hear a cappella. If this comes to a vote, I don’t know that this Sweet Adelines ensemble will appeal to a general audience, though the musical traditionalists who are likely to tune in just might swing a commanding number of votes their way. MAXX Factor is likely to be the most technically sound group in the competition, but based on their stylistic tendencies, I’m skeptical that they will get much love in this competition.
Learn more about the group: Here

Group Name: Nota
Hailing From: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Group Type: All-male, professional
Founded In: Unknown (roughly 1994)
The Skinny: Nota is coming into The Sing-Off with less fanfare than most, largely unknown to the a cappella community. What we know is that they’re a small, fun, ensemble, with a lot of emphasis on percussion a distinctive Latin sound.
Prediction: Given how little is known about Nota, they’re one of the tougher groups to peg in this competition—a fact that could absolutely play to their advantage. Furthermore their sound is likely to stand out from a crowd, and potentially make them more memorable to voters. I’m not pegging them to win, but these guys could be among the dark horses to stir up some commotion in this competition.
Learn more about the group: Here

Group Name: The SoCals
Hailing From: Los Angeles, CA
Group Type: Mixed, Semi-collegiate
Founded In: 2009
The Skinny: The SoCals are the only group in The Sing-Off that, by its own admission, formed for the express purpose of participating in this competition. Given the brevity of the group’s history and their seemingly dubious motivations, one might think that they don’t stand much of a chance. This perception would be dead wrong. While The SoCals are new in name and in purpose, they are an amalgamation of talents from recent incarnations of the University of Southern California SoCal VoCals. To quote the ACB write-up of the 2008 ICCA Finals, the VoCals gave “the best competition set I have ever seen. Period.” To this day, I’ve never seen a set quite so technically proficient, entertaining, and generally awe-inspiring as that group’s. What’s more, in accepting the international championship, the director talked about hours of watching YouTube clips and studying the competition. If anyone thinks this crew won’t come prepared, they are woefully mistaken.
Prediction: Take one of the great collegiate competition groups of recent memory. And what’s that? A year and a half after dominating the ICCAs, they’ve amassed a best-of-the-best super squad for the purpose of competition. These are performers who thrive in the spotlight, and who have an unparalleled commitment to excellence. For all of these reasons, The SoCals are my pick for Sing-Off champions.
Learn more about the group: Here

Group Name: Solo
Hailing From: Omaha, NE
Group Type: Mixed
Founded In: Unknown
The Skinny: This would be the one group that trumps Nota in the unknown category. What we do know is that they are seven members strong, with three women and four men, that reportedly formed in the interest of revitalizing the music scene in Omaha.
Prediction: Like Nota, this group may stand to benefit from the power of the unknown. They’re also bolstered by having the shows most profound human interest story—two members are single mothers, one of whom is homeless. What does this have to music? Nothing, of course, but it’s a heck of a story for the group to have made it to this stage, and if the group does demonstrate top-notch musical prowess, their success in competition could make for the feel good story of this program. They’re certainly a group to watch out for.
Learn more about the group: Here

Group Name: Voices of Lee
Hailing From: Lee University in Cleveland, TX
Group Type: Mixed, collegiate
Founded In: 1994
The Skinny: And so, we come to the last of the collegiate groups. Contrary to their peers, The Voices have their roots in gospel music. While they’re not exclusively a gospel group, this will absolutely lend a unique dynamic to the group in this competition, affording them the opportunity to play traditional, but to do so with a young cast of fresh faces. The group is known for an exceptionally clean sound—terrific blend, killer harmonies and the smoothest of solos.
Prediction: The Voices of Lee of represent an interesting cross-section—faith-based, young and true masters of musical precision. Expect them to be right in the thick of things, and among the top finishers in this competition.
Learn more about the group: Here

Get more information and breaking news on The Sing-Off at the show’s official site here.

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