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The ACB Sing-Off Power Rankings, 2011: Round 1

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Welcome to the ACB Sing-Off Power Rankings! Before we get to the list, a quick review of what these rankings are all about:

-The Power Rankings are concerned with a group’s likelihood of a) surviving for another episode and b) winning The Sing-Off. While overall quality of a group will certainly have an impact on a group’s ranking, it is not necessarily the primary consideration of these rankings.
-The Power Rankings are, in a sense, cumulative. While the most recent performances will affect movement in the rankings, we still have to keep an eye on the bigger picture of how a group is doing (for example, if a group that was previously in last place gives the best performance this week, it doesn’t mean they’ll shoot to number one, but it is likely that they will move up).
-The Power Rankings will be based largely upon my personal opinion, but may also take into account judges’ on-air input, live audience reaction, and Internet buzz. Please note that I have not heard any spoilers, so the content of these rankings is purely conjecture.
-The Power Rankings will only consider active groups—that is, groups that have not yet been eliminated from the show.
-The Power Rankings will appear following each round of competition. A round will be defined as one full cycle of each active group performing.

1. Delilah For those who doubt the power of all-female a cappella, Delilah has put all y’all on notice. The ladies crushed their performance of “Grenade” on episode one. The question now will be whether they can sustain their audience appeal over the weeks to follow. Out of the top contenders, Delilah is quite arguably the least gimmicky act, which bodes well for the group’s long-term potential.

2. North Shore While several groups formed or significantly adjusted their line ups for the very purpose of competing on The Sing-Off, the men of North Shore have sung together for decades, and it really showed Monday night. Their doo-wop sound enchanted the audience in round one. Their second time on the mics may very well be tell-tale when it comes to determining whether they have a shot at winning it all, or if their old school approach to music will wear thin.

3. Afro-Blue I considered Afro-Blue solid but unspectacular, but the judges and the Internet seem to have taken a much stronger shine to this co-ed jazz crew from Howard University. If they can spice up their song selection and performance style to complement their sublime musical abilities, Afro-Blue may very well be here to stay.

4. Pentatonix While I perceived this group to be an entertaining, middle of the road squad with a superstar percussionist, the judges and a number of other Internet sources were very high on this quintet. What happens when Pentatonix takes on a ballad, or otherwise can’t put their beatboxer front and center? Wait and see…

5. Urban Method Rap-appella lent Urban Method a distinct identity in episode one, and they may very well have been the group to generate the most Internet buzz coming out of the first round. But where does the group go from here? Is America interested in hearing them rap every time they hit the stage? As good as the backing track and female solo were, do they have enough chops to thrive on actual singing? Stay tuned.

6. Vocal Point While, in my personal estimation, Vocal Point remains a top three prospect, the judges seemed a bit lukewarm on their debut performance. In his blog, Ben Folds went so far as to write “they’re like a young Cat’s Pajamas.” Though Ben went on to say that they’re younger, so they have more room to grow, the fact remains that Vocal Point has come out of the gate with a bit of a “performer” rather than “artist” stigma. The group has depth and diversity hardwired into its repertoire. The guy’s longevity on the show will likely depend on song selection and where the producers do or do not lead them in the weeks ahead.

7. Dartmouth Aires From the episode two opening number, The Aires came out guns-ablaze, with attitude to spare. This carried over into an insanely high energy performance of “Higher Ground.” The group has proven it is high octane, confident, and that it has at least one money soloist. Now they’ll need to prove that they can diversify their presentation and continue connecting with a crowd.

8. The Yellow Jackets As expected, The Yellow Jackets are getting a little lost in the mix, particularly in juxtaposition with the other all-male collegiate groups I’ve ranked directly ahead of them. To their credit, The YJs picked a song, shared a human interest story and selected a visual (waving their flags (as much as I hated it)) that really stood out in week one. The problem is that, in sharing the solo mic, they failed to connect the viewing audience with a single star, and their overall sound was unremarkable enough to keep them from being as memorable as they should hope to be at this stage of the competition.

9. Sonos It pains me to rank Sonos this low after I, like so many a cappella enthusiasts, pegged them as favorites in the competition. Sonos went out and offered a reasonably strong performance of one of their signature songs. So what went wrong? Sonos will need to find a way to stand out and make themselves heard against a back drop of groups whose larger membership affords them bigger sounds, and groups that are more visually engaging for their choreography. Their percussion effects and harmonies are still among the best in the show; we’ll have to see if they can recover from the beating the judges gave them on episode two.

10. The Deltones Casual fans may be surprised to see this group ranked in such a low position, but if you remove the tear-jerker story, the ingenious decision to debut with a ballad, and the likability of the soloist, you’re left with a fairly average collegiate group. The Deltones may well prove me wrong, and it will be really interesting to see what they bring the stage then next time we hear them. Nonetheless, I think we’ve already seen their peak on the show.

11. The Collective For all of the individual talent this group brings to the stage, I think their intro video says it all—a group member commented that they don’t want to have the same voice, and want to celebrate their diversity of sound. The resulting blend was not great and the soloist was just not as strong as she needed to be to pull off Adele in this context. The good news for The Collective is that they do have a core of real talent, and the Sing-Off production team can help them smooth out some rough edges. We’ll have to see if they can pull it together as an a cappella group the next time they hit the stage.

12. Kinfolk 9 Take most of what I said about The Collective and magnify it for Kinfolk 9. Although the group had one of the top soloists of episode one, the blend was poor enough to put the group in the cellar. Frankly, Kinfolk 9 sounds like a group that was thrown together for the purposes of a run on a TV show—great individual voices that do not yet know how to sing together. There is hope in the soloist, and in the group’s bass sound, but they have a lot of ground to make up if they want a sustained run on this show.

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