This past spring, the announcement came that The Sing-Off is returning to NBC this fall. For now, it seems that most of us are just happy the show’s coming back. But there will be announcements coming soon. A new third judge (Sara Bareilles has officially announced she is not judging season four). New competing groups. Potentially changes to the competition structure. Plenty of strong opinions are sure to arise, and I’m not so presumptuous to assume that I can speak for all of the show’s fans. That said, in this edition, we’re taking a look at five things I want to see from the upcoming new season of The Sing-Off .
1. A third judge from the a cappella community. Sara Bareilles won over Sing-Off fans for myriad reasons, including her winning personality, her smart observations, her own credentials as a musician, and, sure, the fact that she’s a beautiful woman. I would argue that the most important factor of all, though, was that she stood as the lone judge in Sing-Off history to have emerged from the world of collegiate a cappella. Yes, Shawn Stockman sung a cappella with Boyz II Men, but that wasn't the group’s sole focus. Bareilles sang with a group cut from the same cloth as many of this show’s competitors, not to mention the fact that her songs are among the most popular to cover in the contemporary a cappella world.
Whoever takes Sara’s place with have big shoes to fill. I’m sure the network will want someone with starpower, but if we focus a little less on celeb-dom and a little more a cappella credentials, I think it will add a great deal of credibility to the judging panel. I presume they’ll want a female judge for the sake of balance. How about a Sing-Off veteran: Courtney Jensen? Hannah Juliano? Ingrid Andress? Kirstie Maldonado? Danielle Withers? The show has enough history now that there are plenty of alums to choose from who have proven themselves to the NBC audience and hardcore fans alike, but will still come across as a relatively fresh face in a judging role.
2. All-female a cappella. Every group on The Sing-Off has a story. While Delilah was one of my favorite groups for super-sized season three, it was a little disappointing that the show placed so much emphasis on them being all-female. News flash: there are a lot of a female groups singing today. Can we really only have one represented on this show? Partially because of Delilah, but also in no small part due to the efforts of groups like Divisi, Noteworthy, and The AcaBelles to “hit as hard as the boys do,” there are a number of women’s groups more than up to the task of engaging an audience and I hope they get their fair shake in season four of the show.
3. Barbershop. To date, MAXX Factor is the only barbershop group represented on The Sing-Off. I get that the style isn’t as mainstream as what Urban Method is putting out there, but take a look beneath the surface, and barbershop is not necessarily “old timey.” Anyone who has watched the American Harmony documentary can recognize the wealth of big personalities and divergent styles in the barbershop world today. Moreover, there are new school fusion acts popping up, like GQ, who are turning heads with some of the most stunning harmonies the music world has ever heard—a cappella or otherwise. Ideally, I’d like to hear The Sing-Off truly represent the diversity of the a cappella world, and if this season is to do so, barbershop has to be in the mix.
4. Longstanding groups. The Sing-Off has given us some truly remarkable new groups that came together, ostensibly, for the very purpose of competing on the show (think Pentatonix, The Backbeats, Delilah, etc.). As much as I’ve liked these acts, I’ve also never escaped the sense that it’s much more satisfying to see groups that have plied their trade for years get their just due on a national stage when they make it to The Sing-Off. It’s The Beelzebubs and Whiffenpoofs furthering their tradition of excellence for all to see (and hear). It’s North Shore sharing with the world an act they’ve honed for decades. It’s Jerry Lawson bringing his old school song stylings to the public alongside the Talk of the Town, a group he partnered with before The Sing-Off was ever announced.
There’s no shortage of acts that deserve their shot at The Sing-Off season four. It’s elite high school groups like Oakland’s Vocal Rush and Centerville’s Forte. It’s top achievers from the collegiate world like The Northeastern University Nor’easters, University of Chicago Voices in Your Head, and The UCLA ScatterTones. It’s hardworking pro groups like Overboard, Musae, or Duwende. In casual conversations over the past three months, I’ve heard of over a dozen acts that intend to try out for this season, all of whom I’d love to see get their chance. Not everyone can make it on—we all understand that. Just the same, I hope that we don’t see a disproportionate number of spots go to new groups formed just for the sake of appearing on the show.
5. Guest performances. The Sing-Off demands ratings, and ratings demand competition. As much as some of us would prefer to remove the elimination and ranking elements inherent to the show, they are realities we have to accept; with the exception of the occasional holiday special, this show will never be a simple showcase in the purest sense of the word.
That said, a cappella groups around the country are pushing the boundaries of what qualifies as a cappella using looping pedals and other effects to innovate new sounds and styles. These new approaches to performance aren’t necessarily a fit for the competition format, but I’d love to see the community’s most creative voices shared with an eager a cappella audience on a national stage via guest performances over the course of the season.
What would you like to see from season four of The Sing-Off? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter (@acappellablog).