Here comes the season finale!
Ten, Vocal Rush, and Home Free start things out with Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." They all sound fantastic per usual, but if you look at the opening number as a de facto competition, I've gotta give this one to Vocal Rush for sincerity points.
And the entertainment keeps coming with a series of previously eliminated groups chiming in to back up Nick Lachey as he serenades Jewel with "It Had To Be You," focusing on her being the natural pick for the new judge spot this year. Jewel handles another mic to riff off the performance and eventually team up on the lead. Harmless fun, and I liked the pseudo-impromptu take on it.
The AcoUstiKats take us into the first commercial with "Jingle Bell Rock."
Interesting format so far this episode, consistent with the tone of the collaborative sing-offs and whatnot: the show much more focused on generating the best entertainment the collective cast can, as opposed to the competitive element of the show.
Ten joins Shawn Stockman to sing "Joyful Joyful" from Sister Act 2. Shawn leads off the song, demonstrating the boy has still got some pipes. Ten excels as a backing choir... but isn't part of their story that they were all backup singers waiting for a chance to break out? Sh*t just got meta. Very smooth backing here just the same, and a nice pop of energy as the tempo picks up and they can show more personality, though this was a little soft and safe for them--yes, they are the group that "takes us to church" but they've also been at their best when they're edgier, and we didn't get to hear that on this song.
Street corner Renaissance sings us into the next break with a very fun, bass-heavy take on "White christmas."
The Filharmonic sing us back in with "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." Can't deny the charm. I mean this as a compliment: of all the groups, they're the most ready for a career in singing commercial jingles.
Pentatonix is here to serve as the coaches for the finale. How. Cool. Is. That? The quintet takes the stage for "I Need Your Love" originally by Calvin Harris, featuring Ellie Goulding. Yes, this is the premier group to emerge from The sing-Off ranks, but it's still pretty magical to hear them two years later and catch just how polished their act has grown. The only knock I ever had on this group was a lack of fullness to the sound and there's not even a hint of that here. The trio at thh top grooves the heck out of this song, Avi Kaplan remains extraterrestrial on the bass, and Kevin's perc keeps this one moving. Wait, did Avi just get a sliver of solo? I. Love. It.
Calle Sol wants to wish us a merry Christmas with "Feliz Navidad" on the way back from commercials. This may be the best they sounded, adding the credence to the theory that, despite their awesome dancing abilities, they're a far better singing group hen they stand still.
Here comes Home Free. They've got "I Want Crazy" originally by Hunter Hayes. Austin kicks off the solo unaccompanied. Not sure I love that decision, though it does make for a pretty great moment when the groupenters behind him. The guys open the song seated, in a bit of a trademark posture, but rise from their chairs this time around as the music picks up. The rhythm section really blows up this song on the way to the bridge. This thing keeps on building, and I love it. This group is just so good at infusing drama via elevating over and over again to a climax (no, not that kind of climax, Jewel). Stellar showing.
Shawn says the group has been so good since day one, but didn't it feel good to do something different? He says they were awesome and America will love their sound. Ben praises Adam and Tim's groove and says the performance defied category. Jewel says the group has always sounded great but they've been visually stagnant--she says they--particularly Austin--looked hungry tonight and it was great.
Jewel fills in for Nick Lachey to set up 98 Degrees singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." And, yes, they do it a cappella. Interesting that they go with a mostly choral take on it. That approach may not have the most commerical appeal, but I'll be darned if these guys can't put together a compelling harmony. Nick steps out front to take the lead on the finish. Awesome performance.
The Footnotes take us into this commercial break, perfectly at ease with a remixed rendition of "Deck the Halls."
It's Secret Santa time for the judges. Jewel gives Shawn a ring... with a jewel ring. Shawn gives Ben a blue velour bowtie. Ben gives Nick an a cappella vocab book. Nick gives Jewel a picture of himself shirtless. And then he gives the same picture to the other judges... and the crew guys. And Ben writes a song about it. Sh*t just got so very real, very quickly.
Ben Folds joins Vocal Rush to sing "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" originally by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It's a good performance for sure, but neither Ben nor the song really seem like an ideal fit for this group. Remember Ben riffing off of Street Corner Symphony back in the day? Remember Vocal Rush lighting things up last Thursday? This vehicle isn't really serving anyone particularly well.
Element is "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" on the next transition.
VoicePlay joins ous on the other side for a variegated take on "Jingle Bells."
Ten is back to sing Beyonce's "Love on Top." Intro is a little messy, but the group grooves into the verse. I love the transition to the second soloist. Reall interesting record scratch transition on the key change--that's one way of both making the song your and evading one of the stickiest spots of the song. All in all, this was a good take on the song, but felt a little rushed and, aside from Imani's solo, never really kicked into the next gear to deliver something special.
Ben talks about the group playing with the lead vocals over the groove and doing interesting things with it. Jewel praises the leads and talks about the journey this group has taken from the premier to gel as a group. Shawn calls it an official stankface performance.
Jewel teams up with Home Free for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Surprisingly high harmonies on that opening and I was legit surprised to see it wasn't Jewel singing them. Wow, does Home Free have depth! Very nice, sultry solo from Jewel here and group is perfectly at ease, if they don't seem particularly challenged playing the backing band for this number. Fortunately, they get a nice choral spot toward the end. This was certainly my favorite of the star collaborations tonight.
We cut to a prerecorded package on aca-vocabulary. Fun enough stuff and I dig that the show not only took a moment to educate the audience, but also proved that their commentary is not gibberish.
Next we have... wait, Pat Benatar? That's for real? I actually kind of love Pat, but this feels more than a little random on this show--particularly with Neil Giraldo on the guitar at her side. In any event, much of the cast backs them up for a very nice rendition of "We Belong to the Night."
Vocal Rush is in the house one last time, singing Katy Perry's "Roar." Mixed feeling on the song choice--not sure it has enough swagger or bite for this group, but it is an energy intensive piece, which plays right into their youthful hands. The first verse rocks, but the tuning feels a little off on that first chorus from where i'm sitting (my living room, in case you were wondering). Perfectly serviceable performance, but it didn't really feel like all-the-way Vocal Rush, which is a shame for their last performance of the season.
Jewel says that she was sucked into the group's gravity. Shawn says he feels like a proud uncle, and he sees promise and potential in this group. Ben credits each of the leads and tells the group not to lose their energy and spirit.
Aaaaaand it's results time. Truth be told, I think this finale did a nice job of laying out a very clean cut first, second, and third place. Home Free has had the crown locked up from very early on. Vocal Rush has all the potential in the world, and is already one of the best groups in the world--I had them locked in at a tight number two (that sounded more bathroom humor-y than I meant it. Ah well, going with it.). Ten has all the chops in the world and improved significantly over the course of the show, but I didn't think they rose above third place, particularly with their performances on the finale.
That said, officially, Vocal Rush takes third place, Ten comes in second, and the gentlemen of Home Free are indeed the champions of the a cappella universe v. 4.0. Great season chock full of great talent and in a post-PTX a cappella world I can only assume we'll be hearing much, much more from many of these groups on YouTube and on live stages in the months, if not years, to come.
Congratulations to Home Free and my hat is off to everyone who worked on The Sing-Off for assembling another phenomenal set of episodes. Here's hoping for season five in 2014!