The Sing-Off, Season 5

TV

The Sing-Off is back! Shawn Stockman and Jewel are back. Ben Folds is... woefully missing. But Patrick Stump from Fallout Boy is here. And, wait, Pentatonix is, too? Neat!

Opening number is Kim Wilde's "Kids in America," led off with The Exchange before the groups rotate through and team up. Does The Sing-Off have the best opening group numbers in reality TV? No question. Slickly executed, and a nice little sample of what each of these groups is about.

Nick Lachey is here and calls it a special edition of The Sing-Off. He shares that this episode will start with a signature song, then go on to a judge's choice number. The winner scores $50,000. On to the judges. Patrick Stump shares that Ben Folds is on tour, so he'll fill in as musical nerd. Jewel says she's looking to be entertained and moved. Nick says that Shawn consistently brings the flash and makes reference to his flashy jacket. Shawn tells the groups to leave everything on the stage and not to have any regrets.

Timothy's Gift is here. The women met at their church in Nashville and describe themselves as a little bit country, a little bit rock. They do most of their singing in maximum security prisons, and say they do so to inspire hope in them.

The women kick off the competition with "Ghost" by Ella Henderson. Nice lead vocal here, and some pretty, simple harmonies in the early going before the perc keys in and the group grooves into place. Very nice unison, before a transition to a new lead, en route to the wall of sound. I love this song choice to reinforce the group's identity and show off many sides of their talent.

Jewel says the group is really different for an a cappella group--showing up without a bass and VP. She said they sounded warm and maintained their roundness nicely. Shawn applauds the work the group does with inmates. He says he enjoyed the performance and how Abby flipped her voice. He said it took him a minute to figure out where they were going, but soon enough he did get it and he loved the performance. Patrick says the group had great leads and harmonized nicely, but could have backed off at some points a hair. He asks what it's like to perform at a prison.

a.Squared is up next--five dudes from Yale with the benefit of both looping pedals and super hip black-and-white into color lighting effects in their intro package. They demo the harmonies that the loops allow them to produce. They talk about wanting to experiment with new approaches to a cappella. They talk about the risks that come with live looping and how if someone makes a mistake it can be repeated over and over again on account of the technology.

The guys sing Bastille's "Pompeii." They let their soundboard guy work the effects liberally in the early going to show what they're working with before breaking into a more traditional take on the song with plenty of bells and whistles swirling around them. I don't know that this act would work with anything shy of spectacular voices and a mastermind at the board. Fortunately, a.quared had it covered.

Shawn calls Jacob the Steve Jobs of a cappella, and Jewel lauds the way in which he visually performed. Shawn says the arrangement was ambitious, and their approach to the genre could change a cappella. (Somewhere, the members of Aurora collectively throw their looping pedals at the TV... or, more diplomatically, appreciate that The Sing Off has come around to such things... because they're cool like that.) Shawn says things could get overwhelming in the performance. He concludes on the thought that it is hip to be square. Jewel says there's nothing square about it. (Take note, kids--figure out a name that it's easy to riff puns off of, and you will be remembered!) She calls the group half man, half machine and cautions a gimmick will make people listen, but emotion makes us remember a group. Patrick lauds the group for how difficult their approach is to pull off and calls them talented singers.

Traces is up next. They talk about coming from very different careers and finding time to sing together. They have a style often described as gospel, whether it's what they originally intended or not. They talk about their appearance on The Sing-Off being a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Traces sings "River Deep, Mountain High" by Tina Turner. Love their groove early on and the take-no-prisoners approach of their soloists from the very beginning. The group hints at its power as the tempo picks up. Excellent choice to go all out on the chorus then reel back the volume, but keep the sass turned up to eleven when they head into the next verse. Shrewd call to go for the clap-along on that second chorus and finish big.

Shawn talks about the group performing like forty-year vets, He says he can forgive imperfections--they elevated the stage. Patrick says everyone was so good. There were points when he wanted to hear more VP. Jewel says this group has the lowest female bass the show has heard, and she heard so many influences in their work. She says the group did its homework and had incredible energy.

The Exchange is up next. They talk about the members meeting on The Sing-Off via The YellowJackets and Urban Method (not to mention, Chris's unmentioned behind-the-scense work for the show). They talk about touring the globe to entertain in small venues, sacrificing money and their personal lives to pursue this music.

The guys sing "Love Runs Out" by OneRepublic. Slow, grooving start. You can tell these guys' experience in this medium in how they carry themselves from the word go. The solos are spectacular, and the low end is positively scintillating througout this one. Killer staging to boot, playing iwth a lot of traditional a cappella tropes, but bring ing them to life, covering the stage with ridiculous proficiency for just five bodies.

Shawn says the group carried on the vibe of the original song, but translated into their own style. He singles out Richard and Chris's perc and bass moves for keeping the music tight. Jewel says the chords were dynamic. She notes that the lowest voices can sometimes sing the highest and she dug Chris's work. She notes the operatic tone to Jamal's vocals and praises Alfredo's solo work. Patrick talks about how the group shared the lead and mixed roles so fluidly.

The SanFran6 is together. They talk about assembling a dream team from the best talent they could find. They talk about trying to graduate from their daily lives to being full-time singers. They intend to explode on stage.

The group performs "Break Free" by Ariana Grande. Cool buzzing intro as the camera works with the group to pan across the stage and reveal them, culminating with the soloist (who sounds great!). Nice, organic movement for this number and the group boasts a tight rhythm section. I love the techno-oriented VP effects this group weaves in to take what could have been a run-of-the-mill (albeit expertly done) song, and revitalize it.

Shawn asks Danny waht he was doing. He responds with his vocal melodica. Shawn asks him to free style, and he obliges. Pretty sweet. Shawn says there were points when the arrangement could have been beefed up. Patrick disagrees, and says he loved the arrangement and was entertained the full time. Jewel says the soloist sounds like a pop singer and she likes it. She liked the way the group used dynamics.

The Melodores out of Vanderbilt are up next. They talk about singing together and one of the guys coming after performing as in Pitch Perfect 2. They talk about this being a perfect send-off for the group's seniors.

The guys perform "Trumpets" by Jason DeRulo. I can hardly tell you how much I love seeing truly electric energy and professional brand of choreo these guys have been executing for years debut for a national audience. Nice falsetto bit in the middle there. We're on to a kickline. Nice vocal trumpet on the finish.

Jewel says William is "cuter than kittens on YouTube." She praises James's solo and says the guys hit a variety of different aspects. Shawn liked the way the guys changed rhythms and kept the audience engaged. He praised Auggie's vocal fluglehorn. Patrick talks about how impressive it was to get so many guys on the same beat, though he noted pitchy moments in the early going.

Pentatonix is here for for a Christmas mashup. Man is it good to hear this crew back on this show. I remember a time when I was skeptical of this group, in the early stages of Season 3. Three years later, they've firmly established themselves as the most ivnentive, engaging, timely, wildly entrtaining group I know. They've transcended a cappella to become a truly commercial draw--and that's aside from taht whole Grammy nomination situation. Kudos to the five-some for coming back home to NBC for a night.

It's elimination time. Really, a one-night show needs eliminations? The Exchange, Traces, and The Melodores survive.

Traces sings Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston's "I'm Every Woman." I'm stunned by the way in which every one of these woman carries her share of the load. They're passing that solo torch and positively attacking the vocals. Another excellent showing for this crew.

Shawn says that attitude is everything for this song and the group pulled it off. He talks about the stunning vocals and particularly Tameka's low end. Patrick talks about no one overpowering each other and everyone getting a chance to shine. Jewel plays the Ben Folds role, breaking down what the group did musically. She digs them, too.

The Exchange is back with Ed Sheeran's "Sing." The guys keep it subtle on the opening, before Jamal's falsetto makes Shawn holler "What?!" from the judges table and start clapping along ahead of the audience. The guys build the sound from there. Three-way fast-paced harmony between Aaron, Jamal, and Alfredo while Chris and Richard hold it down on rhythm. That's one way of handling the rap. You know, if you happen to have immeasurable talent at your disposal.

Jewel says she's a big fan of the group. she liked the way the guys built with their dynamics and broke the rap into a three-part harmony. She talks about the audience clapping along to become another band member, and how shrewd that was. Shawn singles out Jamal's high notes and says the guys showed range in a matter of just two songs, and says they were entertaining and harmonic. Patrick says the rap was flawless, but the connective tissue made it feel like the group was just waiting for better parts.

The Melodores are back to sing "Take Me To Church" by Hozier. Dark sound, dark lighting on the opening, casting both a figurative and literal spotlight on the soloist. He's up to the task. The guys not only sound great but, man can they put together a visual. Killer staging. Excellent use of dynamics to explode on the ending and get Jewel checking her arms for goosebumps. Me too, Jewel. Me too. So few groups capitalize on the capacity for silence to generate drama and contrast. This was a masterful intepretation of the song.

Patrick says this is a tough song, and Dan did an amazing job on the lead. He talks about how sparse the song is, and how the guys did wonderfully using silence to their advantage. Jewel talks about how this song was a gauntlet thrown down for the group, and that Dan's solo was authentic and powerful. Shawn says The Melodores took us to church. He says he's a fan of music and when he goes to see a show, he wants to see the sides of a musician spilt on stage--and that was the kind of performance Dan delivered--he says that's what makes singers legends, and the group backed him up the way they should have. He says that's "storytelling."

It's time for the judges and Home Free to break it down for us all, with Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." Lovely sound all around, and Shawn Stockman makes a nice addition, but I'll be darned if Jewel's little segment of that solo didn't just steal the show. Nicely done all around, though, and I'm definitely a bigger fan of Patrick Stump's rock star skills than his voice as a judge.

It's time to find out who wins the seaso--er... special. The judges give each of the groups their regard, and Shawn talks about how each group has been exposed to millions of viewers--it's up to them to keep it up from here.

The Melodores win it! I have to be honest, I was really torn between all three finalists--I suppose that's what happens when groups only have one night to distinguish themselves and break free from the pack. I am pleased to see a college group take it, though, formally dispelling the myth that a scholastic group never can win due to the contractual obligations that follow.

This was quite an episode. I wish we could have heard a parting song from the victors to lend the show a sense of closure, but I understand there were time constraints and, well, we did get to hear Pentatonix and Home Free, so who am I to complain?

Thanks for reading this review and thanks to all of you who watched along with me on Twitter during the broadcast. Here's hoping for many more Sing-Offs in the years ahead (and more episodes when they happen!).