The Sing Off- The Finale and Holiday Show

I realize this is a belated post on both the results of the Sing Off finale and the holiday show, but things have been very busy for me at work and at home. I don’t have a whole lot of time for analysis, but then again, not much analysis is really required here.

I will note that the ratings for the finale show were the best of the season, averaging somewhere over 5.98 million for the two hours.

It is also worth noting that while NBC has not yet announced any decision about the future of The Sing Off, folks on the inter-twitter-facebook-webs are starting to mobilize to request a 4th season of the show. For the best example thus far, check out the A Cappella Blog right here.

All of that being said, let’s talk about the last 2 episodes (ever?) of the Sing Off.

Finale

Before discussing the episode, I will give full disclosure that I voted (repeatedly) for Pentatonix to win it all. I think it was clear from my prior posts that I believe they were the most innovative, talented, and marketable group and probably the best group to represent the a cappella culture in popular music.

Needless to say, I was happy that they won. :-)

In any event, the show opened with a decent Michael Jackson cover, “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which was kind of an odd choice given the sentencing of his doctor the following day, but MJ’s music has always been a cappella gold. I personally enjoy nearly every song on Duwende’s recent Jackson cover album more than the opening number here, but the song here certainly got better and better as it went along and it really built to a nice finish.

Pentatonix stepped up to the plate first with a cover of “Without You” by David Guetta featuring Usher. I knew that the contrast between the mixing/production for the remainder of the season, which was done over a period of several months, would make the live finale show, with mixing done on the spot, seem a little rough around the edges.  What I didn’t expect, however, was to be fairly underwhelmed by the group who were so consistent throughout the prior 2.5 months. The problem was pitch, but more importantly, they just sounded vocally tired. I’m sure they spent quite a lot of time working on the various numbers in the week or so preceding the show, but their voices just sounded a little tired for the first minute or so of the song. Of course, they are so good that they got better as the song went along and by the end I was back to loving them unconditionally.

Urban Method was up next singing “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes. Through much of the song, I lamented the same problems I have discussed all season. Though these guys have the potential to really sound fantastic, their arrangements can frequently sound muddy and rambling. I loved the cascading chords right near the end, and that was all, but I still know I would buy an album of theirs if they could get more consistent with the arranging. Finally, I think Shawn’s comment about how this group brings a “new” element to a cappella– head nodding– reveals that he has never listened to the House Jacks who recorded the bed tracks for this show.

The Aires, whom I have criticized on more than one occasion for pitch problems, offered the best performance of the show thus far with “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”. The group sounded in tune, lively, and showed how large collegiate groups can harbor a real advantage with the volume of their performances (presuming that they have had a few performances since the taping of the last episode aired a few months earlier). This song was fun, and I loved their incorporation of Amy from Delilah, who I think is a total star.

Pentatonix got another crack at performing live with “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche),” a 98 Degrees song which they performed with Nick Lachey, and I have to say this was a little more like what we have come to expect from Pentatonix. I also have to note that the “Stallion of the Sing Off,” Mr. Lachey, did a far better job with the solo here than I expected (or remembered him capable of). I know that he seems wooden and (to many) irritating as a host, but I thought he more than held his own on this number. Pentatonix sounded much better on this tune, and the breakdown was really fun and well-executed.

Urban Method was next, performing with this year’s unanimous and undisputed success, new judge Sara Bareilles. THIS was an example of an Urban Method arrangement which, while not their typical style, really worked for their members. Ms. Bareilles sounded terrific and the group behind her sounded full, complete, and properly controlled. I thought this was a fun and really great performance by Urban Method.

Next up, the Aires with Ben Folds performing “Not the Same,” a great song from Ben’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs” album. I was happy to see Ben get the audience involved with the same sections of the song as he does live (Disclaimer: I have seen him live a half-dozen times, maybe more, and he is well worth the ticket price every time). The Aires sounded great behind him, with some great blend and really solid pitch and intonation.

The women of the Sing Off did a nice job with Aretha Franklin’s version of “Natural Woman” and the guys did a serviceable job of “Born to Run” by Springsteen. I have to confess, I had a harder time with the men because when you think Springsteen, words that DON’T come to mind are ivy-league, preppy, sweater-vests and skinny ties, rap… you get the idea. But it sounded fine, and I’m sure it was a heckuva lot of fun in rehearsal and in studio.

Afro Blue with Smokey Robinson was, as expected, like comfort food for the ears. Reggie cranking out a perfect bassline, the group’s sensitive use of dynamics and solid intonation were further proof that they belonged in the final 3, but I’m finished making that argument. 😉

In a bit of a surprise to me, Urban Method took 3rd place in the popular voting. It wasn’t a total shock, but I felt that they had a better shot at defeating Pentatonix from the “breaking-new-ground” position. Of course, if you looked at iTunes sales charts, the Aires really seemed to resonate more than any group other than Pentatonix, so I suppose they were always the natural challenger.

If Urban Method is smart, they’ll work hard, hone their sound, and get a headlining gig at one of the a cappella festivals. I think if they do these things, they have a legitimate chance to be a successful semi-pro a cappella group.

And, finally… Pentatonix won! I thought they deserved it, I think they will do the most going forward with the recording contract, and I really look forward to albums from them and each of the other groups from the final episode of the show.

A Sing Off Christmas

I thought this was a little bit of a misnomer, since the show featured quite a few songs which were not strictly (or even remotely) Christmas songs, but no need for me to be a Grinch about it. Har-dee-har.

I loved the opening number, and it left me feeling that each of the 3 groups which has won The Sing Off was eminently qualified.

I’m not gonna go through every performance on the show because it’s already almost a week later, I don’t really have time, and I don’t think anyone really cares about my thoughts on this lighthearted, entertaining evening.

Highlights:

-Delilah’s legs (http://fr.twitter.com/Delilegs), and Courtney Jensen stepping out to sing part of a solo rather than beatbox,

-Afro-Committed? Committed-Blue? Either way, the sick chords and color tones were shooting all over the place and I have never enjoyed any a cappella bass dancing more than Reggie (my personal favorite bass on the show) doing his weeble-wobble/crab-scurrying-acrosss-hot-sand bass dance,

– the North Shore bass’s lip caterpillar, er mustache, nearly swallowing the mic,

– the Ben Folds and Sara Bareilles skit (“baby coyote inhaled helium”), her solo, and the “Sing Off Five”

– the seemingly awkward moment at the end of “Mistletoe” after Avi held mistletoe over Kirstie’s head…they looked at each other like “should we go one step further and kiss or something? Nah, that would be weird…but…. we do sell everything in our performances…nah, that would be weird….”

– Jerry Lawson

– Courtney Jensen and Kevin from Pentatonix rocking VP while dancing it up behind Jerry Lawson; Avi holding down the bassline alone while approximately 1000 other people sang around him;

– (*my favorite) Shawn paying tribute to Jerry Lawson blazing a trail with “The Persuaders,” which for this genre is a little like saying the rock “trail” was blazed by “The Bottles” or “The Rubbing Stones”,

– fun, fun, fun all-male a cappella with an absurd level of testosterone (the “Testostertones,” anyone?) with OTR, the Bubs, and the Aires,

– Troy Horne (I have heard better bass solos on the Grinch, but that guy is just too good as a performer),

– fake snow (I want some),

– Nick Lachey singing (again? he really is a decent soloist),

– the basses from Pentatonix and Urban Method on “Good Feeling” with Flo Rida… they sounded like they had an octavizer on, but I suspect they didn’t,

– my wife’s comment when 19-yr-old Kirstie from Pentatonix got near Flo Rida- “Stay away from him, honey, you don’t want any of that”,

– people singing into fake or dead mics on that last tune (because it isn’t possible to run that many channels on wireless)

– seeing the names of people like Christopher Diaz, Ben Bram, Nick Girard, Rob Dietz, and of course, DEEEEEEEEKE SHARON at the end.

Lowlights:

– The lack of edge in the Aires’ cover of “All You Need is Love” (it just felt very safe and uninspiring),

another version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah?” I love the song, but the Lister-nation version of this made me want to move to a monastery where music is banned (http://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/zenord.html),

– vocal horns that, for the most part, didn’t really sound like horns on the Jerry Lawson tune,

– my recollection of OTR and the Bubs being better visual performers than is apparently true (from seeing the recap clips in the intro), as I now realize the Aires were by far the best big group in the 3 seasons of the show in terms of choreo and visual theatrics,

– Noda, Noda, Noda….c’mon Nick, you’ve had 2 years! It’s No-TA!,

– Shawn singing (sorry…I don’t like to be negative on this blog, but…well, you watched),

Well, that’s it. The Sing Off is over for now, maybe forever. If you are curious about some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, check out Deke’s article on CASA right here. I certainly hope the show will return next season, but if not, we got some great groups out of it and we got a chance to show our friends, family, colleagues, and the rest of “Mur-i-ka” (as Ben called it at the end of “Not the Same”) what it is that makes us fall so hard for a cappella music.

I got even more out of it- I got a name and partial inspiration for this blog. I got to hear from people I truly respect in the a cappella community, and I got to share my thoughts with all of you. I will continue to do so on other a cappella topics, and I hope you’ll continue to read. Most importantly, I hope a cappella continues to grow internally and externally as a result of this network television experiment.

Thanks for reading!

~Dave

2 Comments

  1. Todd   •  

    I wasn’t that impressed by the Holiday show. It felt like the whole thing was forced to put a CD out and make more money. It wasn’t really about good a cappella arrangements sung by good groups. There were some good things, as you stated above, but overall I was disappointed.

    • Dave Bernstein   •  

      Yeah, Todd, I agree that the arrangements were a little bland and uninteresting. They released a holiday album last year from the show, and they released one with this year’s groups back in November, so I’m sure the idea was to promote those CD’s a little bit. But I think that generally, a cappella music seems to be best-received in the popular scene as good for holidays. That’s why Straight No Chaser put out 2 holiday CD’s, as have Sonos, Rockapella (x 3!), and almost every other major a cappella group out there. They sell better than original or cover albums! So I think NBC knew this, and decided it might get decent ratings.
      In general, though, it wasn’t particularly exciting.

What do you think?