Check it out: Tonight, tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday (the live performance finale is on December 21) NBC is hosting an a cappella competition!
It appears that NBC is attempting to cash in on the Glee-mania (not that there's anything wrong with that), and I have to admit that this is a good way to do it. My one big complaint, the zillion or so commercials. I started DVRing a good half-hour after the program started and I caught up with the live stream 15 minutes before the end of the two-hour block. GAH! How is that possible? How?
Anyway, the judge's panel was actually knowledgeable and helpful for the most part: Ben Folds (who recently put out a CD called University A Cappella which was a collaboration between himself and more than a dozen university a cappella groups), Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men (who actually does seem pretty knowledgeable about a cappella), and Nicole Scherzinger (singer for the Pussycat Dolls, she was the weakest of the judges).
In any case, the Beelzebubs are still in it! I'm so excited! Yay!
Other spoilers profiling all 8 a cappella groups are under the cuts.
First up: The first round of 4 groups.
The first group of four:
NOTA from San Juan, Puerto Rico is the group to beat, I think. Solid harmonies, plus multilingual. Really tight harmonies and an original arrangement style. A nice fusion of Latin and pop that definitely made me interested in hearing more.
Voices of Lee from Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee is, frankly, roadkill. THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN ELIMINATED TONIGHT, JUDGES! DO YOU HEAR ME! TONIGHT! Their female voices are pitchy and I thought their harmonies were mushy. Their performance got on my nerves. Here's hoping they're eliminated tomorrow, because I found them painful to listen to and to watch.
Noteworthy from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I'm...not sure how I feel about them, to be honest. A group of painfully white — and I mean painfully white in that terrifying way that only Mormons form Utah can be — college girls performing Aretha Franklin. Yes, you read that the right. They were pitchy, and the harmonies threatened to swallow their lead singer (who is amazing, by the way), but I think they could be in it for the long haul if back-up singers back off just a little bit. I can't warm up to them, though. They definitely gave off the holier-than-thou vibe with their, "We only sing uplifting music, and we will not sing anything with swearing or innuendo."
Face from Boulder, Colorado. BULLSHIT SHOW! BULLSHIT! WHY WERE THEY ELIMINATED?! WHY? THEY WERE EONS BETTER THAN VOICES OF LEE! I personally thought they were quite good, even if their arrangement needed a little work. I think they had the potential to get into the final three, but the judges disagreed.
In any case, I think the first grouping was just out-and-out odd. With the exception of NOTA, the other three groups in this round were I think the weakest performers and had the weakest stage presence. I also thought it was weird that both of the a cappella groups from the religious universities were in this group instead of split between the two rounds.
And now the second group of four, which mostly the stronger groups overall.
Tufts Beelzebubs from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. My homies decided to go with their strengths: performance, personality, and overwhelming charisma. The harmonies wandered just a little bit, but since they were the only group that used the entire stage and busted a few moves, the judges awarded them the first safe slot on sheer entertainment value alone. The thing that may work against them, though, is they (like Noteworthy) didn't try to tug at the heartstrings with some heartbreaking story or one-member-is-facing-tragedy story. I wished they at least brought up The Bubs Foundation, so they didn't come across as just a bunch of over-privileged (if charming) guys attending an East Coast university who prefer to geek out over music instead of joining a frat, but you can't have everything.
Maxx Factor from Baltimore, Maryland tickled me to death. An all-female barbershop quartet! And the women are in their 40s and 50s! Yay! How often do you see that? Plus, they were either in the baritone or alto range. I know! That's just mind-blowing for an all-female group. They had a genuinely unique arrangement of "Dancing Queen" and just the fact they were performing barbershop made them stand from all of the other groups. They need to tone down the harmonies a little so you can hear whomever is taking lead, but I think their uniqueness alone may help them get pretty far in the competition. (My homies the Belelzebubs gave the ladies a stand ovation at the end of the performance. ZOMG I love those guys.)
SoCals from Los Angeles are all alumni of USC's SoCal Vocals. This is kind of a reunion/good-bye performance for the group. Solid performance, solid harmonies, and solid arrangement. They really didn't have anything that made them stand-out from, say, any other top-notch university a cappella group, IMHO. That said, if you're not familiar with "the subculture" they probably would blow you away because of their risky choice for a song. I would've been more impressed if I hadn't heard a fantastic rendition of "Somebody to Love" on Glee just a few weeks ago.
Solo from Omaha, Nebraska. Oh my God. I just wanted to hug every single member of this group. Seriously heart-breaking back stories for all of them. Unfortunately, this 3-month-old group needed to mature a little bit more as a group. The harmonies were, ummm, not good. The arrangement needed help. Sadly, they were definitely the weakest group in this block, if not for the entire night. I'm hoping a music maven with a conscience adopts them and shines them up, because they had a lot of raw talent, just not enough experience to do anything with it. While I'm sad they're eliminated (I have a soft spot for the underdog), it was the right choice.
So, that's my judgment for tonight's Sing-Off on NBC.
I can't wait to tune in tomorrow.
ETA: After re-watching the performances, I'm going to state who I think should've gone, and rank the remaining groups.
Who should've been eliminated:
Solo: I still think this was the right call by the judges. I wanted to love them. I think they've got some raw talent there. And I still hope someone adopts them and gives them pro-tips, because I think they'll do well if it happens.
Voices of Lee or Noteworthy: Slight change of opinion here. While I'm sticking with Voices of Lee as roadkill, I'm torn between them and Noteworthy as the group that should've gone home over Face. In re-listening to Noteworthy, I found the performance off, the song a bad choice, and the arrangement not all that exciting. I feel bad bagging on the two religious schools, but they really were the worst of the bunch.
Now, my favorites starting with who I think is the strongest and ending with the weakest:
NOTA: I really think this is theirs to lose at this point. They really do have it going on, and the Latin/pop fusion really is infectious.
Maxx Factor: The female barbershop is an unusual hook, and the fact that they're not discarding that in their arrangements is a huge plus. Like NOTA, they sound different than the other a cappella groups and I think that'll stand them in good stead.
Tufts Beelzebubs: This may be wishful thinking on my part, but like NOTA and Maxx Factor, they have a hook that makes them memorable. In this case, stage performance and interesting arrangements. What's hurting them is they need to tighten up on the harmonies and they need to back off to let the soloists be heard over the group.
Noteworthy: I know I said they should've been eliminated, but their lead really is talented and she might save them there. I think they're middle-of-the-roaders at best. The thing that really hurts them is their whole "Wholesome, uplifting songs only" schtick. Right off the bat there's a lot of songs they won't even consider performing, which makes their potential songbook veeeeery small. Of the songs that are left, they're going to be forced to put a weird spin on it or do some creative editing of the lyrics to make it work, like their performance of "Respect" tonight.
SoCal: So boring. That's the problem. They sound like every other collegiate a cappella group out there, albeit a good collegiate a cappella group. Their arrangements aren't terribly imaginative, and their movements around the stage aren't captivating.
Voices of Lee: Really the weakest of the bunch that's left. While they sounded better the second time around, they really didn't sound that much better. Their harmonies were mushy and had a tendency to drown out the lead. The lead singer doesn't have a strong enough voice to pull off her lead position. Their arrangement was pretty standard and didn't have any surprises.
So, there's my ranking, for what it's worth.
God, I'm so sad.