Also, I can't resist this entry from Ben Fold's blog about what he hopes for the future of a cappella. Be still my heart. He really is so adorkable, and I love the fact he's putting his money (and talent) where his mouth is.
Do you know how many years I've spent in the wilderness, all alone listening to WERS All A Cappella on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons? (By the way for all you non-Boston-area a cappella fans: WERS has live on-air streaming.) Too long. On recently have I met other people who share my love. (*waves to my local peeps*)
First, before I start, a few random observations:
Word on the grapevine is that the groups didn't get to costume themselves. Their costumes were chosen for them, thus solving the mystery why the Beelzebubs looked like a bunch of naughty, spit-balling prep school boys all week. It also explains why some of the girls in the other groups seemed to be constantly tugging down skirts that were too short or pulling at tops that were too tight.
Whoever is costuming the groups really needs to be shot. No. Seriously. Those are some retina-searing colors involved there for all of the groups. I'm thinking specifically of Noteworthy and their searing yellow ensemble for the first night. And dear God, Voices of Lee. Poor, poor Voices of Lee with the pink-and-blue sparklies they were wearing tonight.
You know what this means. The costumer from Buffy the Vampire Slayer found a new job. It's only a matter of time before someone in this competition is wearing Willow's "Elmo's Pelt" sweater from Season 4.
Now all that's left is the live performance show on Monday and I can't wait! It's going to be soooooo awesome!
Now, spoilers under the cut...
I had an interesting experience this evening. I tended to agree with the judges' decisions, even if I differed with their reasoning to get there.
Definitely the ones the beat, and I'm even more convinced than ever that they're going to win now that the voting has been thrown open to the public. In fact, I'll be shocked if they don't win, especially since they're the only group that won't have legal headaches vis a vis the Sony recording contract if they do win. They don't have to answer to another institution (such as a college), nor do they have an religious-based objections to performing certain songs (such as a group that counts religion as a strong component of what they do).
Overall a really strong performance tonight with their Jackson 5 melody of three songs, but I can also understand why the judges put them in the middle of the pack for judging on the first round rather than putting them in one of the top two spots: the arrangement wasn't tremendously ambitious. That said, they knew when to quiet down, and they knew where to change the tempo, and their transition between songs was seamless. Overall, it was rather safe and didn't really stretch their vocals at all. I expected something slightly more "wow" from them.
Where they lost the plot a little bit was with their rendition of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" (Judges' Choice song). It got a little bit "noisy" for my tastes. Maybe it was the fact that they weren't comfortable with it, or maybe it was because they were trying to be too clever with it. While I enjoyed their rendition, I've heard them do better.
Last night I said that Noteworthy's implosion was made even more stark by the fact that they followed the 'Bubs, a group that made very few mistakes and put on a charismatic performance. The 'Bubs showed why they belonged in the final three because they were able to follow a very strong group in NOTA and instead of being overshadowed, they were able to hold their own. All the pairing did was highlight that NOTA and the 'Bubs simply operate in different genres of music, but both are fantastic entertainment in their own right.
The 'Bubs did a melody of Who songs that was right on the money in the arrangement. Like NOTA, their transitions between songs were effortless, they altered tempo, pitch, and loudness as appropriate, and (usually) didn't drown out whoever was taking the lead vocals at that moment.
Now, I admit that assigning Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" (Judges Choice) made me groan and roll my eyes. It also made me want to write the following small note to the judges:
Assigning "Sweet Caroline" to a Boston-based a cappella group is like handing them the win for the night. I guarantee that said Boston-based a cappella group (or should I say "groups" because Boston is lousy with a cappella groups, both collegiate and pro) already has an arrangement for "Sweet Caroline" and has performed it multiple times in multiple venues with multiple members going back several generations of college students.
How do I know this? I know this because there is no way, no how, that any self-respecting Boston-based a cappella group does not know Sweet Caroline as it is used at every Boston Red Sox game during the eighth inning. I'm not talking the occasional game here. I'm talking Every. Single. Home. Game. At. Fenway.
You would know this if you had ever watched the Farrelly Brothers' version of Fever Pitch, which captured this ritual on film.
In any case, the 'Bubs played it smart and went with a collegiate a cappella sound, probably using a variation of an arrangement they already know by heart, and made it work. So I wasn't entirely surprised they knocked it out the park, did a victory lap around the whole of of Los Angeles, and still had enough energy left over to attempt rose-based bribery of the judges.
So, it really was a no-shit-Sherlock moment that they came in first for the competition overall, because anything less than first place when "Sweet Caroline" is one of the songs performed would've just been fucking embarrassing.
I know Maxx Factor wasn't going to make the finals, in large part because they were operating very far outside their comfort zone. They only had a chance to perform their melody of the Beach Boys before they were voted off the island by the judges. I can't say I disagree with the judges there.
While the individual pieces were nice, tight, and well matched with the barbershop style, where Maxx Factor fell down (to the point of dereliction of duty) was the one song sounded very much like the other two songs in the melody. There were no transitions between songs, so you could actually hear that Maxx Factor was performing snippets from three different songs. They would quite literally sing a few bars, pause, and then start on the next song bit from the next song. The other issue is that there was no change in tone, pitch, or tempo from one song to the next. It was all very same-y.
In short, they didn't fall apart, but they did blow it pretty hard. That said, the ladies were utterly gracious in defeat. None of them burst into tears, none of them copped and attitude (looking at you Noteworthy), and they all left with big smiles on their faces as they sang "Leaving on a Jet Plane". If anything, they looked positively thrilled that they got as far as they did in the competition, so good on them!
At some point during the SoCals melody of Journey songs, I yelled at my television, "Will you please stop stealing your arrangements from Glee?" It was the second time this same group performed a song from Glee using a nearly identical arrangement. It was utterly infuriating. I wasn't entirely shocked that the elimination for the first round came down to them and Maxx Factor. Frankly, I would've booted the SoCals for the blatant rip-off of they did of "Don't Stop Believing" and kept Maxx Factor. I'm pretty my choice wouldn't have changed the end result one bit, since the SoCals were eliminated after the second round anyway.
As for their arrangement of Simon & Garfunkle's "Hazy Shade of Winter" (Judges' Choice) — oi. (Yes, yes, I know most people think it's a Bangles song, but it damn well isn't. The Bangles were doing a cover version. The Simon & Garfunkle original, IMHO, is far and away the better rendition.) I will give the SoCals that the arrangement was unique and ambitions. Had they been able to pull it off, it would've been absolutely stunning. The problem is that they didn't have the horses to pull that baby off. They started sharp, the lead trio was completely out of sync with the rest of the group, and the whole thing fell apart in right in the middle never to return. I wasn't hearing "A Hazy Shade of Winter" as performed by people who knew the song. I was hearing "A Hazy Shade of Winter" as performed by people who never heard it at all, or at least that's what it sounded like.
Their getting tossed was pretty much a foregone conclusion after that. That said, like Maxx Factor, the SoCals left with class and style, singing Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again", which as it turns out, was the only performance that actually left me with a, "Wow! So that's why the SoCals made the cut to be on the show!"
Voices of Lee
I admit it. I was wrong. I thought that they were roadkill.
However, I also said in yesterday's recap that if Voices of Lee could pull more Gospel into their performance, they'd edge out the SoCals and land in the number three spot.
Hah! Someone on Voices of Lee clearly read my mind because they did just that. Their Beatles melody was just sharp, and the arrangement was solid, and most importantly, they brought in their Gospel roots and nailed it to the wall. I was absolutely delighted and charmed by their performance, and I thought they earned that second-place spot next to the 'Bubs in the first round.
Their second round was weaker, but the performance sparked a rare disagreement among the judges. Ben Folds loved their performance of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" unconditionally, while Shawn Stockman and Nicole Scherzinger were somewhat cold to it. I think the disagreement was based on Ben Folds not actually understanding Stockman's and Scherzinger's critique. He seemed to think that his co-judges wanted to hear a Michael Jackson clone on the song, and were annoyed they didn't get it. Which...wasn't exactly the argument I heard. Stockman's point (and to a lesser extent Scherzinger's), was that in a song like "Man in the Mirror", which is a Gospel-drenched song to begin with, you need to hit certain phrases and you need to emphasize them.
The problem is that Voices of Lee started out with a nice church-choir style arrangement, but didn't carry it through. It remained very church-choir and never broke out into that Baptist-Sunday-Meetin' explosion that it really, really needed to work. What's more, there was no excuse for that not to happen because we (the audience) know that Voices of Lee can pull that shit off. We've seen them do it. Twice. It was like they were afraid to let the horses out of the barn because the horses might get into their heads to run away, but for a song like "Man in the Mirror", that's exactly what you need to make the song work.
Which is my long-winded way of saying: I could see exactly what Stockman and Scherzinger were coming from here, and that I think this is a rare case of Folds being off the mark.
In any case, I think Voices of Lee was ultimately saved by two things: their kick-ass Beatles melody, and the fact that the SoCals fell apart so badly.
Overall, it was a nice waste of six hours' worth of television this week, and I'm definitely looking forward to the live performances (both the three finalist groups as well as numerous special guests) on Monday.
Overall, I'm pleased with the final three line-up, even if one group surprised me by getting there. I also think that the winner is a foregone conclusion.
Still, I tossed my vote in for the 'Bubs, even thought I don't think they stand a chance in hell of winning.