Sunday with Zin: The Sing-Off Is Back!

Hello I am Zin and it is my Blogging Birthday! I started Sunday with Zin one year ago and I am very proud that this is my 52nd post and I did not miss a single week!

I got a wonderful Blogging Birthday present this week: The Sing-Off is coming back!

I was so sad that it was cancelled last year I did my own six-week a capella tribute at Christmas and it was a lot of fun but I would rather have had the show! It is really strange we were just talking about this and that same day I discovered it had been renewed for this Christmas! Maybe I should start talking about how disappointed I am that Google Reader is being cancelled and they will bring that back too.

History lesson: The Sing-Off started as a surprise! I did not even know about it until the night it started four years ago during the week before Christmas! Since most of the groups were from colleges (that is where the a capella is) it was filmed over the summer but most of the competition was aired in December with a finale just before Christmas and it was so wonderful, so special, like a little Christmas present during a time of year when no one is watching television!

The next year they expanded it a little and we started blogging it (I did 2011, I was not blogging in 2010) because we loved it so much! The third year they made a mistake and turned it into a full twelve-week competition but even though they had some wonderful groups (including my beloved Pentatonix) it did not do well I think because the specialness was lost. It was just another singing competition!

So it seems they have gone back to the original short format for the Christmas hiatus and that is a good thing! Mark Burnett will be the producer which makes me a little nervous because he does things like Survivor and The Apprentice that depend on viewer manipulation and suspense and that is not at all what The Sing Off should be. A lot of people think he has done a good job with The Voice which I have never seen (I think the chairs are gimmicky) but I hope it means he knows how to present music without getting in the way. They had better bring back Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman!

I watched some of the Chinese version last year and discovered some cool new groups! Maybe someone noticed that a lot of people were paying attention to Chinese songs. The article says they never actually cancelled the show they just did not pick it up for last year and I am glad they decided it was time to start again.

They are casting right now so if you are in an a capella group or know someone who is you should hurry!

Extra: Christmas Eve A Capella with Zin!

Hello I am Zin! Christmas is a time of hope and peace! Here is an a capella Mini Concert – all kinds of a capella from all kinds of groups in all kinds of places – to lift spirits!

O Holy Night by Pentatonix

Yesu Nafyalwa( Jesus Is Born) – Zambian Vocal Group (Zambian group, Zambian song!)

Oh The Holly She Bears a Berry by The Voice Squad (Irish group, Irish folk song!)

In Dulci Jubilo by The King’s Singers

O Come O Come Emanuel by Pentatonix

Christmastime is Here by AfroBlue (the Charlie Brown song!)

Silent Night by Boyz II Men

Merry Christmas (or happy holiday of your choice, or just have a very nice Tuesday) to everyone!

Sunday with Zin: A Capella Series 2012 – Part 5

Walter Inglis Anderson: "Hummingbirds"

Walter Inglis Anderson: “Hummingbirds”

Hello I am Zin and here are two more A Capella songs to make up for The Sing-Off being cancelled this year! I know there are only supposed to be two but I could not choose so I included them all!

If you grew up watching TV back when shows had theme songs, you will have fun with this Medley from the championship barbershop quartet Acoustix! I knew almost all of them which is a little bit scary, yes? If someone had put the multiplication tables on tv I would know how much 6 x 8 is! I love Acoustix, I saw them perform this live several years ago, before there was a Youtube I think, so I am very happy to find it waiting for me!

If you saw the movie Invictus (or The Gods Must Be Crazy a long long time ago) you have heard this! It is Shosholoza (Go Forward) performed by Overtone with Yollandi Nortjie, and the lyrics and translation are provided!

And our Christmas a capella for today is Noël Nouvelet (Sing We All Noel) by The King’s Singers!

Sunday with Zin: A Capella Series 2012, Part 4 – Comfort Music

Jerry Lee Kirk, "Sorrow"

Jerry Lee Kirk, “Sorrow”

Hello I am Zin. I hope this music offers some small comfort for this bleak midwinter weekend. I am not religious, but I find hymns still touch me in some way.

A Capella:
Psalm (Dedicated to my Mother)” – Adapted/written, composed, performed, overdubbed, and produced by Bobby McFerrin.

Christmas:
This is not A Capella but the introduction is important enough to break the rules.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day” text by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Sunday with Zin: A Capella Series 2012 – part 3

Hello I am Zin and it is time for two more a capella songs!

First we have The Poozies (five women from Scotland) with Another Train! They are not really an a capella group but this particular song is! It is very encouraging to listen to when you have screwed something up (which I know a lot about).

And for our Christmas song… well, it would not be Christmas without the Chipmunks! But the real Chipmunks do not do a capella, so here we have the Texas A&M a capella group Apothesis singing “Christmas Don’t Be Late!”

Sunday with Zin: A Capella Series 2012 – part 2

Hello I am Zin and it is time for two more a capellas!

Wait – do not go! Please… the first one is very funny! And the Christmas one is very beautiful!

Rolling in the Higgs

Are you still there?

See, back in July, there was a lot of excitement because the scientists running the large hadron collider in Switzerland (aka CERN) announced they had discovered the Higgs Bosun! This is one of those things like the speed of light or relativity, it is a huge deal (but do not ask me to explain it to you, read what the New York Times had to say instead!

So physics student and “harmony addict” Tim Blais wrote a song! Well, he wrote lyrics to “Rolling in the Deep” which is a song Adele wrote! And he called it “Rolling in the Higgs!”

There’s a collider under Geneva
Reaching new energies that we’ve never achieved before
Finally we can see with this machine
A brand new data peak at 125 GeV
See how gluons and vector bosons fuse
Muons and gamma rays emerge from something new
There’s a collider under Geneva
Making one particle that we’ve never seen before

The complex scalar
Elusive boson
Escaped detection by the LEP and Tevatron
The complex scalar
What is its purpose?
It’s got me thinking

Chorus:
We could have had a model (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
Without a scalar field (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)
But symmetry requires no mass (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
So we break it, with the Higgs (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)

And then there is Verse Two!

But the valiant Mr. Blais was not done yet!

He sang this song in… I do not know, four, six, eight part harmony? All by himself! And put it on video! And he is pretty good though his percussion could use some work! If this physics thing does not work out for him he can become a professional a cappelist!

He got a writeup on the Scientific American blog so his lyrics are legit! But I think it is just funny! And if you go all the way to the end, you will find just a snippet of what might be his next video, to “Bohemian Rhapsody” – “Is string theory right? Is it just fantasy? Caught in the landscape out of touch with reality?”

Merry Christmas Music

And now for our Christmas a capella: Everyone knows the Praetorius ” Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (“Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming”) but that was not good enough for composer Hugo Distler (he has a very sad story! He lived in Germany at the worst possible time! His music was declared “degenerate” by the Nazis and he killed himself rather than end up in the army fighting for a regime he despised, so even though he was a straight white Caucasian Christian, he too was a victim of the Third Reich) so he composed a Bach-style cantata called “Die Weihnachtsgeschichte” (“The Christmas Story”) which included variations of the Praetorius scattered throughout! And they are so beautiful! The whole cantata is about 45 minutes, but I am just using one of the variations for my purposes here, my favorite!

Two more next week! In honor of the cancelled Sing-Off!

Sunday with Zin : A Capella Series 2012 – part 1

Hello I am Zin and I miss The Sing-Off!

I was surprised by it when it showed up for four days in December 2009! I was thrilled when it came back for two weeks before Christmas in 2010! I knew we were headed for trouble when they made it a three-month series in 2011, but I enjoyed every minute!

And then it was cancelled!

How could they?

So in mourning for The Sing Off which should be running about this time, every week between now and the New Year I will be posting links to all kinds of a capella videos! Because a capella covers a lot of ground from Praetorius in the Renaissance to barbershop in the early 20th century to my beloved Pentatonix who won The Sing-Off last year! One will be a Christmas song, and one will not!

So you are sneering? Are you rolling your eyes at me? Stop it! Because, come on, I dare you to tell me something that is more fun than watching six guys sometimes upside down singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight with a German accent!

And for the seasonal part of our program, enjoy The King’s Singers (sort of the British version of Halbtrocken, except they came first, so it is really that Halbtrocken is the German version of the King’s Singers) and their Christmas version of The Gift to be Simple.

Sunday with Zin: The Sing-Off China

MICapella!

MICapella!

Hello I am Zin, and I was going to talk about something else today, but I got so excited when I saw on TWoP that China is doing their first season of The Sing-Off, I just had to post about it right away!

The American version was canceled (and I am still very sad about that), but it seems the Chinese love a cappella! Actually, it is a “totally new thing” for them, according to this casting video posted by Inside A Cappella on YouTube! And as Kromm said on TWoP – “Holy No International Copyright Batman” – Entire episodes are on YouTube! So even if the Sing-Off is not profitable enough for American audiences, serious diehards and get a fix – even though it will be mostly in Chinese!

What is really hilarious about the episodes is that even though they are in Chinese, they are so similar to the American version! The same excessive blather between performances by the unrelentingly smooth host! The same excessive reactions of the judges! The same cheesy performances! It is perfect!

You can just search YouTube for “The Sing-off China” and find dozens of videos (no I have not seen them all, but I will keep looking), but here are some of my favorites so far:

TV Promo in an Inside A Cappella story – 1.5 min.; it starts off slow, like all these random people are singing, then turns into a really good anthem; the commentary is in English, but most of the song is in Chinese, except for the last line.

MICappella (apparently the leading contender; they are from Singapore) singing a Chinese pop song! At least I think it is Chinese, how would I know? They are really good! They do not sound like this is totally new to them!

Freemen singing “Creep” by Radiohead (my personal anthem!) In English with some very interesting staging! They give it a very different twist: instead of an outcast bemoaning his fate, it is the story of a man meeting his soul in a dream! That is quite special! The judges look like they are going to cry! This is really great! They will never replace the Street Corner Symphony version, but it is very impressive!

And then, because no Sing-Off post is complete without them, I am including my beloved Pentatonix doing “We Are Young” on the Chinese show. It is not my favorite song that they do (that would be “Dog Days Are Over“) but I am very happy to see they were invited to be on the show in China!

And I am so happy that the Chinese have embraced a cappella! Maybe if it is successful, we will get our American version back! There is even a bridge to help that happen: the University of Pennsylvania has a Chinese a capella group, PennYo, which does Chinese pop songs! So anything is possible!

The Sing Off Christmas

Have a Merry Zin Christmas!

Hello, I am Zin! I was not going to blog this episode since it is not competition but a Christmas special, but I thought, oh, why not, I love this so much and it is almost over!

Groups and individuals from all three seasons perform! As an opening group number, Pentatonix, Committed, and Nota, the winners from all three seasons, do “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and segue into the Sing Off theme at the end! I just noticed all the winners have one-word names. I think that is a coincidence.

The ‘Bubs are back! I did not blog Season 1, I was not blogging back then, but I am so happy to see them! And Jerry Lawson is there, though I think it is just him and not his crew. And North Shore, On the Rocks, and the Backbeats – and there is Courtney the Female Beatboxer! And Street Corner Symphony, and Afro-Blue!

The Backbeats and Delilah do “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. Oh, and there is the Asian guy who put the Backbeats together, I do not remember his name! This is like a High School reunion, trying to remember everyone! And Courtney sings! It is not really a song I know but it is great to see people again. Sara says she sang with the Backbeats on the finale last year (which I do not remember, but I checked my blog entry; uh oh, I said, “I don’t know who she is. I just wish she wasn’t there. Something is very wrong with this, though it could be my neighbors playing something that’s coming through the walls”) and she appeared on their album as well. She sang in college a capella, I wonder if this is the group she sang with? Not these exact people, of course, but the group?

The Dartmouth Aires do “All You Need Is Love” – they are carrying signs, including one that says “Ho Ho Hope” – I live them! Clark is so cute. They are very collegiate. We hear from some people who have not done solos before, which is nice! After the number Michael says it is probably the last time they will perform together since some of them are graduating. I wonder, haven’t they already graduated? Or will they not be singing between now and graduation? That would be odd, it is half a year! I wonder how the show would handle it if they won, keeping old members on? I suppose they have it figured out, though it has not been an issue so far.

Committed and Afro-Blue do “Ooh Child.” Christie has such a cozy, warm voice, she is not a powerhouse belter like is so popular now, and she does not need to be, that is not their style, I am glad she is able to do what she does well. Ben gives them props as the standard of serious craft and intellect.

Street Corner Symphony do the Leonard Cohen “Hallelujah.” They sound very out of tune, maybe it is the lead that is off, but it is not good at all, and I am disappointed because I love that song and I always liked them. I wish they would have done the extra verse. Nick talks to them and Jeremy says last season was like summer camp and was a lot of fun.

North Shore sings “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys. They are cute as always! Guy says it is spiritually uplifting to get tweets and emails, and he is happy to be on a good clean family oriented show. Oh, why did he have to say that?

Ben and Sara do a spoof on rehearsing “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Since I just saw this over the summer on The Glee Project, I have a lot of crossover between Ben and Cameron! They are both kind of nerdy! I wonder if they did that on purpose. They joke around about Sara not knowing what rubbing seconds are and Ben having an awful voice like a coyote on helium baying at the moon. Then they actually sing it on stage, with Ben on piano – hey, no fair, I really get mad when they bring instruments in! They have the Sing Off Five doing backup, horns and percussion, it looks like Kevin from Pentatonix and the blond guy from Vocal Point but I could be mistaken, they are really good, they do great horns! I can not keep from smiling! It is very nice! Even with the piano! I guess Ben wanted to show that even if he does not really have a great voice he really is a musician! You do not have to convince me, Ben!

Pentatonix does “Mistletoe” by Justin Beiber. They are so sweet. Kirstie can do the whole rock and techno-pop thing, and then she can turn into Miss Apple Pie at the drop of a hat, she is really special! Scott gets a little awkward trying to answer the lame question, “How does it feel to be champions for the past week.”

Jerry Lawson sings “Sweet Soul Music” with Kevin from Pentatonix and Courtney as percussion, Afro-Blue, and Avi, and a bunch of people from various groups. It is really nice to see him! He was using a cane on the last finale, I guess it was a temporary injury because he is not using one tonight. The horns are terrific, I wonder if they had someone come in and give a master class on horns, because they are all doing really good at horns. Shawn calls Jerry the trail blazer, and says it is nice to see the generations together on the stage. Yes, especially with that song which is a roll-call of the greats!

The Beelzebubs, On the Rocks, and Dartmouth Aires perform “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” They do it as debate teams with podiums and all. My face is hurting from smiling so much! It is just so cute! And Matt is still with the Beelzebubs, that was two years ago! I wonder if he really was a sophomore, or if they brought him back in. He looks exactly the same! He’s such a cutie! Ben says “you brought a long-brewing movement to life, emphasis on the brew part” and laughs when nobody gets the joke! Shawn tries to figure out On the Rocks, from Oregon, are ducks or mallards, and fails. Sara is happy to see college a capella alive and well. I wonder why Vocal Point is not there, they are a college group, right?

Urban Method does “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” which is hilarious – Myk plays the Grinch, of course! The bass lead is terrific! Wow, who knew they could be playful and humorous? They should have left out the solo by Katie, she did not fit the song at all (and I like Katie a lot). After when Myk is talking with Nick, he is holding the mike with his fingers extended and it looks like he is picking his nose!

The Collective does “Santa Baby.” As soon as Nick announced that, I knew Ruby would be doing the lead. And she did! She sure has the face for it, but I still really hate her voice, the only voice in three years of Sing Off that I have really disliked. I am sorry, I do not get what Ben sees in her! She is not too bad in her low register, but as soon as she goes into higher notes it gets all flunkey.

Nota, the Season 1 winners, do “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway with Shawn; they segue into a Latin rhythm in the middle and sing in Spanish a little (they are from Puerto Rico) which is cook! And again the horns are terrific! Oh, I heard that Shawn did not perform in the finale because he was out of town until just before the performance so he did not have any chance to rehearse at all. So I guess he got to make up for it here.

Vocal Point does a distinctly Frank Sinatra version of “Let it Snow” with Nick. And more great horns! They do a really nice job; at the end most of them fall down on the stage and make angels in the fake snow! They are all wearing fedoras. It is so nice! Nick tells them they have a knack for the Sinatra style.

Special guest Flo Rida sings “Good Feeling” with Pentatonix and Urban Method. He seems a lot more into it than a lot of the people they bring on to sing with the groups, like Smokey Robinson last week or Neil Diamond last year. But the song is really boring to me. I guess Flo Rida is considered a big deal? I am an old fart so I do not know!

And for the grand finale, all the groups – 14 groups, 119 voices – sing “Happy Christmas” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Some singers are in their boxes, some are in the audience, everyone has electric candles, it is very nice. Nick announces it is for the service people who are finally coming home. Except, I hate to be a wet blanket with facts when everyone is singing about the war being over, but war is not really over just yet, there is still a place called Afghanistan.

This was a lovely show, and a terrific series! I am going to miss the Sing Off! See you next year! And good luck to Pentatonix as they start their career!

The Sing-Off 2011 Episode 11: Top 3 Finalists – the Season Finale

Hello, I am Zin, and I am very happy that Pentatonix has won The Sing Off! The drawing above is a “work in progress” by na de regen on tumblr (the tumblr is gone, but the art is now at Deviant Art), is this not incredibly cool? The completed full-color pic can be found by clicking on the link, but since I like black and white I included the sketch. It is so wonderful! How happy it makes me that someone is drawing Pentatonix, and so well!

Now, to back up a little! It seems Ben Folds was caught up in a Twitterverse Nightmare after his decision last week, to go with Dartmouth Aires and cut Afro-Blue. He made a post earlier today on his Sing-Off blog reacting to that. I have to admit I am perplexed by his vote, but I still admire Ben Folds very much and I still love this show and I think there was enough room for a reasonable and honest difference of opinion.

Back to tonight! What happened – it was a terrific show, really! The Top 10 groups were there! As an opening number the Top 3 did “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson, which was really nice! Then we follow the Top 3 in a visit to a service organization where they help out and sing a little, and then they perform on stage and the judges give some final thoughts. Later they will sing a number with one of the judges (except Nick will stand in for Shawn), and Afro-Blue will be included in that, singing with Smokey Robinson! That is a very nice consolation prize! And all the women will sing, and all the men. So it is a concert before the results are revealed.

Pentatonix visits The Trevor Project which does crisis intervention with LGBTQ kids to help them deal with bullying and prevent teen suicide (and shame on whoever made the decision to turn it into a support group for tall girls). They listen to kids talk and Avi talks about having trouble in school because he is Jewish, and Mitch was ridiculed because of his voice (which is now a huge asset) which is at least a little closer to the issues the kids in question are actually facing. They tape a PSA and sing “Dog Days Are Over” for the teens. Back on the show, they perform “Without You” by David Guetta featuring Usher. They were not at their best at first, but came together by the end. The earlier performances were taped, remember, and could be remixed a little bit, but this is live. Sara calls them daredevils. Ben praises the surprises and the Avi-Kevin combo. Shawn gives props to the soloists. They will come back later and perform with Nick.

And Vocal Point sings a clip from “Just The Way You Look Tonight” into the commercial break from their box. It is nice that everyone gets to sing a little bit!

Urban Method goes to the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation in LA. Kim has a sister with sickle cell, and Myk has a cousin, so it has meaning to them. They sing “Airplanes” for the people, then perform “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine. Again, it is not their best. Shawn credits them with creating hiphopapella. Sara gives props to the ladies for growing so much; Ben praises their massive sound and credits Tony with great production methods. Sara will sing with them in a little bit.

Dartmouth Aires visit Saving Strokes, which provides rehabilitation via golf for stroke survivors. Michael talks about how his mother had a stroke last Spring and how she struggled with rehab. Back on the show, they perform “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” By Meat Loaf; Amy from Delilah joins them for the female part, and she does a really good job of seeming to be surprised! I was fooled until I realized she had rehearsed this! I am one of those people who thinks you do not mess with this song; they did a fine job but still, the original is pretty iconic. Ben says they stand out from many energetic college groups because they have a theatrical edge, and Michael is an unmistakable lead. Shawn likes that they never hold back. Sara loves the way they have fun with every performance. Ben will sing with them later.

Pentatonix sings “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)” with Nick Lachey. Kevin was a 98 Degrees groupie. Scottie loves having a sixth member. Nick is worried about the dancing, they were the boy group that did not really dance. Nick and Kirstie flirt. She flirts really well in Spanish. Terrific job!

Deltones sing to break, “Edge of Glory” excerpt.

Urban Method sing “Gonna Get Over You” with Sara Bareilles. I know nothing about Sara as a singer. Katie is honored to perform with her. – “Never Get Over You.’ Katie is honored to perform with her. They are very 50s, leather jackets and purple circle skirts with Sara in a beige sparkly dress! Kara Saun has outdone herself! It was nice, not my favorite.

Afro-Blue sings “Put Your Records On” to break.

Dartmouth Aires sings “Not the Same,” with Ben Folds. He has the audience do a sing-along in three parts. It reminds me of a very old concert Peter Paul and Mary did with Rock My Soul, the same kind of audience participation. I do not get the song, but everyone seemed to have a good time.

Yellow Jackets sing to break, “Waving Flag.”

The Women of the Sing Off 2011 Top 10 Groups get together and sing “Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin. They call it a sexy, strong, girl statement. Ruby is back! I still do not like her voice no matter what Ben Folds says! She cut her hair. I do not know who it was that was blasting out the high notes, Amy from Delilah? It was fantastic! Oh they were doing so well, really terrific, until the last measure! They sang it just fine, I did not like the arrangement. But overall, terrific job!

North Shore sings “Lazy Song” into break.

The Men of the Sing Off 2011 Top 10 do “Born to Run by” Bruce Springsteen. Someone explains earnestly, “It is a song that came out in the 70s.” I love that they feel they have to explain that! I am such an old fart! One guy says it is easier to learn the song without any girls to distract them! Sure, blame the women! The Queen vs The Boss. Yeah, and three times as many people! The Boss needs three times the voices to measure up to The Queen! Michael is not at his best in this. Nice motorcycle at the end! It was good but I thought the girls were better.

Delilah does “Grenade” into break.

Smokey Robinson sings “You Really Got A Hold on Me” with Afro-Blue –This is terrific! Great job! I hope they are happy with their consolation prize!

The Collective sings “I Will Survive” into break.

There is one more pass at the judges giving encouragement and praise to the top 3. And then they start announcing the results. The last half hour of this two-hour episode is basically stretching, I wish they would have more singing, at least rebroadcast the best performances of the three groups.

Urban Method is third. After everyone not knowing if it is ok to hug them, a hugfest breaks out and Nick tries to get things moving again! They do their swan song, “Coming Home” by Ditty-Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey.

Pentatonix Wins! What a relief, I do not think I could have taken it otherwise! They sing “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. Dartmouth Aires do not get to do a swan song! That is too bad! They just disappear from the stage!

But wait! There is more! Next Week: a Christmas show that will include Nota and Committed as well as Season 3 Groups! Cool!

The Sing Off 2011: Episode 10 – America Votes: Group Mastermixes and Judge’s Choice

Hello, I am Zin, and I am sad this season is almost over! I have to say that tonight I forgot to feed my cat at 9:30 pm, I was so involved in the show! That is pretty rare! (My cat needs medications with her evening food so it is a little more involved than just throwing kibble in a bowl).

Tonight they will do two songs: a mashup and a judges choice.

They do a group mashup of Gwen Stefani, Kati Perry, and The Who (Teenage Wasteland; I do not know the other songs because I am an old fart!).

Pentatonix – Ceelo “Forget You” and Kelly Clarkson “Since You’ve Been Gone” – Kirstie says they are having trouble jumping from song to song.
Me: Great percussion! Not my favorite performance of theirs, but they are so good, it worked anyway!
Ben: seamless, non-sequiturs were entertaining. Again with the rhythm section. They are like a tight touring band that has been doing it for years. They always have a trick. They were out of tune at one point, for the first time in the series.
Sara: Sher loved that they were telling a story with motion on stage.
Shawn: Did not do the usual breakdowns and still enjoyed it. Fluid. Avi and Kevin are now named Meat and Potatoes. They made it work, stayed constant.

Urban Method – Nelly “Hot in Herre” and Peggy Lee “Fever.” Katie was going to do Fever but she did not think it was working in her voice so they switched to Liz. They have to combine sultry and sexy with fun and carefree. The trick is fusing the two moods. They want to make a statement.
Me: Great saxophone. Liz is very good on solo, best I have heard her! Good mix of the songs. I like them even if no one else does (hello elroberto!).
Sara: Sexy. Smart way to meld. Fever is restrained and seductive; Hot in Herre is the opposite. Successful. Sweet spot.
Shawn: loved it, Liz did a sexy lead, raspy alto. So much going on in a good way. Eye and ear candy. Best arrangement, showed so many characteristics in the group.
Ben: engaging arrangement, dynamically right. Right on to Richard and the saxophone. Last transition was really effective.

Afro-Blue – R Kelley “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Fly” by Nicki Minaj. They feel connected to the message. Mariah is not sure about rapping.
Me: I love the opening… That was terrific! The rap was not my favorite but it was good enough. Maybe because I like “I Believe I Can Fly.” This was so far my favorite of their performances!
Shawn: nice blend of Afro-Blue style and gospel. Mariah may not rap but fooled him! They have grown, shown some beauty tonight.
Ben: used complex harmonies, allowed two distinct melodies to flow back and forth. Mariah, good, don’t not hear many rappers that end with the way you sang that. Wished accompaniement behind the rap had held back or even dropped out. Nice job.
Sara: So much heart and courage, powerhouses. Liked the theme that came out of the combination, empowerment and believing in yourself.

Dartmouth Aires – Lady Gaga “Born This Way” and Rolling Stones “Sympathy For The Devil.” Brendan is nervous about trying to pull off Mick. Originally Ethan was going to do lead on Born This Way but they went with the safer choice of Michael since he has been successful and they are comfy singing behind him. There is no room for error at this point. Ethan looks sad, and they keep patting his shoulder, which only emphasizes that he feels bad.
Me: I liked the arrangement. Really good! Loved the cheesy opening choreography with the feather fans!
Ben: a lot to take in, they split into two parts, two theaters going on, great concept, both gave it hell. Bass out of tune a little bit, but in those parts it was most entertaining. Jagger lead was not overly Jagger, Brendan was cool. Michael is always great.
Sara: agrees so much is happening. Fell off a little bit. They chose perfect leads. Passion and conviction.
Shawn: They have a flair for the dramatic. Enjoyable. Not his favorite performance but the mixing of the songs was good, he loved the battle between good and evil. Always entertaining.

Judge’s Choice:

Pentatonix – Sara says everyone in the group packs a punch; they could be competitive in the music industry, they are innovative, fusing pop and a capella into a cool thing. Shawn praises their risky arrangements like the skip in Radio Star; he hopes they do not get too far ahead of the original record. Sara explains the pick, for their innovative syle, to reimagine a song with a lot going on, a powerful lead and lots of percussion, Florence and the Machine, “Dog Days are Over.” I am only vaguely familiar with this song.
Me: I love Mitch’s solo! Wow! I think they got it exactly right! But I do not know the song. And I am biased.
Shawn: Audio drama. Mitch has a really pretty voice. So many elements, horse hooves, choo choo trains, breakdown to Mitch, ingenious to give Mitch his moment.
Sara: Riveting. They know how to use their instrument. Scott, Kirstie, and Mitch are all only nineteen. Fantastic.
Ben: They always give one or two surprises, this week was Mitch, not just his beautiful voice but how they set it up. So focused. Avi did not want to let go after song was done. He thoroughly enjoyed it. Nice work.

Urban Method – Shawn says they have a distinct style because of the hip hop element; Myk has swag but it is not a group based around Myk. Ben says they are taking things they know about the studio and applying it to live performance. Sara says they had a couple of bad weeks because the girls were not stepping up; they have vacillated between amazing and really good, so they have to be stellar with the competition they are up against. Shawn is glad they took the advice they were given. Shawn picked something to do their hip hop thing, Kanye West, “All of the Lights” featuring Rihanna.
Me: Love the thing with the mikes! Nice horns. Not sure about Katie rapping. Not my favorite but that may be because I do not know song at all.
Shawn: exciting. Standout in Katie, she came out of nowhere, evolved.
Ben: Great build, great arrangement, mature way of hanging on, keeping it exciting. Middle harmonies were shimmering. His favorite performance of theirs this season.
Sara: they have blossomed into another entity. They show confidence on stage, are exciting to watch. She liked the mike trick, has not seen that before, cool. She likes that it lingered, they are thinking about arrangement and making it stretch.

Afro-Blue – Sara says they are the cool kids of jazz, they make it accessible; they cracked code with Need You Now. Ben loved them from the second they took the stage, relates to them because they are students of music. Shawn, his favorite was American Boy; what stops them is themselves, they ovethink; they have to understand every song does not need a jazz chord, it just needs heart. Ben picks, they are masters of traditional jazz sound, Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Me: Love the gospel at end, and Kristie is terrific! Great string bass. Really really nice. Very moving. It is a song that brings its own emotional experience, and they lived up to it.
Ben: Really happy for them. Kristie killed it. They just made a record. They were in the zone.
Sara: she is emotional. Maybe the judges confused them along the way (yes, I think they did!). The backup was one voice, she is proud of them.
Shawn: Soul-stirring. Took us to church. Honest, melancholy, everything the Sam Cooke song originally was. He can hear it on radio or live or on video. Best performance they did in the series.

Dartmouth Aires – Ben says they are rooted in university a capella, with a theatrical edge; Michael was God-like when closing the Queen medley. Shawn says they are the most explosive of the groups; Queen was his most memorable; they have to show they are more than entertainers on stage, that they can be recording artists. Sara says they blend humor and high energy with emotional sensibility. Sara says they chose a song for theatricality and heart, to bring a party to stage: Isely Brothers, “Shout.” Wow, that is an on-stage performance song if there ever was one, not a recording artist song. But it is a happy song, too.
Me: Love the rhythm change! Michael is terrific! I love Clark in the background! Love the splits and rising from them. Love that he plays with the judges. Here is the question: could they have pulled that off without Michael?
Sara: Michael looks like he has been doing this for thirty five years, he walks on the stage like we have come to his home and it is his birthday. Pitch problems when they were jumping for the rafters.
Shawn: Instant Party, just add water. Michael is a superstar. A little flarp, but they were doing jumps and summersalts.
Ben: he grew up on these kinds of records, Michael is a classic singer, he has not heard a singer do this convincingly since he was a kid. Group is working together. Pitch train wrecks, when you have a group that big that is what happens.

I think it is between Urban Method and Dartmouth Aires, but Dartmouth Aires had the worst review in terms of technicality; they were so much fun, though.

Wow, Urban Method is safe first, interesting. But no one ever said they are called in rank order.
Pentatonix is in. Duh!
Afro-Blue definitely has more recording possibility thatn DA, but DA is more fun.

They have to do a sing-off, reprise their best song of the season. I assume everyone was prepared for this possibility. They do scaled-down versions:
Afro-Blue does American Boy.
Dartmouth Aires does Somebody To Love: wow, Michael stars off a little shaky. He holds that note forever, two backups break which is not a good thing. It is a Michael showcase song. And they use a director. I do not think they did it.

And the judges vote:
Sara: Dartmouth Aires. Always had an emotional reaction.
Shawn: Afro-Blue, though not always consistent, they can have a career.
Ben: Dartmouth Aires. They were connecting most consistently over the season. I am most surprised by that; I have always counted on Ben to be the cerebral one. He discusses his decision on his blog, though mostly he just praises Afro-Blue but never really says why he chose Dartmouth Aires over them! In fact he admits that the judges were wrong in telling Afro-Blue to “dumb it down” and that may have resulted in less than great performances along the way.

Wow. I am very surprised! And afraid! There are more students at Dartmouth than there are a capella fans in Austin. And viewers are left with a fresh impression of Michael with nothing from Pentatonix! I do not think I can bear another reality-show-gone-wrong right now, especially this one, which has always been so good. Poor Afro-Blue, that is what happens when you are too smart. I still think Dartmouth Aires is Michael and the back ups. But you can always sell jumping around and making people smile; it is very hard to sell making people think. And I have not particularly liked Afro-Blue all along; I just do not care for their jazz style, but I recognize how good they are at it!

Swan Song: “We’ve Only Just Begun” which is a pretty cool choice.

Next week the winner is announced! Judges will perform, and groups from the season will be back.

The Sing Off 2011 Episode 9: The Rhythm & Blues Revue

And tonight is R&B night! Since there are only five groups and two hours of show, each group will do two numbers. First will be a current R&B hit (meaning I will not know any of them), and then they will do a round of classics (songs I know).

The opening medley included “I Feel Good” by James Brown and “ABC” by the Jackson 5.

Dartmouth Aires – “Ignition (Remix)” They want to dial it back a little; they do not do sexy, they do high energy, so it takes work. They had a rough rehearsal, too many ideas.
Me: I love the “bounce bounce.” I love Clark being sexy. It was chaotic, with a lot going on, but I think if I was more familiar with it I might love it, it all clicked.
Sara: charming, entertaining. Xavier, fantastic on stage, nice to see you rub your ass on national tv. Clark, awesome. Enjoyed.
Shawn: So many “uncomfortable” moments. Never seen them like that before. They did sexy in a playful way, strategic, could have been more bounce in drums. Looking for dimension and layers, but was fun.
Ben: always entertaining. Bottom end, bass and drums, has not been their strength.
Sounds like they may be on the low side.

Urban Method: “Knock me Down” by Keri Hilson. Mike is happy to rap Kanye West. Katie is feeling pressure. They want to show versatility.
Me: I think there was a little melt down before the refrain. I like the beeps. I love the build on the rap section!
Shawn: Proud of them growing. Katie, happy for her, Mike, gives raps his own style.
Ben: always in good hands. Richard, great beatboxer. Best on show. Lot of low end, never question groove. Like Liz doing tick-tick-tick. A little trouble with straight ahs, couple of swells unlocked with three dynamics at once.
Sara: Little Engine that Could. Loved playing with arrangement. Creating suspense in arrangements, smart.

Vocal Point – “Every Little Step” by Bobby Brown. They admit, when you think of Vocal Point the first word probably is not “soul.” They were struggling with choreography in rehearsal.
Me: Percussion is very strong, too strong? I do not like the oooohs. Half and half, to me, half too white boy, half pretty good. Nice little touches though! Nick says, “That took me back to my parachute pants days.” Hah!
Ben: “I am wearing them under the desk.” (parachute pants.) It was all Tanner for a second, singing, dancing, beat box, wow. Impressive. Thumbs aloft.
Sara: Jaw was on the floor. Enormous choreography in addition to delivering vocals really well. McKay, you do have soul. .Couple of fleeting moments of tuning issues on chorus.
Shawn: Impressive. Robert, low voice talking, he knows how that goes. Same thing in his group, he was singing his head off and all the other guy had to do was say “Yeah, you know what I mean?” Truly impressive.

Afro Blue – They started out doing “Closer” by NeYo but changed to “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey. Christie is nervous about remembering all the words.
Me: Start of chorus sounded bad. And again at the end, it just fell apart. Or maybe I just do not get it!
Sara: Christie great job on lead. Tough lead. Initially up in her head but soaring by end. Bryan, percussion, shout out. Reggie on bass, insane.
Ben: Getting somewhere now, using things they know how to do. Bell tones coming down on seconds, shimmer. When the song is coming out that clearly, they can put in some of the special stuff they do.
Shawn: they are starting to understand the method behind arranging, Lock it in. Let everyone enjoy the ride. Good job.

Pentatonix – “OMG” by Usher. Electronic clubbie vibe. Kevin has a problem with explicit lyrics because of his religious faith.
Me: I do not get the song but they did the same great sound. Loved the end.
Shawn: He is tired of saying that they are good. Avi does something with his voice that they really should need a studio to do. Smooth ride until the end. Rolled with it, arrangement is smart. Accent strengths. Kevin and Avi are freaks of nature. Can not say anything bad.
Sara: She says, “I did not like it at all” then everyone laughs; “You know it is good when everyone laughs.” They inject personality into arrangements. Exciting. Locked in.
Ben: Smart arranging. Really interesting chords. Delays and backward cymbals in percussion track, really good.

Second Round – classics

Dartmouth Aires – they have not been in the bottom all season, which I did not realize. “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Me: They change it to “girl” Too choral for me. It is kind of a choral song, but not this choral. The chorus is too loud. It is all one dynamic level. Not my favorite.
Ben: working together really well to support Michael who has timeless style. Nice work on low end. Pitch a little unglued at times.
Shawn: Michael, sometimes emotion overrides perfection; he believed it. Moments when he shared it with everyone else.
Sara: Beautiful. Restraint in arrangement, paid attention to song. Michael, delight. Backup was committed. Could have used more dynamics especially at beginning. Blend great.

Urban Method – “It’s your Thing” by the Isely Brothers.
Me: Love them playing horns on mikes at beginning. Kristie lost it for a second but covered well. Goofy, but ok. Never really peaked.
Shawn: Wanted it to keep going. Ahead of their time. The next step for hip hop, they are pioneers.
Ben: Only two chords in song; reharmonized some of it, smart, featured bass and percussion, insane at end. Kim, came closest to capturing feeling of song. Were just getting warmed up.
Sara: Loved the bongo breakdown, Troy great on upright bass. Kim awesome.

Vocal Point – “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations
Me: I do not like the “bada bap bas.” Not bad, but not my favorite Subdued. The whole white boy thing is getting a little old.
Sara: Sweet. Ben, great lead vocal. Felt like he was trying, could not lose herself in performance. Felt disjointed. But always good.
Shawn: Tanner and Robert kept the groove. Ben, beautiful voice, but the original was not beautiful. Wanted to feel begging. They always sound good but need other things.
Ben: Agrees with Shawn, always on it, love what they do, want to see some risk taking like they did in the beginning of the competition, they have been playing it safe for a little while. [I think they are tired, they are commuting to school once a week!] Step up dynamics.

Afro Blue – “Best of my Love” by the Emotions.
Me: Meh. I did not recognize the song; in fact I think maybe I do not know this song after all!
Ben: Danielle, great singer. Holes in chorus. Maybe it should not be so staccato. But a lot of fun. Upholding American tradition and the original American music form.
Sara: Danielle is a bright shiny star on stage. Missing a little of what Ben was talking about.
Shawn: In spots it came undone, but overall felt good. But they know how to deliver. Props to Reggie.

Pentatonix – “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye
Me: Love the sax. Great lead.
Shawn: Can not express enough how incredible that was. Marvin Gaye is his favorite singer of all time and they did great.
Ben: There will be a suspicious bump in the birth rate in nine months, and they will all be named Scott and Kirstie.
Sara: Incredibly professional, polished, joy to hear them perform every week.

I do not want anyone to go! All I know is Pentatonix are safe and I think Urban Method is safe.

Safe: Pentatonix and Urban Method.
Dartmouth Aires are in.
That leaves Afro Blue and Vocal Point.
Afro Blue is in, Vocal Point is out.
I enjoyed them completely all season and I will miss them! Swan Song: “Home” by Michael Buble.

Next week is the last week! After the show viewers will vote. The four groups will perform several songs including a Judge’s Choice number!
Sounds like Afro Blue does Sam Cooke, which is very cool. I suspect that is a Judge’s Choice!
I am just sorry it is almost over! But I still hope they move it back to Christmas next year. It just felt more special some how.

The Sing-Off 2011: Episode 8 – Rockin’ Out and Goin’ Country

Photo by Kentra Norton

Howdy, Pardner, I am Zin! Tonight it is a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll!

First we rock!

“Wake Up” by Arcade Fire is the group opening number; nice!

Pentatonix – “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf. Scott is solo. Kirstie has been sick.
Me: Nice motorcycle! I like her red furry jacket too! Terrific percussion, good lead. With five people they have as much power as the groups three times their size. Great job!
Sara: incredible. Kirstie does not seem sick. Great lead by Scott.
Shawn: amazing what comes out of the five people, big and strong. Avi and Kevin are the driving force, sounded full and powerful.
Ben: always have a couple of tricks up their sleeve. The lyric “heavy metal thunder” in this song is where the term “heavy metal” came from. I did not know that! This is why I love Ben Folds!

Dartmouth Aires – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister. One of the basses had to leave for Grad school. They are nervous about performing with “only” one bass! Hey! There are groups that do not have fifteen members, deal with it!
Me: Michael seems off. I like that they sing “here comes the bridge,” that is fun. But not their best.
Shawn: they are having too much fun, ha ha! Justin, good rock in voice. Michael is very natural,a great performer. Could have used more cowbell, ha ha! Good performance.
Ben: Loads of fun. Made the song one more step ridiculous than it is. He said, “I know you hate to see Jack off at the airport” and I was startled – what? Did he do that on purpose? He liked that they pointed out bridge was coming, but then the pitch kind of fell apart, until the Broadway ending came back. Nice work.
Sara: injected with versatility. Blended. Theatricality. Brendan good on percussion. Great job.

Afro Blue: “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbrakers. They do not know the song. Hey come on, have you never seen Silence of the Lambs?
Me: Meh. Nothing wrong, just not really engaging. I liked “land of the free” thrown in there.
Ben: top was especially good, with harmonies. They need to keep an eye on the song, throwing in the national anthwem did not have anything to do with song really. Danielle sounded great. He likes that the do not dumb things down, but they need to not underestimate the power of a simple song. Be complex, but let people not realize they just heard that. I do not know – they are super talented jazz people, that is what they do, if they have to dumb it down for competition, this is the wrong competition for them.
Sara: some of the most talented singers of the show, enjoy, but did not see them in it. Technicality is great, but did not feel it.
Shawn: he loves hearing them sing. Voices are amazing, this particular song seemed intimidated by it, like it did not relate to them.

Delilah: “Dream On ” by Aerosmith. They are very tired, it has been an emotional ride.
Me: Lead opening starts weakly but picks up. Then the lead blew it away. I did not like the arrangement of ending.
Shawn: that was rock n roll. He saw Amy as a female Steven Tyler. Buildup worked, convincing, wahat it was supposd to be.
Ben: Amy, handled the fan blowing – gotta know how to handle the fan! Great dynamic to take it up to the stratosphere, good for this group. But it seemed like it hit the peak and had to fingure out how to stay there.
Sara: Amy, great lead. Conviction. Voice translates to rock. It was not her favorite performance. Not sure why she was not into it. Maybe what Ben said about peaking too early. Their strength is emotion.

Urban Method – “Here I Go Again” by Whitensnake. They are not a rock group, but they have to sell it, this is their last chance.
Me: I liked the beginning, I did not love the rapper this time. It was ok.
Ben: Really good. They nailed it. Took a big chance, almost rewrote the song but brought out the song in a way he could understand. They made him like the song.
Sara: they are tenacious. Really strong showing. Glad they take risks, came out swinging. Really met Katie tonight for the first time, amazing.
Shawn: loved arrangement, added rap, rhythmic changes, kept the original flavor, entertaining, strong. Richard, props for getting the beat right.

Vocal Point: “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks. They are going to school one day a week in Utah. Wow, that is hard, commuting!
Me: I love the opening. The lead sounds completely stoned, with weird changes in timbre of the backup chorus; it is terrific! I could do without the occasional show choir aspects but it was pretty good.
Sara: how adorable are they. Gift of stage presence. Ross released his inner bad boy. Proper rock n roll.
Shawn: is that how they do it in Provo, Utah? Tanner, great simulated drums. Love that they took rock n roll seriously, showed a little bad boy. Manage to put Vocal Point stamp on it, enjoyed watching them perform. They come through every time.
Ben: always loads of fun. Hair metal thing was a choice. Not sure it was a choice he would have made but it was entertaining and good. He was not sure he would want to hear the record, and wanted a little less Vegas, but that was an artistic choice.

And now the Country hour! Everyone is worried! Some people have a little bit of background in some aspect of country, like driving pickups and line dancing, but none of them are really big on country music.

Dartmouth Aires – “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” by Big & Rich.
Me: I am not following this. There is too much going on! I do like the rhythm change at the end, but overall it was very messy.
Ben – that was fun. Michael & Will, great. Love the octave thing, very uncomfortable commenting on tightness of bottom end in this case, oh ha ha. Theatre is great, but it was a little loose.
Shawn – closest thing to country club bang up. Enjoyable to watch, some little flubs, in part because there was lots of choreography. Entertaining.
Sara: [They take their hats off when Sara talks, which is cute]. This is their challenge, when they take on a big song and energetic challenge, things get a little loose. [I am not sure that came out right.] They need to harness their energy.

Afro Blue – “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum.
Me: ok. I do not like the song. I did not know it was a country song.
Sara: she got emotional watching them get emotional. Really special. Triumphant. Deepest level of connection between them and between the music and the listener.
Ben – transcendent. Reggie, bass player, great. Kristie and Trent, great vocals. Not much to say when it is done that well. They are out of their comfort zone every week because there is no jazz week, they have been generous and fantastic.
Shawn, could tell it connected. Emotional. Nothing better than to see singers connect so deeply with a song.

Urban Method – “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood.
Me: Great opening. Lead did really well. They did a very country version! Not sure it is enough.
Shawn – Sassy Katie. Nice to see her come out of shell. Troy held it down on the bass and Tony, the Mohawk brothers. They captured the sassy attitude of the song.
Sara: She just learned Katie is nineteen, she has a terrific future as she grows. Incredible range and power in high register. Fun performance.
Ben: They worked through a slump, found gift. Dignified song. They attacked the song. Nice work.

Delilah – “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry.
Me: Pretty song. I think they overcomplicated it. Terrific lead, especially at the beginning.
Sara: Like the song, lots of emotion and thought into it. Pitch problems, took a minute to find pitch when the harmony came in.
Shawn: Ingrid on lead was beautiful. They never lack emotion. It is hard to connect when I heard so many waves, hard time connecting harmony-wise. Not locked, technically not sound.
Ben: Emotionally compelling, Ingrid nice, but first four chord was “whoa,” technically under what he is used to from them.

Vocal Point – “Life is a Highway ” by Rascall Flats.
Me: glasses do not go with country music. First part felt confusing. Sounds like something went wrong at the brigde. But after it came back well. I would have expected them to do better. It was ok though.
Ben: A lot of fun. Legitimately country. Sounded right. Keith as lead has an identifiable timbre, you know who is singing. Oh, that is important to him, I am not sure why.
Sara: Sometimes felt rushed. Blend was great, energetic, entertaining, nice range of dynamics.
Shawn: He liked the car starting. Good performance, the beat did get rushed a bit.

Pentatonix – “Stuck like Glue” by Sugarland.
Me: I loved the rhythm shake up in the middle. Loved the opening lead. Kirstie is so appealing.
Shawn: simplest arrangement they have done, and even that was fly. Loved the reggae breakdown. Did everything right.
Ben: Kirstie’s lead made me happy. Voice quality so pure, it made him smile. Bass was great. Percussionist great. Great to reel it back and give a relaxed performance.
Sara: sweet, great choices to keep it simple. [Sara seems to be repeating other people a lot more than usual tonight]

It is tough to tell who will be in trouble because there was a big difference in the first and second numbers! Delilah did well on first though they did not seem to like it as much as I did, but blew the second; Urban Method was ok on both but they seemed to really like them this week; Afro Blue had some issues in both but has been very strong. I would guess Urban Method and Delilah will be in the bottom with Delilah out. But maybe just because I still have hopes for Urban Method.

Pentatonix and Urban Method advance. Wow, UM were called sooner than I thought!
Dartmouth Aires and Vocal Point are safe.
So it is down to Afro Blue and Delilah. It must be Delilah.
Afro Blue is in, Delilah is out.

They do “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child as their swan song, and they do a terrific job of it!

Next week, R&B, Motown, and soul. That should work for everyone! But the previews sound like it does not work for someone at all.

The Sing-Off 2011: Episode 7, Superstar Medleys

"This is a really good show!" - Shawn Stockman, and Zin!

Hello I am Zin! Whew, I have been busy lately! But I get to take a little break after this!

Seven groups are left and one will go home tonight! Committed will visit tonight! And since it is Halloween, we have a medley of Halloween songs as an opening number. I would not have guessed there were any Halloween songs, except maybe Thriller, but they seem to have found some. I only recognized Ghostbusters, but boy was that opening number was fun! The first song was a little goofy, like it was from a Hallmark Happy Halloween Hour or something, but it got really good, with lots of really great individual performances! I am not a big Halloween person but that really worked!

For the competition, each group will do a three-song medley of one artist or group.

Urban Method: Rihanna, “What’s My Name,” “Umbrella, and “Only Girl in the World.” They want to showcase the girls because last week the judges said the girls were weak. Everything is in a different key and has a different beat.
Me: “What’s my Name” was a little weak on the solo. ‘Umbrella” works a little better. The third seemed to fall apart at first harmonically. They had a moment at the very end but it was not all that good! What has happened to Urban Method, they were my favorites and now they are not doing very well two weeks in a row!
Sara: strong finish. Weak moments starting out, confidence issue maybe. She loves that they put girls in front, got confident in the end but it took some time.
Shawn: cool to highlight ladies. Rapper stands out because he is a rapper and he has intensity. Likes solo potential of the ladies, needs more confidence. Overall good.
Ben: transitions work, cool edits, started strong, unglued in umbrella, “Only Girl” was great. Strengths are production and rapper. Should not have too much pressure to make everyone total stars, girls did fine.
Uh oh, they could be in trouble.

Vocal Point: Elvis, “Don’t be Cruel,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Tanner delayed his wedding for this competition. They should blow this away.
Me: “I Can’t Help” shaky on solo. Not a great arrangement. Nice transition to different beat. And good modulation. Stepped up. Nice transition into “Jailhouse Rock.” They are in their element. Love the lead. Great bass! Cooked at the end!
Ben: “You are back, that is good.” Loved medley within medley, several transitions in “Falling in Love,” great choice, including reggae. Loved Jake as lead. McKay killed lead on Jailhouse. Liked that Mike first did not worry about sounding like Elvis, nice work.
Sara: in their element. Chose great vocalists. Jake, very sincere. Well done.
Shawn: appropriate mood changes with every song, engulfed, what are they going to do next, entertaining, great job.
They will be very safe.

Afro-Blue: Janet Jackson, “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “Miss You Much” and “When I Think of You.” Transition is the challenge.
Me: Great jackets! “When I Think of You” had some issues at first, not as cohesive as they have been. The scat is great. “Miss You Much” started weak but then clicked. Clever ending.
Shawn: He likes that they gave tribute to Janet Jackson with choreography, clothes, and hairstyles. Reggie, bad man on bass, on key, following rhythm changes, foundation of everything. Transitions were ambitious, at times he did not recognize the song, they might be overthinking some parts. Overall easy and effortless.
Ben: Radical arrangement, lots of space at the top, loved scat, really good.
Sara: They have lots of personality and are fun to watch. They might be too good at this, too ambitious, not that they were not delivering but she got lost in the middle. Amazing vocalists.
They will be safe. They are the musical intellectuals of the competition.

Dartmouth Aires: Queen, “Killer Queen,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Somebody To Love.” They are nervous because these are iconic songs.
Me: So much of Queen was a capella or at least choral, they had better hit it! Great lead on “Killer Queen.” “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the “bismillah” part) could have done more choreography but singing was very good. Terrific transition into “Somebody To Love!” I do not like that there is a director. Love Michael as the lead! Great choreography on lead! He held that last note forever, a soft falsetto while going from standing to sitting on the floor cross-legged, that is hard to do, great job! I think they knocked it out of the park.
Sara: Favorite performance of the entire competition at this point. Brilliant.
Shawn: Amazing. Nailed it, all the leads, Watching a Broadway play.
Ben: Nailed it. Sick high notes coming out of Nick, a little flat, pitch center went down, but so dynamic and well sung. Michael, insane lead.
They are very safe.

Pentatonix: Britney. “Oops,” “Toxic,” “Hold It Against Me.” They disagree how to do something, both sides feel very strongly, no idea how they worked it out but they did.
Me: “Innocent” was good, she did a great Britney.” Toxic,” interesting they used a guy lead, great rhythm switch up, and the girl played the character right into it, terrific! “Against Me,” great effects. At the end they did a little tailored mashup that was terrific, very cool. It’s amazing they are only five people.
Shawn: “This is a really good show [yes it is!].” Avi and Kevin fill up so much space, amazing how big they sound, bass and percussion. Techno a capella djs. Mashup at end seamless, perfect. Kirstie, who would have known. Great show.
Ben: so many colors, smart arranging, Kirstie killed it. Great transitions. Freaking out in rehearsals paid off, keep freaking out.
Sara: They have a high standard, packed a punch. Awesome. Kirstie, stoked, great to hear in lead. In sparkly little dress. Transition between Toxic and Hold it Against Me was rad. Rhythm section untouchable. Kevin and Avi, consistent, spectacular.
They are very very safe.

Delilah: Alicia Keys, “I Keep On Falling,” “A Woman’s Worth,” “If I Ain’t Got You.” They have had a hard time being consistent.
Me: “I Keep on Falling” had a terrific alto lead, and cool bass! Woman’s Worth, something odd in the arrangement, like octaves that should not be octaves (never double the third or the fifth, I forget which). If I Ain’t Got You was really good. They’ve improved a lot.
Sara: Fantastic. Great choice of artist, Started with Falling which is sometimes overdone, love how they did it, would buy it right now. Vocal was perfect. Woman’s Worth got a little squirrrely, brought back with I Aint Got You.
Shawn: smart arrangement, using right vocalist. Sassy, humble, sexy, strong, engaging. Nailed leads.
Ben: All leads were great. Arrangement great, started sparsely, Jo as anchor, satisfying low end, great way to highlight Amy. Candace needs more confidence, can be great. Gina on percussion, held it together.
Sounds like they are not completely safe but are safer than Urban Method.

Yellow Jackets: Billy Joel, “River of Dreams,” “Uptown Girl,” “Always a Woman to Me.”
Me: River of Dreams perfect for chorale sound they have! First lead is not quite there. Second lead works much better! Always a Woman to me is a little too overblown, too choral, too classical! Second lead is wonderful, I love this guy, nice high tenor. Nice duet. Great transition to Uptown Girl. Meh ending. Ok, but not anything great.
Ben: start great, brought in African influence. Alwas a Woman, employed vocal percussion he disapproves of, percussive mouth cymbals, but it was pretty cool, brought the wind. Liked transition. All harmony locked. They have a group personality, even though they have strong singers, we need to know who lead singers are, they have no character voice in leads, just the group personality. [Aha! That is because they are mostly classical musicians!]
Shawn: showed another side with Always a Woman. Aaron is lead, trouble holding high note at end but it worked out. Ballad worked ok, another side to them.
Sara: well as they have blended. Loved lead vocalists. Would have gotten rid of vocal percussion, the wind in the middle. The problem is harnessing energy, they overpowered Aaron at end. But well done.
Sounds like they are in trouble.

I think Urban Method and Yellow Jackets are in the bottom. I have been disappointed by Urban Method twice now and I do not know if it is because I had high expectations or if they are out of steam. I think Yellow Jackets will go home though. At this point Pentatonix is my favorite! I admire Afro Blue but I do not like their music (like that Tom Bissell story). I am not sure what the trouble with Urban Method is but they are losing ground. Delilah is gaining ground. The two remaining college groups are pretty good!

Committed performs! They do a Chris Brown medley. “Forever,” “With You,” “Yeah 3x.” They are a small group, only six people. I am afraid I was not terribly impressed by this performance! They were not bad, it just did not interest me much, it could have been the songs, I am not familiar with them.

And the verdict:
Dartmouth Aires, Pentatonix and Vocal Point are immediately safe. Delilah and Afro Blue next.
That leaves Urban Method and Yellow Jackets, just like I said! I love this show, what I see, what the judges say, and what happens at the end all work together! It is not like some shows where I end up thinking, what were they listening to.

And Yellow Jackets are out. It was the right decision. They are too classically oriented, I think. I love classical choral, I sing classical choral, I would love to see them do some Randall Thompson or Ralph Vaughan Williams, and I still wish they would have one classical number in this series at some point, but they can not break out of it into a more pop sound.

Their swan song is “I Get Knocked Down” (“Tubthumping”) by Chumbawamba, and they do a spectacular job of it, with lyrics tailored to include the judges (Shawn Boy, Ben Boy, Sara Boy) and the NBC 1-6-4 tones! (When I was learning to sight-read, the little trick we used for a 1-6 interval was that tritone: N-B-C! I think you have to be “of a certain age” to remember it!) That was the best swan song yet! In fact it was maybe one of the top three performances of the series so far! No, that would be going a little to far, but it was wonderful! It is too bad they could not do that all the time!

Next week, each group will perform two songs, one country and one rock anthem (that sounds like fun!), and one group will be out. A rock anthem depends on power, so larger groups might have an advantage. But I have confidence in Pentatonix!

The Sing-Off 2011 Episode 6: Hip Hop

Really?

Really?

Hello, I am Zin! I do not know much about hip-hop, but every time I hear something I find out is hip-hop, I like it! I have a feeling most of these groups are going to struggle, except for Urban Method because their specialty is hip-hop!

Eight groups left! They will perform in brackets of four, and the lowest group in each bracket will get together at the end to compete on the same song (“Just a Dream” by Nelly), just the two of them. So only one group will be eliminated tonight. It is good they have a second chance on this particular genre since it is so unfamiliar to most of them!

The opening number is very good, “Nothing on You” by B.o.B./Bruno Mars. I like that some of the duets were people from different groups. I never heard the song before but I liked it very much!

Dartmouth Aires – “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida. They have not done hip-hop at all before! Clark says the problem is that most hip-hop has only four chords. Henry will do the rapping, and he has only done rap once before.
Me: [note: I make my comments while watching, before I hear what the judges say; I clean them up before posting but do not change them, unless I can not remember what OKREwjh means!] Boy, they went for it! It was definitely Ivy League white boy New England hip-hop but they did something with it. And of course it helps that they have a lot of singers! But good job!
Sara: swagger. Great energy, they enjoy what they are doing. It felt a little chaotic and rushed at the start, but they got into it. Fun to watch.
Shawn: first prime-time network show to have a whole episode of hip-hop. Henry did a great job rapping, flowing, like a pro.
Ben: great unison at the top with Clark and Michael. Turned into a polka at one point, so that makes them the first prime time network show to have polka hip-hop. But they got it together at the end. Lots of fun and last note was really good.

Afro Blue – “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees with some of the original Roberta Flack as well. They do not do hip-hop either so they are sticking mostly to the Roberta Flack version. [For the record: The song was inspired by Don McLean, one of my idols from my angst-ridden adolescence so I have always been very fond of this song. I have never, however, heard of the Fugees or their version, so I am scared!] Roberta Flack was an alumna of Howard University.
me: Wow, I did not expect to like that but it was very very good! I have not been enthusiastic about the jazzy sound they do but this was great! I am not sure it was very hip-hop though!
Ben: He tries to rap with Nick; I think he should keep his day job! Gorgeous performance, Reggie was great, Christy in lead was beautiful.
Sara: This showcases how intricate and important a capella is. Great rendition of both versions, melded beautifully.
Shawn: Roberta Flack would be proud. Reggie is not just the bass, he is the foundation. Christy makes singing look fun. Very impressive.

The Collective – “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull/Ne-yo. They are about soulful southern and the song is a club song, about having fun and popping bottles but they are in bed by 10pm.
Me: the rapper was a little off, kind of self-conscious. The opening was almost choral. Oh, Ruby, no no no! I can not understand why the judges like Ruby so much, she is the only person on this show in three years who has a voice I find really unpleasant! Plus she sounded like she was forcing. The arrangement was odd, like everything was in octaves or something, I am not sure.
Shawn: he likes that they let their hair down, some spots in the middle lost the groove though they got it back. The song did not give them much music to play with. They did harmonize well. Good job.
Sara: Ambitious, went for it, fluctuations in rhythm.
Ben: David was “wicked awesome” rapper. Started with their strength, that big choral blast, nailing the blend, he loves their personality but they needed more rhythmically.
They are in trouble, weakest so far.

Vocal Point: “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy [it is a take-off on “Every Breath You Take” by the Police but redone in memory of another recording artist who was murdered]. They do it for Ben, who lost his father. Oh no. This does not sound like a good idea to me. Ben will do the lead. That sounds like a terrible idea to me!
Me: It was nice, very moving because of the situation with Ben, I like they take their hats off, and Ben did an excellent job, but it was not hip-hop. It was their weakest performance. They have done really well until now and I hope this will not knock them out!
Shawn: Your father is looking down and smiling. They took the song and made it their own (stop doing that!). There were some key issues, maybe because of the emotion.
Sara: It was brave to choose something that emotional. It was an illustration of music transcending genre, they did it justice. First time they have had pitch problems..
Ben: beautiful, they may be the first group to make him cry. Even though Ben is a baritone, he has a beautiful tenor. Moved.
They may be in trouble.

Decision on first four:
Afro-Blue and Dartmouth Aires are safe. Aha, they judges love the Collective and Ruby, it must be Vocal Point, which is a shame because they have done so well.
But no, Vocal Point is safe, and The Collective will go to the final showdown. This is a surprise! But I am very glad, and I think it is right!

The second bracket performs.

Urban Method: They started with “California Love” but it was not working, so they switched to “Airplanes” by B.o.B./Hayley Williams which translates better to a capella. They feel a lot of pressure, since hip-hop is their thing and if they do not knock it out of the park they have failed.
Me: Cool cricket! Great metronome! I love these guys! I have never heard that song before but it sounds wonderful! It was not their best, not stand-up-and-scream great, but good.
Shawn: Myke, so focused; girls doing lead could have been stronger. Wanted to feel more, but always enjoy their performance.
Ben: brilliant. Build tension before passing it off to Myke. Liked harmony with girls. Sung part at beginning great, but backups too close to melodies; held groove, nobody missed the band, great.
Shawn jumps back in to give a shoutout to Richard for the crickets. Sara says, “Oh, I wanted to say that!” Shawn says, well, go ahead.
Sara: props to Richard for cricket! [it was awesome!] She also wanted more from girls. Myke is a superstar, compelling to watch. [I agree]

Pentatonix: “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West. They will not be rapping.
Me: Wow, they were great! Terrific effects, powerful vocal. Best of the night.
Sara: You feel it in the room when they get into the sweet spot, they delivered. They know how to push the genre to the edge. Scott, power is knowing when to use power, and it is very effective.
Ben: Primal. Kevin still looks pissed off [that is funny, I was thinking that while they were singing, I could not tell a friend of mine about this because she would complain they look angry, I guess that is part of the song]. Mitch, descending violin great. Nice work.
Shawn: Risk takers, worked in their favor. Good job. He blathers a while without really saying anything. Maybe filling time?

Delilah: “How to Love” by Lil Wayne. They tried it without percussion. The percussionist will sing lead! The song is low energy so they need the pitch to be perfect.
Me: Gentle beginning, I liked when percussion came in. Percussionist as solo worked. But very suburban white girl hip-hop. Not bad, middle wasn’t bad. It was the best they could do. But compared to the other two, they are in trouble!
Shawn: Amazing, he liked the emotionality. Shoutout to soloists. Emotional rendition of Lil Wayne song. Did well, great job.
Ben: It was great. Jo, great low note, he can not even hit it!
Sara: powerful feminine energy. The other songs, did not show their “lady nads.” I have to remember that term!
I still think they are in trouble.

Yellow Jackets – “The Show Goes On” by Lupe Fiasco. The lyrics discuss the struggle of overcoming hardships, they are reminded of their recent trip to Kenya, all the things the prize money could do for the kids there. Hey, no fair! This should be on performance, not on who has the best plan for the prize!
Me: They tried. The rapper was not very good. It was muddled and boring, actually. Or maybe I was just put off by the “give us the money because we are the nicest people” thing.
Ben: They always bring heart to their performance, message was all there, very powerful, loved the rap Jamal did.
Sara: All heart, it felt fast, Jamal kicked butt, but rushing. She loved when Jamal started singing.
Shawn: Nailed a difficult hip-hop song, Jamal was working hard. Dynamics were not there. He wishes they had locked in more of an element of surprise. Good, but wish it was better.
I think they are out. They will definitely be in the showdown.

Decision for second bracket:
Pentatonix and Delilah are safe. Oh, that is mean! No way Delilah was better than Urban Method!
Urban Method is in.
Yellow Jackets go to final sing-off.

That makes it The Collective vs Yellow Jackets, they both do “Just a Dream” by Nelly.

The Collective does a really nice job! They included rap. They are not bad at all when Ruby shuts up or at least does not sing lead! I liked the tailored lyrics: “If you like the Collective put your hands up”! I am surprised, they did quite well!

Yellow Jackets have a very choral rapper, he is the whitest black boy ever! Not very good. They will be out.

The judges pick one by one, and of course it is a tie and Sara casts the tiebreaker (I think this is phony and I wish they would not do it this way).

Yellow Jackets are in.
The Collective is out. What? I have not been a big fan of The Collective all along, but they did quite a good job on the second song! And Yellow Jackets, well, I have to admit I am mad at them for doing the whole “look how good we are going to Kenya” thing. Like I am mad at Vocal Point for milking the death. But still, I thought Yellow Jackets were clearly worse on both numbers. Is this a shock boot? This show does not do shock boots! This bothers me.

Their swan song is “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” They do well until Ruby starts in. I wonder if there is something wrong with me that I do not see how others do not hear how awful she sounds! But I still feel like they should not be the ones going home!

Next week: Superstar medleys. Committed will perform!

The Sing-Off 2011 Episode 5 – Guilty Pleasures

All ten groups perform tonight, but it turns out there are still two brackets. They are different brackets from the original split! This is sneaky! So two groups go home. They will do guilty pleasure songs of the 80s and 90s! They start off with the group number, All Night Long by Lionel Richie. I find Ruby from The Collective to be annoying again, though she was not last week.

I should say I seem to be off tonight. I had trouble paying attention, I kept coming in halfway through their introductions, and I thought they all sounded off. Nothing made me go wow. So either it was an off week for all ten groups, or it was an off night for me. I do think this worked a lot better as a Christmas surprise!

Yellow Jackets: “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls. They will have fun with it, an intense musical experience.
I think the lead is too pretty! And I think they could have done a much better arrangement, that sung-spoken “tell me what you want what you really really really want” could have really cooked! At the end one of the guys tried, but, well, no. Not bad, just not really working.
Sara – ton of fun, she does not even know what she experienced, loved the personality and energy. They had tuning issues, with such high energy it is easy to oversing, but the point was to have a blast, and she loved it. Would totally watch again.
Shawn – Strange but enjoyed it. He wants to get the men slamming their bodies down out of his retinas. Some harmonies flarp: his term for flat and sharp. The pressure is on, because there are three other all male college groups.
Ben – entertaining, every four or eight bars, there was another event, smart arrangement. End riff by Nick was a statement. Jamal as lead has a unique voice. Their challenge is putting a face on everything they do so you can tell who the singer is.

Delilah: “What a Feeling” from Flashdance. Candace is their secret weapon, she has a soulful voice.
Wow, some good bass there for a female group. The lead needs better breath control, I think she takes breaths at awkward places. Not terrible, but not good.
Ben – they made a cool choice in how they put group together, but that means they have a challenge with range. Their strength is they are all good singers and have big brains. Pulling it off in the verse. Beginning took four bars for harmony to come into focus. Loves Candace, breakdown chorus worked but you can not do that in both. Heart and energy is there, need to crack one more bit of code.
Sara – Emotion coming across. Pitch issues, and rhythm moved around a little, but focused on heart and soul. Technically, not quite up to par with first two performances (that does not make sense, their first two performances were not that great).
Shawn – Loves Candace since Voices of Lee. Came undone at end with overlap (oh, I agree!). Brought it back with last chord. Testament what never giving up represents. Heart is always there.
They are in trouble and they know it, they are crying as they get the notes.

North Shore: “Imagine being 64 and being in this!” They were going to do “Mm-bop” by Hansen to compete with the kids. But it was not working, so two days before the show they started over with “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. I would have liked to have seen Mmm-bop just because there have been commercials here lately for a Hansen concert and it is funny to see them grown up, without the “awww” factor they are not what they used to be, which is why they are playing Portland!
The lead (not Guy) is terrific. Slow at start, lots of rhythm, bluesy, not so rock. Then speeds up. Bridge did not work at all. Overall kind of meh. Everyone seems off tonight!
Shawn – they are always fun to watch but he wants to see another side, wanted to see something different. They always nail the entertainment, he wants to see more emotion. Hey, wait, emotion on a guilty pleasure song? That is silly! Guilty Pleasures are about fun!
Ben – loved transitions, interpretations, always start strong. I missed something here.
Sara – They took risks. Entertained, but she agrees with need for diversity.

The Collective – “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. They want the judges to have no doubt they are supposed to be here. I missed some off this!
Oh no, Ruby as lead. No, no. Duet works thought. The Hey is good. Not bad at all. I just do not like Ruby, she is beautiful and I like how she moves but I do not like her voice!
Sara – damn if I didn’t love that. Loved that it was so emotional. Delivered stellar performance with interesting arrangement and amazing vocals. Rachel and Ruby great, voices match. Really really good.
Shawn – Each week they find themselves vocally, Ruby and Rachel had some great moments together. Wish the four on the floor (the thumping 1-2-3-4 bass) came sooner.
Ben – One of the improvements is that they grabbed it from the start with the rubato statement, he loves the vibrato Ruby has (oh no!). Respects the choice to not glom onto anthemic feel initially (I love it when he talks like this!). Background vocals blended this time, exaggerated swells, spooky and old-fashioned, interpretation was cool, everything a step up.

Dartmouth Aires: “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield. Oh no! I have bad associations with this because it was so bad on The Glee Project! But I will have to get over it! Every week they have solo auditions. That is interesting, I guess they vote.
I do not understand the percussionist sitting in front. Dance move did not work. The end, maybe not. I liked the beginning better.
Ben – not a dance moves person, but that was pretty bitchin'; Clark knocked it down. Great energy, smooth tenor and up. Lower in range, got less defined, bari and bases. Visual energy, top energy, not quite grooving really. Sort of virtually grooving. Applaud simplicity but simplicity always shows seams. Basses not quite jelling.
Shawn – missing bass, something from bottom. Energy was there. Clark, impressed with dance move. “I knew with a hairstyle like that we were going to have a Clark moment.” Yes! I like Clark too, I am glad he got to do something! Entertaining.
Sara – Great lead. Loved middle. Agree, they are missing consistency and focus in low end but super entertaining.

Oh no, now a group goes home! That is not good. I am guessing Delilah and Yellow Jackets will be in the bottom,with Delilah going home. North Shore missed, but they have done so well up till now, I think they will be ok, and it was an off night for everyone.

Collective and Yellow Jackets are in. I am surprised – I still am not sure this means these are the “best” groups but if so, I am very surprised Yellow Jackets are there.
Dartmouth Aires are in. Delilah is very emotional, they are in the bottom two again!
Well, North Shore is in much more trouble than I thought. How can you connect to guilty pleasure songs more deeply?
Delilah is in. North Shore is out. I am flabbergasted! In fact, I am so surprised, I wonder if they asked to be out. They would have been out eventually, but I thought they would last at least another round. They do “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” by the Spaniels as their swan song, and they do a terrific job with it!

The second half:

Afro-Blue: “Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston. Risky, since she is known for amazing vocals. They are trying not to overthink or jazz too much.
They did fine, I am just meh on the song and the jazz style. But they were good.
Shawn – very entertaining and smart arrangement. Took to heart riding fine line between doing too much and too little. Perfect blend of keeping original, then did samba breakdown in middle, and incorporated signature harmony. Love that everyone got to shine in leads, all sounded magnifico.
Ben – First chorus seemed separated, missing stuff in baritones, hearing bass and girls. Second chorus perfect. Pronounce words a little more. “You guys are so amazing I can not believe I am lecturing you.”
Sara – I was wondering if you were going to take it too seriously, loved the Wedding March at end (Shawn breaks in to point out it was the Soul Train line!). A lot of fun, missing some meat in the middle. At end, almost feels a little sharp. But fun, loved it.

Pentatonix: Started with “Believe” by Cher, but did “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles instead, in honor of the eliminated Sonos. I missed that explanation. It sounds like Sonos was going to do it, so they did it for them?
I liked the second half better than first half.
Sara – awesome, did what you do so well, made it really distinct, meticulous choices, and deliver. Drum and bass solid. Scott, lots of restraint on lead. Made song choice based on Sonos, who is there in the audience! Loves the camaraderie. Lot of ear candy there, great.
Shawn, sent back from the future to save a capella and do it in a futuristic way.
Ben – they hit on something, a loseness that suited them. Scott, great voice, great work. Once in a while on top of the beat, don’t need to do that.

Deltones – “Listen to your Heart” by Roxette. It is a guilty pleasure because the lyrics are melodramatic. When someone tells you you need to get better, it motivates you. Worried about being stiff on stage.
Nice percussion, love the breath at the end. But the lead seems whiney. Meh on the song.
Ben – one of the few groups that earnestly sings lyrics every time. They still need a calling card. They got lost at the breakdown, should have been big moment, but the breath at end was cool. Looking for a sound that says we are Deltone.
Sara – all heart, see it up there. Good performance, song choice might have been too serious (do you think?), blend was great, Courtney on lead was sweet and right on, would like to see voices dropping in and out to give dynamics.
Shawn – Courtney, beautiful voice. With fifteen people on stage, would love to hear more dynamics.

Urban Method: “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe; they were mentors to Shawn and Boyz II Men so they have to have Shawn out of his chair or they have not succeeded. That sounds ambitious! The song is completely unfamiliar to me, but they did great from what I can tell. But I admit I am biased!
Shawn – They took on premise of record. Tony held bass down. Singing bass and doing cabbage patch at same time is not easy. Ladies, good harmony, sexy. Hip Hop, did your thing.
Ben – Loads of fun, not expert in genre, but grooved from beginning to end. Troy, lower singing not as articulate, but as soon as you went up, was clear. Go home and tell your kids, never trust a bigg butt and a smile. Sage advice from the lyrics!
Sara – so much fun. Troy, versatile in vocals, stylized, make specific choices, a little pitchy in beginning. So much happening on stage. Polished, well, delivered performance.
Ben chimes in again: Mike the rapper was good. Ben tries to rap. Not very well, not well at all.

Vocal Point: Ben is back from Australia. “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins. Nice lead, Somebody did some great high notes at end. It did not explode the way I would expect, though!
Ben – Nice rock belting. Keith, great falsettos, lots of energy. Ben on baritone guitar, adding a lot. Glad to have Ben back. Missed you. Bass perfectly in time. Nice work.
Sara – Kenny Loggins would love that, exuding essence of song, pop version of rock n roll. Percussion and bass, good job. Fun to watch.
Shawn – great, showing diversity, different sides, different voices with each song, shown many different personalities. People are dancing in hello kitty pajamas at home right now.

And the decision:
Pentatonix and Urban Method are in. I think they are going to be the two finalists.
Vocal Point is in.
It is between Afro-Blue (that is a surprise!) and Deltones. It must be Deltones.
Afro Blue is in, Deltones are out.
“Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch is their swan song. They struggle with it a little.

Next week, hop hop. Wow, that will certainly favor Urban Method!

The Sing-Off 2011 Episode 4: Radio Hits & 60s Classics, Part II

Sing! Sing! Sing!

Hello, I am Zin!

First: I found an interesting interview with one of the producers of the show, on an a capella site! It seems like it was done just before this episode.

And again we have the second bracket of six groups who will perform two songs each, just like the first bracket did last week!

They sings a very happy early-60s opening number with pastel colors and flowers and rainbows, “Rhythm of Love” by Plain White T. I have never heard it before (I had to look it up to figure out it was not by Play My Teat) and it is a little overly Andy Williams (if anyone remembers the Andy Williams show from the 60s). What I noticed most is that the beautiful girl from The Collective, Ruby, whose voice annoyed me so much last time, did not annoy me so much this time. But she did not get as much solo time. Or maybe they tweaked her in the mix. Or maybe I am just used to her now.

Nick announces Ben Folds has a brand new 3-cd retrospective album out (“The Best Imitation of Myself”). I do not usually cooperate with reality TV attempts to pimp goods, but I will make an exception for Ben Folds. I only have two of his songs myself, “Brick” and “Mr. Jones, Part II.” His genius is his work with up and coming artists, and with playing with music, and that is why this show is such a good place for him. But I do not know if that work will be on the album.

And by the way, Ben does a blog entry at the Sing-Off website! It seems to take a day or two to post, but it is worth the wait!

Deltones – They do “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga. Cortney, who has the lead for this number, has a cold (several of them are sick) so she is worried. Their intro, the drones and instrumental, is wonderful! Cortney sounds ok, her voice is pretty muted in lower registers but that may just be her voice. The performance is kind of lackluster. The choreography is very static, like they did not practice it at all because they were sick.
Shawn – great job, really solid; he was concerned because it is a powerful song and he knew Cortney was sick, but she did her job. Lou kept the drive moving, it was a solid performance.
Sara – Cortney killed the lead, but her main note is the physicality, it felt static (I swear I typed that in my notes before Sara spoke), as if they had lots of nerves, they need to shake it off and sing, really come across.
Ben – to him it took on country thing. He doesn’t know country music, would that make it the “outskirts of glory” (oooh, bad joke) It was a little weak at the start, and he was worried about the top, but it was solid.
They’re in trouble.

Pentatonix – “Your Love is My Drug” by Kesha. They say they are doing an arrangement completely different from the original, using voices for effects, to seem like a computer. That is interesting, for decades the music industry tried to take the machine quality out of voices and now we are at the point where we are putting it back! It is like what someone said about molecular gastronomy: “I spent years learning to cook by taking the chemicals out of my food and now it’s all about putting chemicals in the food.
Great percussion. Great effects. Lots of energy. I do not care for the song (I never heard it before) but I think they were terrific.
Ben – from the bridge out was killer, it was what they are really strong at. It was a risky arrangement and the decision to apply a melody to the top did not quite work. He applauds the risk they took with that, but where they are really strong is when they are freaking out, that is the future of music.
Shawn – found their niche, techno-groove, futuristic; Scott has a gift and curse: Kesha sing-talks, because Scott sings so well, he has to know when to not sing, but to have fun. Mitch, great voice, yin to yang Scott had, beautiful treble, a pleasant, sweet voice.
Sara, signature sound, Kevin and Avi are great with bass and drums. Interesting choice to come at it from a gentle perspective, Kesha is not gentle, but good job.

The Collective – They will do “Rocketeer” by Far East Movement. Rachel, the lead, has laryngitis. She does a very good interview on beliefnet.com about the show – there are musicians who help with the arrangements). They do much better than last week. Ruby, the girl whose voice I did not like, is not lead.
Sara – Rachel, powered through not feeling well. Voice has character and texture, transcends anything, great lead. Ruby, loves her style, a sleek comfy way about her, sets the tone. Jazzy approach to upbeat pop song. They lost the groove of the pocket once in a while and the bass got a little pitchy [oh no! Do not use that word! Evil word!] but they are honing in on a good sound.
Ben – Rachel pulled it off, blend is getting better. Open up a little more into the chest voice rather than focusing voice in the mask. [I love it when Ben talks like a voice teacher]
Shawn – the rhythm got lost once in a while but overall held it down. More cohesive, doing well, good job.

North Shore – They are stepping outside comfort zone. None of them listen to radio – hey me too! They never heard of Bruno Mars. Their biggest challenge is to do something new:”The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars.
Guy does a whistle in between his lead, which is incredibly hard, it requires reworking all the mouth muscles very quickly! I can not believe he does that over and over! The duet got a bit wonky at end. But it made me smile. Low key choreography but that’s what the song is, about laziness!
Sara – adorable. Great version. Fun to watch.
Shawn – His main concern was, can they make the song their own? They owned the song. Tommy held down bass. Guy, joy to watch, lead. He noticed the whistle too.
Ben – the groove in the lead vocal was awesome, Guy put the whistle in where most mere mortals would have to breathe, he just kept whistling. Can not find anything wrong with that performance.

Dartmouth Aires – Michael had to go home to be with mom who had stroke, so he missed rehearsals. Brendon will do lead. They do “Animal” by Neon Trees.
Note to Kara Saun or whoever is doing the wardrobe this season: Rethink plaid pants, especially those plaid pants, do not let singers squat in those pants. The chorus is overpowering the lead. But not bad at all, just needed more lead.
Shawn – did you draw straws on who wore pants and jackets? Youth, energy; Brendon, good job, energetic, lot of running, hard to hold a lead when running. Great performance.
Ben – Energy was over the top. Brendan, told story with his eyes. Bass was tight. Energy great, sounded pop, really good.
Sara – awesome. Energy, excitement, cohesive; Brendon was fantastic. Great upper register, verse might be a little low for voice, needed more power.

Sonos – They are worried because they have not yet learned how to be Sonos in this contest without their effects pedals. On this arrangement the bass is doing lead, so they do not have a bass and they do not have an octave pedal, so one of the women will do the bass. “Viva la Vita” by Coldplay.
Nice opening. Different voices are too loud at various times, blend is not good. I like the lead, very gentle.
Ben – big improvement, great. Arrangement was smart, used everything you had. When one male is drum and one is lead, that leaves the girls to tackle a wide range.
Sara- They exposed what they can be, going for it, stretched. Great fit vocally, wobbly at the start, got stronger. Moments when a voice is missing. Did as much as possible without voices they do not have.
Shawn – Ben, great drums. Concerned about three part girls, can sound tinny, but this sounded beautiful, pitchy parts, relied on strengths, great job.
I think they’re in trouble.

Sixties round:

Nick Lachey says he borrowed his suit from “The Playboy Club” – they probably should have cut that since that show has been cancelled and they now lead in to “Prime Suspect.”

Different singers talk about doing 60s songs. One says they did not have digital technology so they relied on voices. That makes me laugh! Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Janis, they all freaked the world out with what they had in the 60s because they were musicians! One group has never done a 60s song – shame on them! This is hilarious to those of us who remember that Elvis was once the devil!

Pentatonix – a jazz version of “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin.
This was painful! It is somewhere in the Bible, I think: thou shalt not mess with Janis. But they do. At one point the percussionist is doing Bronx cheers into the mic. But the horn is cool! Overall, it sounds like the Andy Williams version!
Shawn – he would never have thought to arrange song that way, give it up for Kevin on the flugel horn. Loved the reggae feel. [I did not recognize it as reggae so much as jazz, but since he said that, I very much want to hear a real reggae-calypso version! I am obsessed with this!]
Sara – great, did not expect the arrangement, it was a smart choice, “you made it your own” [NO-NO-NO they have to stop using these AI-isms!]. Kevin on trumpet or flugel horn killed it. Great blend, missing powerhouse of other arrangement, but great to know they are versatile. [I disagree – if they were versatile they would have done it for real, this was what they had to do because they could not do anything else]
Ben – his favorite groups take risks, they nailed it. Sometimes they want to rush, could have slowed down on come ons, waited to give downbeat; Avi did great bass. Did not stay precious to 60s version and it won for them that time. [I respectfully disagree, but I also wonder if I am being rigid. Still, there are some things that are sacred. I think I might go for a true reggae version, but it would have to be great, and this was not.]

Deltones – “Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes. The lead started weak. And again, sometimes a random background voice stands out. Lead does not have real power. Hated the ending.
Sara – Applaud for moving and shaking, Jessica has sass. Walter gave a wink. Pitch issues that come and go, some refinement that’s going to keep coming, enjoyable, very attractive group.
Ben – he is amazed so many good singers can go to one school. There were times when it fell apart, that comes with experience [and one of the problems with a college group is that they change frequently so experience is not really something they will get]. Their biggest challenge is to convince the judges they are the ones to make a record. But they are making everyone smile and are great singers.
Shawn – he was listening for the funky bass line. Great job, Avi. Jessica, beautiful lead, sassy, played with it. Great face, could have used more mid range, that is why it was pitchy [STOP THAT!]. Love outfits. [Very yellow]
Very in trouble, I think.

North Shore – “Unchained Melody” by Righteous Brothers. I wish they would stop wearing bowling shirts.
Guy really goes for the high note but he is not totally in charge of the song throughout. He goes into falsetto at end, that works.
Ben – the original version is so emotional it is hard to live up to if you do a literal version. Some pitch issues for first time with them.
Shawn – Guy on lead is like silk. Some pitch problems, lost where they were, maybe because girls in the audience were screaming so loud. Guy on high note, dipped back, knew what he was doing, delivering the song how it should be delivered. Enjoyed it.
Sara – great performance, loved Guy as lead, he is a killer front man. She wishes she could hear Guy interpret it as if he had never heard it before. But stellar.

The Collective – “Hold On I’m Comin'” by Sam and Dave Ruby does duet as lead, it works ok, except for her last note, a very high note which sounds awful to me. One of the men does a fantastic held high note. But overall, no.
Ben waiting through first half for chorus, then it worked. Caleb at end, did great falsetto, end was a celebration, should have started with celebration then taken off into outer space. They have it in them but have to get to it in the beginning.
Shawn – Loves Ruby for her throwback style. They only have two and a half minutes, so they have to take us to church fast. Overall good performance. Wish it had more.
Sara – she is a big Ruby fan as well. Fun to see Isaac Step up as duet. Kicked up from second chorus out. They seem comfy on stage. We believe you, that you love what you do.
In trouble.

Sonos – “I want you back” by Jackson Five. Percussion is too loud. I love the additive at end. Odd, I do not think it worked. I think they are limited by their own genre. I do not understand why, if they have a career with the effects pedals, they would audition for this competition.
Ben – the reharmonization was interesting, not sure it was effective as a song. They were throwing everything they have got at it but not engaged in song. Pretty soon they will have to do a performance that does not make them worry.
Shawn – the danger of covering a classic is that it is a classic. He is not sure he would have done a totally different rendition. A little too ambitious.
Sara She sang in college with one of the members, and she liked the wardrobe updates [very red]. She liked that they switched the arrangement completely. But it would have been nice if that was a segment or at least they gave a throwback to the classic version. She wanted to hear Rachel pleading, it felt a little too comfy, different key maybe.

Dartmouth Aires – “Pinball Wizard” by The Who. I love the bass intro! I love the lead! Messed up pitch at very beginning of “How do you think he does it”. The human pinball machine was, well, silly. Like the finger-crown. I did not like the end, it had potential but did not quite work, seemed like “ok we have to do an ending everyone stand and sing chords.”
Sara – Awesome. Loved arrangement, lots of voices, wrangle them all really well. I-laughed-I-cried-it-was-better-than-cats.
Ben – Pete Townsend would be happy with that. Ending was silly, he loves silly like that, took it up to eleven. Transitions were great. Occasional pitch issues, pretty well matched. Fantastic energy, lead vocal inspiring, all good.
Shawn – Mike, the lead, is a rock star. He has his shirt open showing his chest and pectoral muscles, spitting, when you are singing and spit comes out that is when you know you are going for broke. Some pitch problems in arpeggio department, but ding dings, they are hard to nail. Fun, great energy , loved it.

Deliberations!

My Summary and speculation:

Deltones – Lady Gaga, in trouble; Can’t Hurry Love, very in trouble. In big trouble.
Pentatonix – Your Love is my Drug, ok. Piece of my Heart, weird but judges liked it. Safe.
The Collective – “Rocketeer” was ok. “Hold On I’m Coming” not good. Probably safe.
North Shore – “Lazy Song” very good. “Unchained Melody,” very good. Limited but Safe.
Dartmouth Aires – “Animal,” good. “Pinball Wizard,” very good, excellent in parts. Safe.
Sonos – “Viva la Vita,” in trouble. “I Want You Back,” jazz arrangement, in trouble. In big trouble.

I am guessing either Deltones or Sonos. I think Sonos is more likely to improve in the short time of this competition, but they are also more likely to go back to what they know as soon as competition is over.

And the judges pick:

North Shore and Dartmouth Aires are safe.
Pentatonix and Deltones are safe. I am surprised. Interesting.
Sonos and The Collective are bottom two – it has to be Sonos.

And it is. Sonos is out.

Their swan song, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye To Yesterday” by Boyz 2 Men is really really bad. What a shame, it is so hard to sing when you are feeling emotional, and with only five people, it is hard to disguise it like you can in a larger group. I think they are probably a very interesting group when they do their thing and they have their equipment. I hope they got some exposure from this. You can go to their Myspace website and wish good luck to them! And I think they have music available, the music they usually do, so you can hear them at their best! ETA: I just found an interview with them and they explain a little more about the pedals, and they also explain that they originally auditioned with the pedals and were told it would be ok to use them, but that was changed as the process went on.

Next week, all ten groups will perform (yay!) guilty pleasures from the 80s and 90s.

The Sing-Off 2011 Episode 3: Radio Hits and 60s Classics, Part 1

Hello! I am Zin! And tonight on the third episode of The Sing-Off the remaining groups from Episode 1 sing two songs each: one is a current hit, and the second is a hit from the 60s. I like the theme weeks, it forces them to do something outside the famed comfort zone. As a group they do “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane.

A side note: In past seasons I have been careful to note not only who performed the song and made it famous, which is what Nick Lachey announces usually, but who actually wrote it. I am not doing that this season, because 1) I only have so much time to recap, and 2) most songs now are written by committee and the performing artist gets a credit for financial purposes whether they contributed anything or not. I am sad about this, because people who write songs deserve a lot of credit for them. But I am tired of looking these things up and finding seventeen names, everyone who wants a cut of the royalties in perpetuity.

I have to say that I will probably not recognize the first group of songs! Maybe if they have been on other singing shows. The second group, I will know them all! I am not sure which is an advantage or a disadvantage. There is something about knowing “how” a song should sound that maybe makes us reluctant to experience it in a new way. But hearing a song for the first time, especially a complex arrangement, can make it hard to pick up a lot of nuances. So I will have to just stay aware of my own limitations for both sets!

Vocal Point, the college group from Brigham Young University, is first up. If you remember, in Week 1, one of their members, Ben, had to go home to Australia because his father had taken a turn for the worse. I am not sure how much real time has passed in these two television weeks, but now his father has passed away, so he is still with his family. One of the group says, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a family member as close to you as your father is.” That strikes me as odd, because in a group of nine college-age boys there must be more than one who has a deceased parent. Not to mention not everyone is that close to his or her father. But these are Mormons, after all. Anyway, they do “Never Say Never” by Justin Beiber. And they do a really nice job of it, too. They have good choreography and good percussion! It is a little overpolished, but that could be the nature of the song; it does tend to be the nature of college choral groups. There were a few moments that were downright outstanding! Overall, high pass. But they will not be in the finals. They are still a touch too choral for this competition.
Ben: “I will never again say I could not enjoy Beiber sung by a bunch of Mormons.” [wow, yeah, it way exceeded that description!] McKay, impressive kick there [it was! He is a star!] from his boy band experience. Great, they sung the hell out of it! Oh, Ben, you should not say that to Mormons!
Sara: She acknowledges the difficulty of performing with Ben MIA under those circumstances. Fun to watch, wholesome thundercats, entertaining. Parts felt stiff.
Shawn: “It’s funny to see a Justin Beiber song by a bunch of grown men.” Good performance. Keith, great hold on a long note, who knew someone so thin could have such big lungs. They do not take themselves too seriously, very entertaining.

Delilah is being billed as “the alum group” which is fair enough, the all-female group of mostly former competitors from past seasons. They do “What Do You Want From Me” by Adam Lambert. In practice they had trouble with the arrangement. But in performance I love the arrangement, they start out with a flat, straight-voice plaintive solo and one at a time joins in, then they end with solos again. It works really well, though I am not crazy about how the bass sounds (not her specifically: she is just fine, very good, it is instead how a female-only group bass sounds that bothers me) but that is an inherent limitation on girl groups and only my opinion! I think they did great but I do not think they will be in the finals; it is a shame, but this genre belongs to men. Or at least to mixed groups. Men can do soprano; women simply can not do true bass! At least I have not yet heard it! They come as close as is possible, though, so I give them a lot of credit. High pass.
Shawn: They gave people a window of how harmonies are built; Kendall was the key, everyone else joined in, and when Jo came in with the thunder bass, that is what it is about, the drama was there, the feeling was there, great job.
Ben: has heard that song a million times but he understood it better this time. They have depth on the bench since they are all-stars, this is why he does this gig, they are developing and innovating something with heart. [This sounds like faint praise to me]
Sara: so exciting how stunning a group of women can be. All powerhouse vocalists. [I propose a moratorium on the word “powerhouse” from here on in] Kendall took her time, set the pace, had me at hello. Jo, strong voice. Amy, powerhouse [see what I mean?] came in a little sharp. Loved it top to bottom, it is a Pink song Adam Lambert made famous (see, she understands about songwriters too!). Girl power.

Urban Method (“All Vocal Hip-Hop” says their website) does “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Black Eyed Peas. I love their choreography and the use of rap, they completely change the sound. Excellent! I am thinking they are in the top cadre for this season!
Sara: so good, loved arrangement, gave each individual a moment to shine, they all sparkle, Liz had a sultry entrance, very cool, Tony did great bass work. Troy, the second lead, is a superstar, fantastic vibrato and expression.
Shawn: They show different ways to interpret a capella, unique niche, unlike anything they’ve ever seen on the show, a lot going on. Richard and Tony did great with the rhythm and bass foundation, good job.
Ben: he dug it, love the rap punk rock attitude, they sell it, theatrical, personality. Produced well. Music of the studio, makes it unique, pulling off ambitious sounds. [When he talks about “produced” and “studio” it makes me nervous for their long-term prospects on this show because those are not good things necessarily; they are not part of an organic sound]

Afro Blue, the college jazz ensemble from Howard University, admit they do not do pop songs so they have to figure out how to bring it to their jazz sound. They want the audience to recognize the song but they want them to know it is an Afro Blue version! I am afraid that is going to limit how far they can go on this show, like it did for ?// last season. They do “American Boy” by Estelle. They start with really nice scat, they do big changes in rhythm; they do an excellent job, even though this is not my favorite style; they are clearly very good at what they do.
Shawn: They took him back to the Harlem Renaissance [which he, and I for that matter, is way too young to have experienced in the first place], when black folks were snazzy and fly and Count Basie, he went there. Danielle took control of the performance, lovely voice. Loves the opening, nothing wrong with that performance.
Sara: they went through so many different dimensions. Beautiful opening, loved when boys came forward, amazing move where they switch feet really fast.
Ben: blown away, how do you remember all that stuff, blend is amazing, the arrangement stellar, people think of jazz as elite [this is hilarious, since it started as music of people who had nothing but talent and it has become snooty] they are driving the point home for the good side of the force. And they are nice which does not always go hand in hand with excellence. [Wow, is that a dig or what.]

YellowJackets from University of Rochester are having time issues. “If we had a month for each song we would be fine but we have a week for two songs.” They do “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. The first lead does not work; it is too choral. Then finally a real voice kicks in, but I am not sure who it is. I still liked it, but the leads are much too classical for this competition. I would love to see them do Palestrina, though!
Ben: They sell every inch of it. Jamal has an interesting voice [I think he is the one I thought did not work, too classical] Lead needed more stomp, second half of the chorus too. Aaron has a beautiful voice, Danny knocked dynamite off [I think he was the one I noticed]. Pitch tolerance is wide [I am not sure what that means].
Shawn: Jamal was interesting, kept a monotone then got operatic. Mix classical with pop. Need more bass. Overall, a fun performance.
Sara: All heart. Danny and Aaron at end were so. Cute Couple. Issue was that the groove moved. voices are sweet, melodic beds on choruses were massive, sounded like a track, good job.
I think they are in trouble.

Kinfolk 9 see themselves as underdogs. They are focusing on blend, to make up for years not spent together. They like to break into sections to rehearse, then put it together. They do “Price Tag” by Jessie J. The girl lead is very weak. They add a rap as harmony which I like a lot. The leads are off though. I think they are trying to prove they are not all about Moi but I am afraid they are proving they are all about Moi.
Sara: wonderful moments, good job. We noticed you’ve been working hard. Did not grab from the beat go; Jenna Li has a lovely voice, but needs to be more unabashed, not careful or nervous just own it. The energy expanded in the middle and was joyful.
Ben: Serious improvement from first week, when it was all about Moi, the group came together this time. Daniel, grooving fellow, bass was grooving, beatbox locked in.
Shawn, solid performance, improved from first week, bottom was smooth, not to many highs or lows though, could have used more dynamics.
I think they are in trouble.

For that round, I think Kinfolk 9 (who were next to last the first week) and Yellow Jackets had the weakest performances.

And now the 60s songs I actually know! They all talk about how unfamiliar it is. This makes me smile. But come on, if you are going to be musicians, you should know a lot about every era. You can not be a musician if all you know is your favorite stuff.

Delilah does Heat Wave by Martha and the Vandellas. The hair styling, clothes are perfect! They pause at one point and it is disconcerting, it sounds like a mistake. The second lead is meh. Overall, I am not terribly impressed with this number.
Ben: this is the heart of your challenge, a song you can not outsmart. Up until now you have been able to find something to change. Here they had all the stuff but were disadvantaged because they were stuck with the alto range, it is amazing they got through it, but it was not up to what they have been doing. [Yikes, this is maybe the harshest critique I have ever heard Ben give. I agree with him completely]
Sara: they have physicality, stellar vocals, personality, something about the arrangement was missing.
Shawn: another shout out to Jo, who stays cute while singing bass. The second verse was shaky, they have four sopranos, there was nothing in the middle to give it warmth. But the choreography was good, the hand gestures were very 60s-esque, it was worth watching.
They are in trouble!

Urban Method does “Dance to the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone. Percussion solo is great! Bass solo is great. Guitar not as successful but ok. Horns are amazing! Love the scream in there! Really, really good, and they did not use any rap. They are definitely front-runners for me.
Shawn: that is how you do it. Shout out to Troy, channeled a boy and a man. It moved the way it was supposed to move. So many goodies, coordinated with horn section and moves, great performance.
Ben: showed singer side, it is by nature a static song with one chord, they grabbed onto it from the beginning and did not let go, with band backup, inventive, hit it tonight. Their best performance yet.
Sara: also her favorite of their performances. Drives home they are a versatile group, out of the box, loved it, loved the unexpected moments, hey hey hey from Mike like Fat Albert. Awesome.

Vocal Point does “Just the Way You Look Tonight” in a very Sinatra style including the fedoras. Nice arrangement, coordinated gestures, changed rhythms several times, horns as backup. Very nice.
Sara: she is swooning. Feels so polished and theatrical without being a caricature. Earnest and intentional, sold it, she loves it. They make a cute rat pack. Jake as Sinatra lead is great.
Shawn: really good, Jake did some swanky singing, smooth, what the song required, slick, masculine, playful, great performance.
Ben: covered many styles from samba and slow swing, it was like listening to a big band, a quite sick performance, really good.

Afro Blue does “Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye, which is a little nerve-wracking because those of us who were around twenty years ago see raisins. The opening felt like something went wrong. They did a very complicated modulation which might have been perfect but it sounded muddled; at the very least it was labored, felt like they were working, not effortless. Some harmony did not sound right to me, but that could be the jazz chords. I would give them a low pass on this one, but they are safe for this episode for sure.
Ben: the arrangement picked some fights, some stuff worked brilliantly, other stuff went over our heads. Put a bag over my head and go through a carwash backwards. Something he used to do in the 60s. [that is a new one to me, but it sounds like something that would have happened in the 60s] Soulful, well executed, overthought a little, but amazing. Nice effort.
Shawn: Being able to sing sweet and smooth, it worked. The modulation was effortless. [I disagree; the first thing I thought at the moment it happened was, wow, that was hard work]
Sara: they committed to whatever choices as a unity, pleasure to watch. Bass is amazing, Trent has a sweet soulful voice and a big smile, a charmer. Loved the half time groove, wanted to hear it go back to the 60s at the end as bookends, but really well done.

YellowJackets perform “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” They do horns really well, using the mikes, at first I thought they were using rolled up paper, like programs, but no, they just know what they are doing. It sounds like they are using claves? Terrific! They go over the top on performance, the lead running around the stage, kneeling, going over to Sara and kissing her hand, but they still handled the song very well.
Sara: she is blushing, verklempt, she truly looks flustered. Aaron, so sweet, loves the look the choreography, the use of the wood block [aha, not claves], the bandleader, it was seamless, felt polished.
Ben: trumpet and trombone was a great start. Percussion sounded like an old Wurlitzer drum machine. Falsettos were dead on.
Shawn: Aaron, you kiss-up! Seriously great. Instruments sounded like real instruments. Rises and falls like original, sounded great.
If they were in danger from their first round, I think they redeemed themselves.

Kinfolk 9 chose “Let It Be.” Moi is the lead again. It’s quite choral, but gospel, and the song allows it. I still think Moi is a little over the top physically, but his voice is fantastic on this piece, he does an amp in the middle that is amazing, he can really sing. Maybe he can crouch and squint all he wants if he sings like that.
Shawn: Turned the Beatles to gospel. Moi, the backup took it to another level. Layered and warm and powerful.
Sara: Moi is emotive and expressive, best thing is to see a performer lose himself in the song, it was so natural [I disagree]. Gospel choir, amen. Well done.
Ben: Moi, outstanding performance, sings with a lot of soul. To really hit him in the chest they need to open up a little more, but it was their best performance yet.

Time for judgment! It seems like they are considering past performances, so we have:

Urban Method – Week 1, “Love the Way You Lie” was terrific; “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Dance To the Music” were great this week. Top in this group.

Vocal Point – Week 1, “Jump, Jive and Wail” from Week 1, “Never Say Never, “Just The Way You Are Tonight,” all solid, all very good. At some point they will be too collegiate but for now they are a solid in.

Afro Blue – week 1, “Put Your Record On” worked though I did not care for the style; this week, “American Boy” cooked with same disclaimer, and “Heard it Through The Grapevine” was ok. They will be safe, though eventually they will be out.

YellowJackets – Week 1, A Waving Flag was really good but maybe carried on emotion, it was very choral; This week “Dynamite” did not quite work, but “You’re Just Too Good To Be True” was great. They could be in trouble. I think they are going to eventually fold for being too collegiate.

Kinfolk 9 – Week 1, “Secrets” was good but they were next to last in their bracket; this week, “Price Tag” was better but still weak, though “Let It Be” was off the charts. They could be in trouble.

Delilah – Week 1 they did Grenade and the lead was terrific, but they were still in the bottom for their bracket of four (more as a natural limitation of the female voice than because they did not do well); this week they were strong on “What Do You Want From Me” and weak on “Heat Wave.” I think they are limited simply because they are all-girls, it is not their fault. They could be in trouble.

Possibilities are YellowJackets, Kinfolk 9, and Delilah. I suspect it will be Delilah who is out. Because Kinfolk 9 have improved and have more room for improvement with time; Delilah have intrinsic limitations that they have not been able to overcome so far.

But no – Kinfolk 9 is out! I am surprised! I am disappointed! They do “Loser” as a swan song with Moi as lead. He really is pretty great. You can visit their website and wish them well!

Ok, I have thought about this. I was pretty unhappy last night! I thought Delilah or even YellowJackets should have gone home. This is the first time I have disagreed with the Sing-Off judges!

But now, I have considered. I think while “Let It Be” was amazing, but it is an amazing song that I love and it got a lot of bump from that. And, the big problem: Kinfolk 9 boils down to Moi plus backup. The backup could be anyone. When he was not the lead, they were pretty bad. Now, maybe that was coincidence, and if they tried again they would be better. But fact is, they had two weak and one strong performance, and the strong was mostly due to the lead. They are not yet a group.

And these are not people who formed a group because they love a capella music; they are solo artists who did this as a way to get exposure. If that had been a major factor, they would have been sent home the first week. But it does make me feel a little better.

I am glad I heard them! I think I will download “Let It Be,” it was that good! I still listen to “Romeo” and “Come Sail Away” from last year, and I will add it to that. And I hope Moi gets something out of this, because I do think he has a wonderful way of singing, though I still could do without all that emoting. And I think he needs a makeover; he looks too Bobby Sherman for me, though he sings much better.

Next week, the other six groups will do the same themes, and we will see what happens!

ETA: I just discovered Ben Folds does a blog on the NBC Sing-Off site! It takes a day or two for the current episode to go up, but it is worth it!

The Sing-Off 2011 – Episode 2

Art by Constance Bannister, Thom Lang

Hello, I am Zin! And I am so happy it is Monday and The Sing-Off is on again! The second group of eight go in brackets of four, just like last week. They start with a group sing of “Sing”. One singer, an incredibly pretty black woman, with long straight hair and bangs, stands out as being, well, not so great, I am not sure if she is nervous or if that is her shtick and it works in her group. They keep showing a close up of her and I can not figure out why. Maybe I am the only one who does not think she is a good singer?

Nick asks the judges what they use as criteria. Ben says he looks at the journey: a group might be shaky but have potential. Others might be technically great but they seem to have reached the end of their journey. I think he means the Cat’s Pajamas from last week – not that they are old at all, but they have a sound and they are not evolving. Sara just promises to get better at judging. I did not have any problem with her last week! Shawn says he is looking to be inspired.

The first four groups perform..

Dartmouth Aire from Dartmouth College, a large all male group. In their intro a black guy with slanted Alfalfa hair says they are by no means traditional which amuses me! The group started in 1946; not as old as the Whiffenpoofs but pretty solid. I wish there was a Classical round here, they would kill it, but I am afraid they are not going to be competitive in this particular contest. They do “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder. They have some nice choreography at the end.
Shawn says, “This is what I’m talking about.” The art of a capella is how you entertain people, not just voices. They had him from beginning to end, they kept moving their feet, it was an energetic song, a great rendition. He loved that Michael gradually went into the lead, he is a good front man, his mother would be very proud.
Sara loved it. Michael, you mom is just beaming. I think I missed something about Michael wanting to make his mother proud. It was a wonderful marriage of physicality and breath control, spot on.
Ben: they came out of the gate kicking ass and stayed that way the whole time. He would not have minded if guys brought the dynamic down a little in second verse to give Michael a hand, but loved the swells in the bridge.

Pentatonix from Arlington TX, five people. They started as a high school trio, added a bass and beatboxer. Kevin plays cello and does percussion at the same time which is incredibly cool. They do “E.T.” by Katy Perry. They are really good! I like that they split up the leads and everyone sang a little!
Sara: loves the ambition, top 40 and club songs are not easy especially with just five people, loves that each has a little moment.
Ben: great ride, all dead on with each other, harmonies were moving, arrangement is great, Kevin did effects that were “wicked awesome,” low end was impressive, a club low end. His only criticism was to maybe take the song a little slower, but really great and a lot of fun.
Shawn: Scott did great riffs. He swore Kevin was cheating, beat is real bass. Hard for a bass to stay on key and move.

Messiah’s Men from Minneapolis, a large all-male group, refugees from Liberia who met in a refugee camp there. They do gospel, Afrocentric and soul. They do “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield. Good percussion. Nice bass.
Ben: big sound, interesting groove, not the average beatbox groove. Unisons were especially powerful.. All together, key center is a moving target, they need to keep the key center in same place. Very moving.
Shawn: gospel, afrocentric and soul, he felt all three, loves the back story. Not technically perfect but he could sit and listen. They have storytelling voices.
Sara: a pleasure to see them express themselves. Tiny technical things, her favorite part was at the end when they circled up. She felt emotional connection, but wanted them to stop moving.
I think they are in trouble.

Sonos from LA, five members, mixed group. They have been together three years, touring. They typically use effects pedals, explore electronic sound. They will not be using any effects pedals in show, and it will be hard for them because they hide behind them. That does not sound good, and they have not even sung yet! They have been touring but are struggling and are not sure how long they can continue. They do “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak in a jazzy arrangement. I loved the beginning with the percussion, but I found it intrusive after a while. The lead is a little shaky especially in her high range towards the end.
Shawn: ambitious arrangement. Percussion was fast and amazing. It is a sexy song, he would have enjoyed more playfulness, swaying would have been good enough. There was too much space between the harmonies, it sounded thin. They have potential but he did not feel it like he wanted to feel it.
Sara: She sang with the bassist in college (full disclosure). She loved the arrangement, and liked the sparseness of chords and fast beatboxing, it reinvented the song, was sensual. She wanted more dynamic range. She understands it was hard for them to put down the pedal.
Ben: dead on, beatboxing is the future, their own style. Interesting arrangement. sparseness is a choice, they need a little more confidence.
I think they are in trouble, too!

Pentatonix were clearly the best. Dartmouth was good, good enough to get through this round certainly, but I am afraid they just stylewise will not last very long. I think Sonos will go home, but I do not think Messiah’s Men will last long either.

And I am wrong! Messiah’s Men is out. Interesting. They cut the guys with the biggest sob story – it really is about the performance. They have integrity. And nobody is trying to out-do Simon Cowell! They do Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as a swan song, which is very sweet. I like them very much, and I am glad they got to sing; but their style is not one for this competition. You can visit their website, listen to some of their music, and wish them well!

The champions from last year, Committed, just came out with new album. They do a brief snippet of Always. Billboard has an article from last June about their album. They have a Myspace page but it looks like it has not been updated since they were on The Sing-Off last year!

The next group of four perform.

The Collective is a medium-sized mixed group from Nashville. Jeremy Lister, from Street Corner Symphony (the runners-up last year) put it together, including his little brother Jonathan. Jeremy is still singing with SCS! In fact, SCS tweeted “Someone let us know what is happening on The Sing Off, we are doing a show tonight and can not watch!” They are all solo artists, a capella is completely new to most of them. They do “Rolling in the Deep.” The lead, Ruby, is the girl that I thought had a problem in the opening. I do not like her voice! No, not at all! I think it is the vibrato, almost a quaver, which pains me to say because I have been criticized for too much vibrato. She is the only voice I have not liked on three years of this show! This is strange!
Ben: solid, clearly good singers, Ruby owned the lead, kept our ear. When the chorus got there he did not feel lifted., but solid, great singers. Then he says something about outside the box but decides there is no box. Shawn: possible concern about soloists blending, in time they will find a more definite sound, enjoyed performance, enjoyed Ruby’s quivering alto, rich and thick, depth. He did not get blown back but still solid enough.
Sara: blend for a new group is solid. Ruby is mesmerizing, theatrical. They are missing something, maybe in the arrangement. She would love to see how time improves things.
I am less than impressed.
Soul’d Out – Oregon High school group. “We’re a real life version of Glee.” No, not really, Glee is not a capella! They do Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. They sound a little high school choir especially at first. Nice job after Let the Sunshine In. but ends on a chorus chord. They are a pretty good high school group. But… no.
Shawn: He gets concerned about high school groups but they held their own. Very intricate song, so much music, did it pretty well. Especially since songs are older than everyone, they captured the feel, did well.
Sara: Yay small town. So much energy, certain times chord structures got muddled, Ethan, adorable, so much emotion, showed maturity, disciplined.
Ben: Their parents were five when song was written. First half held its own, good start, second half was tough (exactly the opposite of what I thought, interesting). Hard to pull off, repetitive melody, hard not to show effort, and unfortunately it tore apart at end
They are in trouble.

North Shore – five guys from Boston specializing in Street Corner doo-wop. They have been singing professionally and making a living at it since the 70s but they are struggling financially this year (everyone is, people can not afford to hire entertainment). They do “Run Around Sue” by Dion, pretty much exactly as Dion did it, very nice, lots of fun, great sound. But why are they wearing bowling shirts? Kara Saun, are you still doing the styling? Or is this their own stage costume?
Sara: loved it. Done impeccably. She can not tell who is singing which part, blend is perfect. Guy is a stellar front man, so much personality.
Ben: great. Relaxed, energy does not have to mean flying off the handle. Thomas did an awesome bass line. Refreshing without beatbox. (but it will come back to bite them later in the competition, I think)
Shawn: did it right. Crisp, clean, timeless, nice to have veterans, provides authenticity. Thomas held down the bass. Guy, great energy.

Deltones – a large mixed group from the University of Delaware. “These people taught me how to love to the fullest.” They were all rejected from other a capella groups on campus, so they formed their own group. Wait… they are sounding like they are being tortured down there in Delaware and this is an oasis in the middle of hell! And how many a capella groups are there at one university? They do “Feels Like Home” by Randy Newman. Nice, but it is a solo with backup.
Sara: story might sound cheesy , finding home with a capella group but that’s what happened to her. Beautiful arrangement, a little nervous to start, Jessica, lead, felt growth, power, strength. Innocence in the arrangement.
Ben: Jessica, friends backed up really well. Pretty arrangement. He does not think it was nerves, more vulnerability. Build was artful. Post bridge, the group almost blew Jessica away when she was flipping into head voice, they should have pulled back there. Moving over all.
Shawn: Jessica has a beautiful voice, little quivers, but it is not about how perfect it is. They have a lot of potential, and have more to show.

I think it will be Soul’d Out.
It is between Soul’d Out and Deltones. And Soul’d out goes home. Oh, one girl looks like she is going to cry. They do “Mamma I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Ozborne as a swan song with a guy as lead. They do not have a website (there are many groups with that name, it seems) but they have a Facebook page and you can leave them fond wishes there!

Overall I was less impressed with the groups this week, compared to last week. The only group that really seemed to be in the running was Pentatonix. Of course, any group might have a much better week next time. And I enjoyed listening to all of them, none of them were bad, it was a very enjoyable concert, and the right groups were cut. It is hard to cut refugees and high school kids, but I am glad they are still judging based on the music and not on what makes good TV! This is my favorite singing competition!

The Sing-Off 2011 Episode 1

"ALL I WANT IS A RECORD DEAL" by freeze67

Hello, I am Zin! I am so happy this show is back! At the same time, I am a little bit sorry it is not in its traditional Christmas Hiatus schedule! It feels a little ordinary now. It was so special to have this surprise the first year, and then to find it again last year, like a little present just before Christmas! I suppose it is good that it has been successful, but I hope it does not change the nature of the show! It does not seem to, at least not yet – I am guessing they filmed this over the summer like they did before, and will just have the finale around Thanksgiving live.

I have to say I am THRILLED to lose Pussycat! I do not know anything about Sara Bareilles, but from this first night I love her, she does not try to act like she knows more than she does and she got funnier as the evening went on! And I am of course so happy to see Ben Folds (Music Nerd), and Shawn Stockman again!

A total of sixteen groups are competing. The first eight groups performed tonight, and two were eliminated. Next week the second eight will perform. The prize is $200,000 and a recording contract.

As usual I am at a bit of a disadvantage since I am not that familiar with current pop music, although between The Glee Project and various other shows I recognize a few things I would not otherwise know!

First up, the Yellow Jackets from the University of Rochester, an all-male group. Five of them attend the Eastman School of Music which is one of the best in the country. They did a musical exchange with Kenya recently and used a song from that experience in their number, “Waving Flag” the official song of the 2010 World Cup, written by Somali-born K’NAAN in honor of the victims of the Haitian earthquake in 2009. It is an amazing song! And they did a wonderful job with it! I love African music and this has a very African sound. Shawn: powerful, all kinds of levels and a lot of range: Awesome!
Ben: the tempo fluctuated a little; great lead by Aaron.
Sarah: maybe more intricate counterpoint in the arrangement but maybe the song does not call for that – she says “I am new here!” I love her for that!

Next, the Fannin Family, eight siblings from Hortonville, Wisconsin. They are not afraid of being compared to other singing families like the Partridge family (which, well, it was not a real family, and only David Cassidy and Shirley Jones actually sang, the rest were studio musicians) or the Osmonds or the Von Trapps (wow, now that is a whole different ball game) but they do not want to be put into a box. I do not think they have to worry. Maria, the lead, is 14. I am dubious from the intro. They do “Who Says” sung by Selena Gomez. And yes, Maria, while a very gutsy 14-year-old to do this, is not quite yet a polished enough singer for this; her full voice is ok but her sotto voce is just unsupported sounding. The group is pretty high-school choral. The arrangement is mediocre. They are in trouble!
Ben: They are lucky to grow up singing. In Ireland they all sing at the pub and then beat the crap out of each other and then sing some more. I found that an odd comment but I think he is grasping. The blend is effortless, because being in the same family they have similar voices, but for the same reason it lacks a variety that makes group singing work, varied timbres; Maria is very impressive for a 14-year-old (which is true). Their bass is out of his range.
Sara: also loved Maria, how great that a 14-year-old could do that (it is a lot of pressure). She loves the strength and power in the words, which has nothing to do with how they sang it. They are wholesome and innocent. A few pitch issues. She enjoyed it.
Shawn says they did an awesome job, fought jitters; there were some harmony quirks, but it was a good performance, good job.
Alas, I think they are toast.

Afro-Blue is the “premiere jazz choir” from Howard University – and I love that they have a token white person! Now that is equality! They primarily do jazz, R&B, and funk. They sing “Put Your Record On” which is very jazzy, not my thing but it works.
Ben: loves the sound, loved the lead Christie, her presentation was very relaxed, they made the jazzy sound accessible – jazz chords can freak people out. Nice bass work from Reggie.
Sarah: thoroughly entertained. She wrote down “very attractive” and is embarrassed to say that. She thinks they have a promise of versatility.
Shawn: he wrote “class, style, slick, smooth, effortless, fun.” Christie was warm butter on grits. A great first job. I think the message here, and with Sarah, is they had better be able to do more than jazz – last year the jazz-only group ended up eliminated once they figured out they could not do anything else.

Delilah is a girls-only group which leader Amy put together with many girls from groups that competed in seasons one and two, including Pitch Slapped, Eleventh Hour and Noteworthy. And she brought in a serious bass, Gina (she knew lack of a “bottom” has always been a problem for girl groups) and a beatboxer – which is interesting, I was wondering if Courtney, the girl percussionist from both prior seasons, would show up again! They sing “Grenade” by Bruno Mars which I know since it was done on the Glee Project! Apparently it is a very popular song, even though I can not see why. I love that Amy (the lead) gets very soulful at one point! The bass is good, but they still have the “girl group” sound which is unavoidable. Still, it was pretty good! Sara and Shawn stand for them.
Sara: awesome! Dynamics, versatility, emotion, sex appeal, switched up the groove in the chorus, hit some crazy interesting chords. Well done.
Shawn: Amy was an awesome lead, what boyfriend did you channel? She shakes her head. Strong, passionate, sexy, great job.
Ben: they deliver the song first. Toothless loggers could pull it off if they deliver the song. Gina was a great low end, and the group knew when to drop out to get a dynamic going, when Amy went all out. Loved the chromatic harmonies, the rubbing seconds (I have to look that up, I know what a second is – singing two notes a step apart at the same time, that is, ‘do’ plus ‘re’ or ‘sol’ plus ‘la’, it is discordant and insists that you resolve into something else – but a rubbing second?); impressed, great work.

One of these four will be eliminated. To me it is pretty obvious…

The Fannin Family is eliminated! For a Swan Song they do… oh, I do not remember what they do! [eta: they do a shaky version of “Tomorrow” from Annie] They are cute, and the 14-year-old tugs at the heartstrings, but they really were not in the same league. They have a website and you can find them there and send them a nice message if you like them! Or ask them to sing at your event! Or buy a wristband to support their singing! They seem like very nice people, and they are good singers, I think they would be very enjoyable at a family reunion type of thing!
I appreciate that they set the show up this way. Maybe it lacks suspense – except for me I am on pins and needles worried they will carry someone over because they have a cute 14-year-old and are sweet and are all about family values! But they really do go on the performance and the musical chops, it is so nice to see for a change, it is not about “what will sell” or “who can we make the most money from” or “who is good tv” meaning who throws fits (I am looking at you, Project Runway!) Thank you! Of course, this may not last, but so far it is the same show, with the significant improvement of Sarah.

Now on to the next four…

Urban Method was put together by Tony, who runs a recording studio in Denver. They are more edgy, and include a rapper, Mykal. He is trying to become a famous rapper from Denver. It is strange, I do not think of Denver as particularly “urban” and certainly do not associate it with rap. It must be lonely out there for him! Then again, I have never been to Denver and maybe I am stereotyping it! They sing “Love the Way You Lie” by Rhianna with an eminem rap. It is very very cool! Love the rap and the percussion! All three judges stand! I am becoming more and more a fan of the R&B/rap mash-up.
Shawn: cool, that sounded like a track, he loves the percussionist switched from snare to rim shot (I am not up enough on percussion to catch something like that but I am glad they get credit for it!), rapper Myk was great.
Sara: Myk has star quality, so gelled, theatrical with Katie and Myk, so committed to the performance. Katie as female lead took her time, had so much confidence. Tony did a great job of putting the group together. She loved the end when the arrangement shifted into another groove, fantastic job.
Ben: great rapappela, he loves that a great band can be informed by a studio (I am not sure what that means), sees a star in Myk, he kept up and it is hard to keep it articulate like he did. “Troy, the bass was shaking my ass.”

Cat’s Pajamas are the “show business pros” for this season! Aha, so they do have categories! It is an all male high energy 50s-60s-70s show. They did cruise ships for a couple of years and wanted to be on land, so they went to Branson where they do 200 shows a year at the Dutton. They do “Some Kind of Wonderful.” It is pretty much what you’d expect when you think “cruise ship” and “Branson show.” Very polished, not very emotional. It is like when the Kings Singers do pop music – I always think, “Oh, that is nice, now do something good.”
Ben: really strong, next step is to take a risk and expand artistry. The voices blend wonderfully.
Shawn: loves the bass and the lead, fun, entertaining. How does it translate to a listener who does not see the group?
Sarah: wrote down “super tight package” and she laughs at that, “Well, you know me. Well, you do not but you are going to!” then she does a Queen Elizabeth wave. I love her! “Moving on and please everyone come with me…” she wants to see versatility, what they look like in jeans and t-shirts “and I do not mean that in a weird way either…”
I think they are toast.

Kinfolk 9 is an LA group of extended family and friends from the artist community. They do “Secrets”. They are not perfect but there is something very appealing about them. Moi, the lead, is good, not a powerhouse, but for me a little too visually soulful with the half-closed eyes and swallowing the mike; but that is just me.
Sara: she can see the emotion, well done, good performance; Moi is a good front man, bass Daniel is wow, almost overpowering. They are all powerhouse singers (hmm, I do not think we are using the word “powerhouse” the same way), well done.
Ben: Moi has a beautiful voice with a great delivery, nice work. Jennilee did a great job putting a group together, it will take time to get the blend together. It was an emotional performance, they need to come together technically with blend, that just is a matter of time.
Shawn: some harmony quirks, but he can sense the hunger and desire, they overshot some notes, it comes with time; he felt the energy Moi had, can always fix the technical stuff, but keep the feeling.
They are in trouble!

Vocal Point is a male group from BYU – “the most fun Mormon guys can have on stage.” They make a point of taping them flirting and kissing girls so no one worries they are eunuchs I guess! BYU had a group of girls last year, yes? Or in the first year? Is it anti-Mormon to sing together? The Tabernacle Choir is co-ed! They lost one guy, Ben, three days before because he had to go to Australia to see his father who is very sick with leukemia. They sing “Jump Jive and Wail”. The lead is amazing, completely unexpected – he is a bland guy with glasses and he turns into a brotha! A 50s brotha but still! I love the bass and the arrangement is really good. I can not help but think, if any Mormon had done this song back when this was current, they would have been drummed out of Utah! But now it is ok, I guess time makes it safe! That is true of everyone! The same people who were raised to defy “Elvis is the Devil” ended up thinking punk – or rap, or hip hop, or whatever – was the devil! They did quite well!
Ben: great. Keith, the high note at the end earned the standing ovation, it really drives it home. Loved the high hat beat boxer, the cymbal makes it groove, sounded like a high hat in verse (I did not pick this up but I believe him). Bass lines were great, great job, he wants to use them to teach modulation, they did the modulation very well.
Shawn, how much fun was that? The modulation, twice, was good. He did miss the baritone with Ben being gone. They have infectious energy.
Sarah: so much personality. The song kept morphing; good blend, classic collegiate doo-wop.

I would prefer the Cat’s Pajamas be out, for two reasons. First, I thought they were the flattest performance, not in terms of pitch but in presentation, it was polished and professional and shiny and surface and plastic and dead. And second, they have been professionals for several years now, they have connections and if they are not able to move forward it is because they are limited in repertoire and style and in, well, heart. But Kinfolk 9 was definitely less technically proficient. Still, theirs was the more enjoyable performance, although that is just my opinion. I think they can improve (maybe not in the time period to make it far on this show), but I do not think Cat’s Pajamas can, I think we have seen what they have.

Cat’s Pajamas are out. Wow. I am pleased – not that they are out, I would not mind listening more to them, but in this group of four – actually of the first eight – they are the ones I can do without the easiest! Their swan song is “Bye Bye Love” by Paul Simon!

I am very pleased! But it is not the same warm toasty feeling as when it was on near Christmas, when it was on two or three times in a week, and it felt like something only those of us who were hanging around watching TV while the Cool Kids were off skiing or partying were watching! This is more like Dancing with the Stars somehow. Still, I love Sarah Bareilles, and it is pretty much the same show. It is interesting to me how it makes such a difference when it is shown!

Next week the other eight groups will perform and two will again be eliminated.