The Sing-Off 2011 Episode 1


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.

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