“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 1 Recap: Some Kind of Wonderful

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Well, it’s been a fair bit since I’ve posted here, hasn’t it? (You could plaster a wall with all the posts I’ve started with something to that effect…) Anyways, I still have yet to get to much of my ever-increasing blogging queue, but here’s another project I have to add to that list…Season 3 of the show that made up 90% of my page views last year “The Sing-Off” premiered tonight, and like last year, I’m going to be recapping each and every episode. (Good old NBC has made that harder on me this year by making this an expanded fall season, unlike the previous two which were short winter runs, but that just means more a cappella goodness…and, if you’re a glass half-empty sort, more elimination heartbreak, I suppose…so it’s a win-win.) Tonight half of the 16 talented groups competed, and only 6 advanced to the next round. (They’ll presumably perform again in 2 weeks.) It’s shaping up to be a terrific season so far, and I’m excited to see how it ends up. Plus, SARA BAREILLES! Let’s start with the first group…

  • The Yellowjackets (from Rochester, NY): Hey, I just realized they’re from the New York Rochester. As in the Rochester a good friend of mine is from. (Gee, that only took me about 4 hours…) Anyways, in seasons past, there’s always been a token College Group That I Potentially Somewhat Irrationally Dislike (I may need to work on that name, but I guess it’s fine for now). Season 1, it was the Beelzebubs (who I still derisively call the Devil Children, with much glee), who got on my nerves early on for some reason. Season 2, it was the Whiffenpoofs from Yale (who thankfully made a very early exit). This season…it just might be the Yellowjackets. But maybe not. (There are two other college groups that have yet to perform, after all.) Their intro package was just a bit…overly polished. It seemed kind of soulless, in a way that I can’t quite explain. And as for their rendition on K’naan’s anthemic “Wavin’ Flag,” it was very good, but I didn’t quite dig their soloists, and for me it was a bit too stilted. (I audibly groaned when I saw them take out ACTUAL flags at the end. Seriously?) Sara did bring up an interesting point with her comment about the arrangement, though…I agreed with her when she started saying she thought it might have needed more counterpoint, but then (surprisingly) I also agreed with her when she noted that maybe this particular song didn’t really require that. It is a pretty stylistically simple song, I guess, and putting too many bells and whistles on it might have diluted its effectiveness. That all said, I’m not a huge fan of the Yellowjackets yet, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them go home in the least, but they still have a bit of a chance to win me over. (That is, until they break out something like this. Shudder.)
  • Fannin Family (from Hortonville, WI): You can’t really beat a family in terms of sweetness and charm. (Well, at least a family that actually loves each other. That element’s kind of important. :)) The Fannin Family won my hearts during their intro package, but then…hmmm. Their lead vocalist, brave 14-year-old Maria, gave it all she got, but her voice just didn’t sound developed or distinctive enough. She has the raw power, and when she gets older I bet she’ll sound terrific, but as she stands right now, she’s not quite a cappella-fronting material just yet. She also went a little sharp and shouty towards the end. Add to that a song choice that didn’t quite work (“Who Says” by Selena Gomez, a pleasant enough tune, but not very conducive to an a cappella setting), and some pitch problems throughout, and you’ve got a performance that was full of heart and effort, but a little short on the execution.
  • Afro-Blue (from Washington, DC): I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Afro-Blue, but once I heard the phrase “jazz choir” in their rehearsal footage…I. Was. Sold. OK, not really, but yes, I did go into the performance with higher expectations as a result. Which were promptly exceeded. This performance (of Corinne Bailey Rae’s delicious hit “Put Your Records On”) was absolutely stellar. The lead vocalist worked it (I think there’s even a bit more power in her that she can bring out next time), the arrangement was stunning, inventive, and vibrant, and heck, even the choreography enhanced it all. (I liked the little shuffling effect they did in the latter half.) They have a terrific blend, a warm, unique, vibe, and…I just love them. I can’t wait to see what they do next, and I hope they go even farther than Groove For Thought (last season’s outstanding resident jazzers) did–AKA all the way to the finals. (P.S.: I have heard very mixed things about grits, but I’m tempted to try them now after Shawn’s comment comparing the lead vocalist to warm butter on them. I’ll of course make sure I have said warm butter handy. :))
  • Delilah (from Los Angeles, CA): Before I, y’know, comment on their performance, I must note that every time I hear their name, I think of the insanely catchy jingle for syndicated radio host Delilah (who my mom very much dislikes, and who apparently got dropped in our market 2 years ago? Bummer. I was wondering where she went). I guess it’s ingrained in my brain or something. That aside, let’s get to Delilah the group…whoa. Just whoa. I was awaiting great things for these girls (um, hello, Amy Whitcomb. Need I say more?), but then their rehearsal footage seemed a little all over the place, but I was still excited, and then…brilliance. Amy simply nailed the lead vocals on “Grenade” (is it humanly possible for her to do anything else?), and the harmonies around her were just as bold and fiery. However, it wasn’t just a bunch of loudness or shouting…the arrangement had a breathtaking build to it, and I loved how it started off very slow, deliberate, and intimate. These ladies can pack a punch, but they can also tread lightly when they need to. (Their bass vocalist also did a terrific job, effectively solving the low-end problem that often dogs female a cappella groups.) It’s been long overdue for an all-female group to go far in this competition (I still think Noteworthy was 1-800-Completely Robbed), and I think Delilah could be that group this season.
  • The First Elimination: The judges did the right thing and sent the Fannin Family home…which was kind of a bummer to watch, because they’re all so sweet and endearing and earnest. (Too bad it wasn’t a shock elimination of the Yellowjackets…just me? Yeah, probably.) Their swan song, though (the beloved “Annie” chestnut, “Tomorrow”), was a bit shaky. Their lead vocalists were kind of all over the place. Still, they gave their best effort, and I hope they really go places in the future. (After all, the Osmonds aren’t getting any younger.)
  • Urban Method (from Denver, CO): Oy, here’s where my longstanding anti-rap bias comes to bite me in the behind. I just couldn’t get into this performance. Was it well-done? Yes. Was it visibly committed and full of strength and effort? Of course. Did I like the cool studio-esque effects at the end? Why yes, I did. But all those positives aside…it’s just not my thing. I can’t fault them for taking a relatively new fusion of genres (rapapella, yes?), and doing a great job with it, but it’s incredibly hard for me to get into rap, and that really hindered my enjoyment of this performance. I might get into Urban Method more once they’re not tackling a song originally done by one of my absolute least favorite rappers (the song would be “Love The Way You Lie,” and you should probably know who said rapper is…I’m not going to bother typing his name, quite frankly), but right now, I’m not quite in their corner. (P.S.: Did anyone else get a weird Svengali vibe from the guy who formed the group? He kind of rubbed me the wrong way.)
  • Cat’s Pajamas (from Branson, MO): Full disclosure: I have a good friend that lives in Branson right now and does sound engineering for this group (he also had me watch a few of their YouTube videos, and I was quite impressed), so the Cat’s Pajamas were going into tonight with a bit of an advantage, at least in terms of my personal preference. Still, even without that previous connection, I bet I would have enjoyed this performance just as much. They’re just so incredibly solid…their blend is effortless, their sound is crazy for only 5 singers, and they work together amazingly. They make 50s/60s/70s era music sound cool, in many ways. (I’m generally not a fan of that brand of a cappella fare usually, but the Cat’s Pajamas really bring it to life, in my opinion.) The judges were astute in pointing out that the group could really benefit from some stylistic branching out…I’d like to see how the Pajamas do with a contemporary hit, for example. It’s something to think about. (Also, Sara’s accidentally innuendo-filled critique? Gold. That’s one way to introduce yourself to America…and props to Nick for actually being quick on his feet for once and quipping, “I think Sara wants to see them in their Cat’s Pajamas.” :))
  • Kinfolk 9 (from Los Angeles, CA): Last week sometime, I watched the group performance of P!nk’s “Perfect” that opened the show (I actually missed catching it tonight) embedded in one of the NBC ads online, and I clearly remember not being a huge fan of the lead singer’s voice. That, combined with the intro footage mentioning the fact that Kinfolk 9 is completely new to a cappella, made me a bit apprehensive before their performance. (Their personal stories of hardship and struggle to break into the music industry, however, were very touching.) After all that, though, I ended up being very impressed. I’ve changed my tune on Moi’s lead vocals…his tone takes just a little bit to get used to (it’s very distinctive, kind of like an indie rock vocalist-type voice), but once you get acclimated to it, it’s very intriguing to listen to, and he (along with the rest of the group) really cut to the emotional core of the song. (You wouldn’t think there was an emotional core to an overplayed OneRepublic song [I like their music, but this song has been all over the place], but Kinfolk 9 found it.) Their blend isn’t quite all there yet, but there’s so much potential for growth in that regard, and they had some very striking harmonic moments. (The arrangement was excellent.) Kinfolk 9 needs a bit of time to gel, but I really like what I’ve seen and heard so far, and they have nowhere to go but up.
  • BYU Vocal Point (from Provo, UT): (I had to restrain myself from adding “the best place in the universe” there. :)) So as you know, I’m a BYU student. (More or less.) You may think that that might give me a bit of a bias towards Vocal Point. If you thought so…you’d be correct. I was very, very excited to see them perform, and it probably would have taken a lot for me not to have enjoyed it. Still…they really, really did an amazing job tonight. Their rendition of “Jump, Jive, An’ Wail” was full of energy, fun, and power, and they had a killer blend, some zippy (but not too busy) choreography, and it was just a huge, heaping ball of entertainment. I have to admit as high as my expectations were pre-show, I was worried Vocal Point might seem a bit too buttoned-up (from my previous experiences seeing them perform, they’ve had small moments where that concern came up for me), but that wasn’t an issue at all tonight. Here’s hoping they can keep their high level of performance and energy up even when the songs get more recent, out of the box, and/or low-key. (I’m betting they can.) If they show their versatility as the competition goes on, they’ll certainly be ones to beat. (Rise all loyal Cougars, and hurl your challenge to the fo…oops, sorry. Got carried away.)
  • The Second Elimination: For some reason, I had a feeling that the last two groups in danger would probably be Kinfolk 9 and the Cat’s Pajamas, and my suspicions were indeed confirmed. I also suspected the judges might send the Cat’s Pajamas home, and again…I was correct. The Cat’s Pajamas vs. Kinfolk 9 thing was an interesting conundrum, and although I’m really gutted that the boys from Branson went home the first night out, I see where the judges were coming from on keeping Kinfolk 9 in the competition. I don’t buy the sentiment that the Cat’s Pajamas were soulless or ‘too perfect’ per se…but they’re an incredibly polished, experienced group (even if they don’t perform 200 shows a night, like Ben mistakenly proclaimed at first), and there’s not much room for improvement…they’re really pretty much already there. Kinfolk 9, on the other hand, have tons of potential, and this competition can be an ideal way for them to reach that potential. They can really grow and shine from a few more performances on “The Sing-Off” stage, and although I would have rather had the Cat’s Pajamas stick around, I’m interested to see what Kinfolk 9 does in the weeks ahead.

And that’s all she (or in this case, he) wrote. This was a great start to the season, and just like last season was even better than the first, this season looks to, in turn, be even better than the last. (I’m pretty sure that made absolutely no sense. Ah, well.) Sara Bareilles [insert fanboy squeal here] is a terrific addition to the judging panel (Nicole was really growing on me, but let’s face it, she’s not quite astute-judge material…good luck with her, Simon, on that little talent show you’re doing), full of great constructive comments, as well as wit and (in the case of the Cat’s Pajamas tonight) some unintentional humor. (Nicole was good at that too, I guess, but it always seemed as if she SO wasn’t in on the joke. Ever.) I’m way pumped for Season 3 (yay for more groups and more episodes!), and I’ll see you all next week with a new recap. (I’d better see you before that, too, with one of the many posts on my to-do list.) Thanks for reading!

But wait, there’s more! Here’s a poll to keep you occupied until next Monday… (And as always, comments are much welcomed.)

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