“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 2 Recap: Wicked Game

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I told you I’d be back. Tonight was another great episode of “The Sing-Off.” I have to admit the groups didn’t seem as strong tonight as they did last week, but I was still impressed, and there were some great surprises within the performances. Sad fact: Apparently only 5.3 million people watched the show last week. Let’s hope more tuned in tonight, and that it keeps growing, yo. Tell your friends, your mother, your brother, your lover (OK, I may have tried to make that an impromptu song in my head just now…ahem), whoever you know, that this show is awesome (that is why you’re reading this recap, right? RIGHT?), and they should be watching it. Even if they’re Dancing With The Stars fans like me. (Sniffle…I now have to catch it online every week now. Well, that is, until we get a DVR someday.) And now that I’ve rambled enough, let’s dive into the night’s musical proceedings. After a stellar group performance of “Sing” by My Chemical Romance (I’m glad Nick told us the song, because I honestly had never heard it before), the first group took the stage…

  • Dartmouth Aires (from Hanover, NH): Remember my mixed reaction to the Yellowjackets’ song last week, and how I said they might be the college group of the season that I somewhat irrationally end up disliking? They might have company here in the Dartmouth Aires. Much like last season’s group from Yale, it just feels strange that an Ivy League a cappella group is competing for a recording contract and a cash prize. Thankfully unlike last season’s group from Yale, they didn’t really come off as entitled…but they didn’t seem entirely focused for me. I don’t know, maybe I’m just nitpicking. Speaking of nitpicking…I didn’t love their performance, as you probably expected. But…surprise! I didn’t hate it. It felt a little uneven, both in the harmonies and in the effect as a whole. The soloist didn’t quite rise up to the level that the song required, and it felt like the success level it had was mainly because of the group’s large numbers, and the song choice in general. (You’d really have to work hard to make “Higher Ground” sound bad.) The Aires seemed to be trying a little too hard to look goofy and fun-loving, and their performance didn’t quite hit home with me, but much like the Yellowjackets from Rochester last week, there’s still time for them to make me a fan. (After all, the On The Rocks Memorial Slot for Male College Group I Actually Kinda Sorta Like is still very much up for grabs. Vocal Point, of course, has taken the role of Male College Group I Am Obsessed With, Partly Because They, Um, Are From My School. And yes, I still need to work on these names. :))
  • Pentatonix (from Arlington, TX): I’m still not sure where I stand on this group, or this performance. The group is talented, but I’m not sure they’ve clicked for me yet. Their main lead vocalist (though they used several tonight in their take on Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” which in my opinion is probably one of her weaker songs) has an incredibly unique tone, but I’m not positive whether I love it or hate it. And their blend is striking…but it’s not entirely clear whether they’ve truly found their sound or not yet. So yes…lots of uncertainty. I thought they definitely improved on the original tune (though when it’s a somewhat plodding song about aliens, that’s not very hard to do) with a nice arrangement, and the first half was good, but for me it kind of fell apart in the second half. The latter two soloists they utilized were fairly weak and didn’t blend very well, and I think something funky might have happened with the pitches at a few spots. Where the arrangement and the performance should have built and grown and shined, it really kind of faltered. I have my eyes out for Pentatonix, but I’m just not in their corner yet.
  • Messiah’s Men (from Minneapolis, MN): Their story was touching (they’re a group of Liberian refugees), and also, who knew that Minneapolis had a thriving Liberian community? I really liked these guys, and their vibe was just beautifully warm and unique and inviting. Their take on the classic “People Get Ready” had a very lived-in feel, and it was a very emotionally rewarding performance. That said, there were some significant problems with pitch, and a tiny bit with tone and blend. They didn’t end up really bringing the song down…but they were still there, they still showed, and it proved that while Messiah’s Men have the atmosphere and a true, heartwarming sense of group camaraderie down, the notes and technical issues need to be cleared up a bit before they can truly shine and fulfill their potential as an ensemble.
  • Sonos (from Los Angeles, CA): I’ve made it no secret that I’ve come into this season with a huge bias in favor of a few groups (cough cough, Delilah and Vocal Point, cough cough)…but now I’m going to do the opposite of that and NOT tell you that I was crazy excited for Sonos and I’m totally familiar with them already. Because I’m not. (OK, I lie. I have a few of their songs on my iPod, have listened to and fallen in love with both of their albums, and generally think they’re the bees’ knees. :)) It was nice to see that Sara was similarly fairly forthcoming, noting that she sang in a group with one of Sonos’ members, but making sure that didn’t affect her critique. (She also was a guest artist on Sonos’ first album as well.) I didn’t realize how much Sonos has relied on their effects pedals in the past, but even without them tonight, they really shined. I had forgotten about their take on “Wicked Game” (I watched a video of them singing it on some LA-area radio station a while ago, but it wasn’t very fresh in my mind), and it floored me tonight…the beatbox by Ben was incredible (did you HEAR how fast he was going?), the arrangement was stunningly intricate, and the lead vocals were very distinctive and fairly confident. I did see where the judges were coming from in their comments about how maybe the arrangement needed to be a bit more full…there were indeed times that the three ladies seemed a bit stranded harmonically. I also noticed some strange issue at the end towards the last verse…it seemed like there was an accidental key change, or if it was an intentional key change, it didn’t quite feel that way at all. Sonos showed just what they can do tonight, and I can’t wait to see what tricks they have up their sleeve in their next time out.
  • The First Elimination: I feared a bit for my beloved Sonos, because while the judges expressed some high praise for the group, they also had some clear points of constructive criticism for them to work on, and their enthusiasm seemed just a little bit tempered. However, they held off on truly breaking my heart tonight, and sent Messiah’s Men home. They’re a bunch of really sweet guys, and it was a bummer to see them go so soon, but they just didn’t cut it all the way tonight, and there’s such a high level of competition that it’s hard to really say goodbye to anyone on the show. That said, it was wonderful to see the positive effect that music and being in a group has had in their lives, and I’m sure they’ll continue singing for years to come.
  • This bullet isn’t really about one of the groups. Just gently griping about how Nota (the amazing Season 1 champions) got a full performance last year when they stopped by, yet Committed (last season’s winners) only got a 30-second snippet tonight. Throw us a bone, producers!
  • The Collective (from Nashville, TN): I was very relieved pre-season to learn that Jeremy Lister (the stellar lead vocalist of last season’s powerhouse runner-up Street Corner Symphony) is actually not a performer in this group…because Street Corner Symphony needs to stay alive and thriving forever. (P.S.: They must have an album out. ASAP.) Rather than being in the group proper, Jeremy was the one who brought them all together (literally), and from what we saw in the rehearsal package, also helped them prepare for the competition. The whole “soloists singing together” concept has been a bit shaky in “The Sing-Off” past (remember the hot mess that resulted from the first and only performance by Season 1’s second castoff, Solo?), but I think the Collective might have a chance to prove that that concept can work. I was kind of torn on the tone of the lead vocalist, Ruby…most of the time it was in the right place for me, but towards the end it got a bit shouty and shrill, and her vibrato wasn’t terribly appealing…but she really sold the song (the stellar hit “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele), and the arrangement behind her was very intriguing. I thought it complemented the song well (plus they got the chords right in the chorus! Both John Legend & Glee failed to do so), and although their performance wasn’t anywhere near perfect, there’s a huge amount of potential present for the Collective. They still need to find their voice and their sound, but they’ve got all the makings of a great group, if they can rise to the occasion.
  • Soul’d Out (from Wilsonville, OR): Last year’s resident high school group, Eleventh Hour, never really cut it for me. This time around, Soul’d Out actually did. Maybe it’s just their strength in numbers (a whopping 16 people make up the group), but Soul’d Out really seemed to have their act together…like they rose beyond the level of a high school ensemble in some ways. However, their performance didn’t quite connect, with me or the judges. Their song choice was baffling in my eyes…”Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” is a classic I immensely enjoy, but there seemed to be a huge disconnect between the group and the song they were singing. There are older songs that younger groups can pull off very effectively. This song just wasn’t one of them, and it seemed like a shoe that just wouldn’t fit for most of the performance. However, I disagreed with the judges (or at least Ben) on which part of the song was better. Ben felt that Soul’d Out fell apart a bit during the second half, but I actually thought the “Aquarius” section was weak (it sounded much too traditionally choral), and although the harmonies were slightly hit-and-miss at a few moments in the “Let The Sunshine In” part, I thought it rocked much better, was much more fun, and had some intriguing vocal riffing by the young male lead. Soul’d Out didn’t quite floor me as much as they could have tonight, but I was impressed by their level of maturity and sense of who they are as a group. For a high school group, that’s something you can’t really take for granted.
  • North Shore (from Boston, MA): I really like these guys. They have an effortless group dynamic and blend (the singing together for decades might have something to do with it), their personalities are engaging and unique, and they’re really a joy to watch and listen to. They kind of remind me of Season2’s Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town, but one of the differences here is that Jerry and the boys were already legendary figures in the a cappella world, while North Shore has been singing together for a long time, but faces a harsh economic reality in today’s climate, and has contemplated having to give up their music career if things don’t start improving. That’s a hard situation to see, but hopefully it won’t have to come to that…as Sara noted, North Shore should really never stop singing. Their performance of “Runaround Sue” was classy, energetic, laid-back (but in a very effective way), and all-around good fun. (I have a special place in my heart for “Runaround Sue,” as we sang it in a junior high men’s choir.) I don’t know if they’ll be to hold their own with much younger groups, but I think they can. (After all, Jerry & the Talk went all the way to fourth last season.)
  • The Deltones (from Newark, DE): It’s always refreshing to see a collegiate a cappella group that’s not made up of just guys or girls, and that alone set the Deltones apart at the beginning, at least for me. However, their performance did more than just set them apart…it showed that they’re a major force to be reckoned with in this competition. The song, “Feels Like Home,” is a Randy Newman-penned classic, and it was touching to see in the rehearsal footage about how Jessica (the main lead vocalist tonight) found a true home through this song, and through her experiences with the group. (Lesson from tonight: A cappella music…and music in general…brings about such a great spirit of teamwork and camaraderie. Look at all these close-knit groups.) She brought that emotional resonance to her stunning lead vocal, starting off beautifully vulnerable (thank you, Ben, for pointing that out!), and building to a strong climax. (She had tinges of nervousness throughout the song, but oddly enough most of them ended up enhancing the performance rather than detracting for it.) She has a great tone for a lead vocalist, and it made the Deltones’ performance stand out and be even more poignant than it already was. It’ll be interesting to see how they do with lighter, more upbeat fare, but they certainly have nowhere to go but up.
  • The Second Elimination: Soul’d Out and the Deltones were the last two groups in the second half awaiting their fate, and although they gave a strong showing, I think it was the right choice for the judges to send Soul’d Out packing. They have a nice amount of something special there that I hope they’ll get time to develop. Their swan song wasn’t bad (I don’t know what it was, mind you, but still), and their exit was classy. Maybe somewhere in the future a high school group can make a deep run at the title, but for now, Soul’d Out is off to make more great music in the charming town of Wilsonville.

Once again, the judges were spot-on tonight (and Sara earned her keep very well), and it was a great show to watch tonight, even if there was a little uneven-ness in the Week 2 lineup. Quite frankly, it’s late and I’m getting close to falling asleep on this keyboard now (I can see it: “The Deltones were very aefw;kefjpwiejfoajfpwwjojwofjoweifjoeijfofe [repeat indefinitely] tonigefpiojafw. Am I right?”), so let’s get a quick poll up, along with a promise to see you soon (at the very latest, next Monday) with some new posts, including next week’s Sing-Off recap. Thanks for reading!

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