I never would have expected it (OK, maybe a little, because I’ve learned from 3 seasons of “The Sing-Off” that my expectations are often shattered), but even though tonight spotlighted by far one of my least favorite musical genres…hip-hop…I think it might have been one of the best nights of the season so far. All the groups brought their A-game once again, a group that’s been struggling the past few weeks had a major comeback, and I liked hip-hop much more than I ever have (and let’s face it, probably ever will) in my life. I call that a win. Things started off with a surprisingly rousing performance of “Nothin’ On You” (how did they get that song to sound so good?), and then we kicked it off with…
- Dartmouth Aires (performing “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida): Prepare for the apocalypse, y’all. Because while I still would be very, very glad if the Dartmouth Aires left the competition for good…judges, please grant my wish next week?…I actually kind of liked the Aires’ performance tonight, and (gasp) I thought they did well. Yep. (I can’t believe it either.) Their soloists were a bit weak, but did alright for the song, and their background harmonies, which have been lacking in the past, were much better this week. The arrangement was very smart…it brought some dynamics to the Aires’ typically static sound, it shifted the focus well away from their persistent low-end issues, and there were some pretty cool harmonic moments. I did think their rapper was a bit stiff and awkward (it was a very “white boy” rap, I thought), but that didn’t send the performance too far down in flames. All in all, I have to admit…this wasn’t a performance worthy of elimination. I’m still not a fan of the Aires, and with all their missteps the past 5 weeks, I don’t think I’ll ever be. But like the Yellowjackets last week (more on them later), this bought them some time in my book.
- Afro-Blue (performing “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees): (Afro-Blue made it pretty clear in their rehearsal package that it was also very much inspired by Roberta Flack’s iconic original.) I’m getting to be a broken record by now (hey, at least I wasn’t a broken record this week with the Dartmouth Aires…), but…wow. This was phenomenal. The soloist was so smooth…the arrangement was so clever and inventive…the harmonies were so tight…it was full of surprises, full of flavor, full of originality…simply put, as has been the case with all of Afro-Blue’s previous perfomances, I LOVED it. They ticked all of the boxes and then some, and showcased that they’re really a group to beat in this competition. They haven’t had a significant pitfall yet, and if they can keep this up, “The Sing-Off” Season 3 is their game to lose. I just can’t enough of them, and that’s a great sign at this stage of the season.
- The Collective (performing “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo): The arrangement was a nice one, their blend continues to improve, and there were no crazy pitch issues out of thin air as was the case last week…but there was something slightly off with this performance, and I think I know what it was. The Collective has really unified as a group over the past weeks, but that unification has exposed a problem for me–that their sound isn’t all that distinctive. Their intonation just seems wonky…and while their singing has heart, there’s no overall warmth to their group vocal tone. (I hope I’m making just a tiny bit of sense.) I want to love them, and I applaud the steps they’re taking forward in their journey as an ensemble, but I can’t see myself buying a Collective CD at this point. There’s no hook in their sound, and there needs to be if they truly want to be contenders in the a cappella world. They did a nice job with this song, and I enjoyed their performance, but it just didn’t grab me like it should have.
- Vocal Point (performing “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans & 112): I was in complete agreement with the judges here (it’s quite nice when that happens). This was an incredibly moving performance, and, well, for the first time this season, Vocal Point had some pitch issues. It happens sometimes. Like Ben, Sara, and Shawn, I thought the way the boys of Vocal Point nailed this song emotionally trumped any problems they might have had with notes, and I felt that whatever weaknesses they might have displayed didn’t get in the way of the effectiveness of the performance. The arrangement was beautiful, and Vocal Point gave their all. You can’t ask for much more in this situation, really.
- The judges sent The Collective to the first-ever “The Sing-Off” Sing-Off Battle (try saying that five times fast…), to fight for their life in the competition at the end of the show, and I think it was the right choice, even though I was very much hoping the Dartmouth Aires would get a surprise ticket to the Bottom Two. (A zebra can’t change its stripes, y’know. :)) I think the Sing-Off Battle concept is a very intriguing idea, and unlike past reality shows that have struggled with the concept (“Dancing With The Stars” tried it out to mixed results in their 8th and 9th seasons), it really works for this show, at least at this point in the competition. It gives groups that disappointed in their main performance another chance to prove why they still deserve to move forward, and with this many talented ensembles and this much pressure, that can only be a good thing. (Unless…oh, more on that later.)
- Urban Method (performing “Airplanes” by B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams): I have to say I’m glad Urban Method switched to this song, given the fact that I had not heard of the first one they picked whatsoever. Hip-hop week is definitely in Urban Method’s wheelhouse, and their rehearsal footage hit home very hard the realization that they needed to shine in this genre, seeing as it’s their musical home. For the most part, I think they did…this song translates well to the a cappella setting, and Urban Method put together a really cool arrangement. (The cricket sounds and the ticking percussion were impressive touches that really helped the performance stand out.) I do agree with Sara and Shawn, though, that the two female soloists just weren’t strong enough. Hayley Williams sells that song, and these soloists, I thought, approached the vocal just a little bit too gingerly. Ben also made an astute point that the background vocals were kind of in the same range as the solo at some points, too, which made the harmonies sound a bit empty at a few parts. This was a nice job by Urban Method, and they certainly proved they can still cut it in their own home genre, but I’m not sure I completely loved it.
- Pentatonix (performing “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West): This is probably one of my favorite Kanye songs (and by “favorite Kanye song” I mean “song I don’t completely hate,” not “song I actually have on my iPod” or anything of the sort), and Pentatonix absolutely NAILED it. The arrangement was spectacular and did an outstanding job of creating a breathtaking atmosphere, and balancing the original song with Pentatonix’s own unique spin. Scott, whose lead vocals I’ve been occasionally ambivalent on in the past, delivered a top-notch, passionate solo. And like the judges noted, every member of the group shined…all the parts came together just perfectly. Like I said last week, Pentatonix just keeps getting better with each performance. Their formula is stellar, and I can totally see them doing a great job with a recording career. I started off the season with mixed feelings about them, but at this point, it’s official…I’m a huge fan.
- Delilah (performing “How To Love” by Lil Wayne): Now this is the Delilah we know and love. After floundering last week with “Flashdance” (and, if we’re being honest, two weeks ago with their take on
“You Can’t Hurry Love”just kidding, it was “Heatwave”…thanks, B_O_o, for pointing that out!), the girls of Delilah really delivered tonight. The passion was there, the notes were there, the solo was strong…by the end of the performance, I had goosebumps. The harmonies were beautiful, and the group brought a new depth to a song by Lil Wayne, of all people. (They also did it largely without vocal percussion, which is impressive, and a daring choice to make on hip-hop week. The usual vocal percussionist took on one of the solos, and she did a fine job, I thought.) Delilah showed a great deal of heart and soul tonight, but what’s more, they displayed the musical chops to back it up. It was a great return to form for them, and I’m very happy to see that they’re back on track.
- The Yellowjackets (performing “The Show Goes On” by Lupe Fiasco): It’s hard to hate a group that spent most of their intro package talking about their work with adorable kids in need in Kenya…and for that matter, I definitely don’t hate them. However, unlike last week, where I liked their performance and found it great fun…this week, it was back to mediocrity for the Yellowjackets, in my eyes. They seemed to be stuck at one volume (which is weird, as they usually do well with dynamics, I’d have to say), their intonation wasn’t quite up to scratch, and they definitely had some major rushing issues. It was alright, but it wasn’t anywhere near great. I don’t see the Yellowjackets lasting much longer if they keep things at this level. They have to be better.
- And thus the judges granted my wish, and the Yellowjackets landed in the Bottom 2 and were sent directly to the Sing-Off Battle. Both groups took on Nelly’s “Just A Dream,” and…dang it. I have to admit it. The Collective kinda choked, and the Yellowjackets were better. I can’t lie. The former group seemed off in pitch from the beginning, and it took until about halfway through for their performance to click. The latter group, meanwhile, had some nice harmonic touches, and displayed a bit of improvement in their blend. The Yellowjackets brought it when they needed to, and unfortunately, the Collective just didn’t. It’s a shame to see them go (especially when I was so close to seeing one of my least favorite groups get the boot), and their swan song was one of the best of the season (I’d buy that version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” in a heartbeat), but hopefully they have good things ahead of them.
And then there were 7. Next week (at least according to the promos and Nick’s closing spiel) is some sort of superstar medley/Halloween-type hybrid, so that will be very interesting to see. (I might have to once again catch it on Hulu, since it’s Halloween and all, and there won’t be much time for evening TV between the festivities that are likely to take place.) Make sure to enter the Anniversary Week giveaway (all you have to do is comment!), and many thanks for reading. As always…a handy, dandy poll: