'The Sing-Off': The best little a cappella show returns

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Image Credit: Tyler Golden/NBC

I have to put all of my biases on the table, here: I really love The Sing-Off. I am a fan. I’ve been there since the beginning and, to me, it’s like the runt of the singing show litter that I just want to protect and make sure it’s happy. But, oh, like its very own judges, I expect the best out of it too. Because I know how great it can be.

The Sing-Off exists in this bubble of a world where it’s not important to be cool. In fact, it’s better not to be. It’s full of questionable matching outfits, silly song choices and more music puns than you could have possibly believed existed. Its host is a former second-tier boy bander, its judges are acclaimed, but not exactly charting anymore, and its productions consists solely of the bodies on the stage and the voices they produce. But those judges are more charming and musically educated than just about any other, that host literally has nowhere else he’d rather be, and those voices can, at times, take your breath away. Who needs cool when you can just have fun? In its earnestness and specificity, The Sing-Off presents a few weeks of television that don’t attempt to change the world, just give you some good and interesting music from some quirky and modest dreamers.

Of course, it’s exactly off the pulse of popular music to feature a fun. medley as the opening number at this point in 2013, but The Sing-Off doesn’t care, and the 10 groups of season 4 sound great! “Some Nights” is full of important arm movement choreography; “We Are Young” is sung by the high school group, Vocal Rush (because the a cappella world is known for its subtlety); Element takes the stage with some handheld pyrotechnics, lest you forget this show is now “from the producers of The Voice”; and Home Free gets a standout intro on “Carry On” because I think they’re being set up to take this thing.

Your favorite jewel-tone-dress-shirt-wearing host, Nick Lachey, introduces the judges as “a cappella aficionado” Ben Folds, “Grammy winner” Shawn Stockman and “platinum singer/songwriter Jewel,” and it’s time to hear some a cappella.

Vocal Rush
Notable names (and blazers): De’Zhanice Kirtdoll, Elvind Limon and Jada Banks Mace; Forever 21’s finest offerings of black, white and red statement pieces keep these kids looking cohesive.
By the notes: The Oakland School for the Arts high schoolers take the stage with such poise and artistry on Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River,” I forget that they can’t get into R-rated movies entirely. Oh, and they step. They step! Ben says Jordan kept a beautiful and focused lead performance and Jewel notes their “righteous anger,” telling them that’s important in youth, in order to bring about change. New girl’s got quotes.

Tidbits with Nick: Did you know Boyz II Men started at a performing arts school? Nick Lachey is here to educate you.

Home Free
Notable names (and blazers): No standout names but soloist, Austin Brown, is dressed like a character from Newsies.
By the notes: These guys are being sold pretty hard as the first-ever country a cappella group, which, probably not. But the fact that they’re a touring a cappella group, presumably making a living, is pretty impressive. And from what I hear in their intro package and have seen in promos, I think they have more to give than what comes across in Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” Ben says he feels the bass in his butt from Tim and Austin carried a confident lead.

Tidbits with Nick: Apparently, basses get all the ladies.

Princeton Footnotes
Notable names (and blazers): Ben Barron and Samson Schatz; these guys had it all in the a cappella wardrobe department: Princeton orange blazers, patterned shirts, madras bowties and oxfords with coordinating laces and soles.
By the notes: Adam, who will one day be your handsome state senator, starts off Taylor Swift’s “Trouble” with a crisp and clear solo and then passes it off to a more pop-y sound that never quite hits its peak. It’s a promising song choice, but as Shawn says, they needed to let loose a little.

Calle Sol
Notable names (and blazers): Their normal-sounding names can’t be changed (easily), but I’m going to need some more variety in the wardrobe department next time, Calle Sol. You thought you could just get away with red dresses and black collared shirts? Not in The Sing-Off’s argyle house.
By the notes: Choosing any early era Rihanna song to show off vocal prowess is an odd move, but at least “Pon De Replay” has fun beats for this all Puerto Rican group. During a dance interlude, the male percussionist and bass step up to the plate while the ladies show off some sassy choreography and Gloria Estefan yells. But as Ben says, bringing something unique to the table can be an asset and a liability and they need to find ways to keep their sound full while they pon de party.

Tidbits with Nick: “Hold that note,” as he throws to commercial. That’s the punnery I’ve been missing!

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