"The Sing-Off": Season 3 Premiere Recap
The Sing-Off, the all vocal competition that premiered on September 19, has returned to NBC for its third season. The show pits sixteen a cappella groups against each other, vying for a $200,000 cash prize and a Sony Music recording contract.
During this first half of the season premiere, eight of the competing groups perform their “signature songs” in order to impress the judges and stay in the game. The show’s judging panel consists of Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men, and Sara Bareilles, who replaces Nicole Scherzinger from the past two seasons.
The show opened with a dynamic group performance of Pink’s “F**kin’ Perfect,” which brought the eight groups together for a collaborative performance that briefly introduced each of the groups competing in this episode.
And now, the competition begins.
First up are the Yellowjackets from the University of Rochester. The group had paid a visit to Kenya, where they participated in a musical exchange. They performed K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag,” and the influence of their trip to Africa was evident in the arrangement of the song. The judges felt that their performance was both lively and emotional, and their tribute to Kenya by waving scarves with the Kenyan flag’s colors was both inspirational and moving.
Next up are a group of eight siblings from the Midwest; the Fannin Family performed “Who Says” by Selena Gomez, and 14-year-old Maria impressed the judges with her strong lead. They had a very good blend, but their performance lacked a lively energy that was present in the Yellowjackets’ performance, which could be attributed to minimal choreography and a lack of vocal percussion (the bass line alone drove the tempo).
Afro-Blue, a jazz ensemble from Washington, D.C.’s Howard University, comes from a long tradition of musical excellence. Their jazzy rendition of Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” thoroughly impressed the judges; they praised Christie Dashiell’s effortless solo and remarked that the group had a smooth sound and a great blend.
The all-female supergroup Delilah, made up of alumnae from past seasons of The Sing-Off, surprised everyone with their sensual and emotional performance of Bruno Mars’s hit “Grenade.” The group’s clever arrangement of the song and Johanna Vinson’s strong bass line were key in the success of the performance.
Following Delilah’s performance was the first elimination of the season. Delilah and Afro-Blue were the first groups to move on to the next round, which left the Fannin Family and the Yellowjackets. According to the judges, the Yellowjackets’ powerful performance featured excellent lead vocals, but tempo fluctuations and a desire on the judges’ part for a more intricate arrangement were what landed them in the bottom. However, quirky harmonies and the lack of different types of voices were what sent the Fannin Family home, and they performed “Tomorrow” from Annie as their swan song as they left the competition.
After an emotional elimination, the next group of four hit the stage to perform for the judges. Urban Method, a “rap-appella” group based in Denver, performed “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna. Their edgy sound and engaging performance, along with Troy Horne’s booming bass and Richard Steighner’s expert vocal percussion, pleased the judges, despite the unimaginative arrangement.
Cat’s Pajamas, a professional group from Branson, Missouri, delivered a cheesy but energetic performance of Grand Funk Railroad’s “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Through their performance, it was clear that these gentlemen are seasoned performers; however, the judges found that the group’s professionalism might have gotten in the way of connecting with the audience, and Shawn expressed concern that their music might not translate well in the studio.
Following Cat’s Pajamas was Kinfolk 9, a group based in Los Angeles. Put together for the express purpose of competing on the show, Kinfolk 9 is made up of solo artists looking to break into the music industry. Their heartfelt rendition of OneRepublic’s “Secrets,” along with Moi Navarro’s emotional lead, stirred the judges, even though there were some small technical problems, such as pitch and blending issues.
The final performance of the night came from Brigham Young University’s Vocal Point. The nine-man group had lost a member three days before the performance; their baritone Ben Murphy flew back to Australia to spend time with his terminally ill father. However, even without Ben, the group gave a fun, lively, and thoroughly entertaining performance, singing “Jump Jive an’ Wail” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
After Vocal Point’s performance came the second elimination of the night. Vocal Point and Urban Method moved on to the next round, leaving Cat’s Pajamas and Kinfolk 9. The two groups seemed to be struggling with opposite problems: whereas Cat’s Pajamas are technically good singers but had trouble establishing an emotional connection with the song, Kinfolk 9 had issues with blending and pitch but were able to show a great deal of raw emotion in their performance. In the end, Cat’s Pajamas were sent home, singing their swan song, “Bye Bye Love” by The Everly Brothers.
The Sing-Off offers a refreshing alternative to American Idol-type singing competitions. Contestants on The Sing-Off rely solely on their voices; every sound you hear is made organically – no autotune, no effects, just pure voices (and vocal percussion). A resurgence of a cappella in popular culture has become evident, with a cappella being featured in commercials, on shows like Glee, and even on Monday Night Football—the same group that lends its vocals to background music for The Sing-Off backs up Hank Williams Jr. in ESPN’s Monday Night Football intros. Will The Sing-Off reach a larger audience than it has the past two years?
Catch part two of the season premiere, featuring the remaining eight groups, on September 26. The Sing-Off airs Mondays at 8/7c on NBC.
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