* * *Tonight’s show opens on Movie Night with “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing. It’s very safe, with heteronormative duet couplings and a lot of basic a cappella backgrounds. Don’t worry, the sparkly dresses are back, this time on Vocal Rush. Jewel will be coaching the groups tonight, and Nick tells us that all of the groups will be going to Ultimate Sing-Offs tonight. (So then...what’s the point of having them sing in the first place?) They’ll do two eliminations tonight. Nick introduces the judges as “Ben – the brain, Jewel – the beauty, and Shawn – the vocal muscle.” I rage.
Jewel visits the “teams” to announce the Movie Night theme. I assume all the songs are Sony or NBC/Universal (I’d look them up in the Songfile database if I really wanted to waste time on a website I helped build in 2005.)
Home Free is first tonight, and they’ll be singing “Pretty Woman” by Ray Orbison. I’m not the only person who can only think about Campbell v. Acuff-Rose when they hear this song, right? The group says they like “chick flicks” so that’s why they picked the song. Jewel comes by to advise them to make sure the song doesn’t just pass by as a toe-tapper. The performance is pretty good with an excellent walking bass line, but basically has no emotion until the end when they break it down. Austin doesn’t communicate emotion with his face. It’s weird. Ben liked the “hey” shouting and appreciated hearing all the styles together. Shawn thought the arrangement was smart and fun (eh?) and that they have mastered tight harmony. Jewel thought they got through difficult transitions well and that Tim danced nicely in the opening number.
Up next is Vocal Rush. Assigned “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins, the kids have a pillowfight to relax after the last show. Jewel comes the next day to advise them, and she wants them to “ride a volcano.” I’M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION. She wants them to continue to show range and play with the sculptural texture of the song. This is also known as “using dynamics.” Kyana starts off with the solo and I basically have no more words because she’s so good. Her solo transitions into VP and Jordan picks up the lead. These kids just don’t know how to half-ass anything. They’re so powerful. Shawn loved Jordan’s vocal control and Kyana’s transition into VP. Ben likes how despite their imperfections, it’s within their ability to overcome these technical issues. Jewel commends them for not knowing how not to be emotionally honest.
Sidenote: Jewel said something in the coaching about which I want to go further: no group has shown them they can really create something three-dimensional with an arrangement. There have been past groups – PTX and Afro-Blue among them – that have really given me sincere moments of stop-in-my-tracks awe in previous seasons of this show. Nothing has done that for me so far. Sure, I love Vocal Rush, but nothing they’re doing is musically surprising to me. This, for me, is what has been most frustrating about this season. This show brings a cappella to the masses, but it seems...dumbed-down post-Pitch Perfect.
The acoUstiKats are still in this competition and I had kind of forgotten. They’ve faked a bachelor party for their newly engaged member and it’s pretty cheesy. Tonight they’ll be singing “Old Time Rock ‘n Roll” by Bob Seeger. They make comments about Jewel being pretty and potentially wearing their underwear in front of her. Great! The Kats start to sing and the solo is sharp. They are being hammy and not actually singing well. Shawn thinks that the harmonies wavered during the choreo. Ben found the transitions good but wasn’t sold on that many styles of music in a song about rock and roll – he wanted more rock. Don’t we all, Ben?
Tonight, singing the worst Aerosmith song they never wrote but performed way too often, The Filharmonic will continue their work of body-rolling into the hearts of American girls everywhere. They tell a story of traveling to an asteroid with graphics that I definitely drew on HyperCard in 1994. Jewel wants to be able to feel who they’re singing to. I do love Joe’s voice when he takes over the solo, but the VP is weak and the background basically doesn’t exist. It sounds so thin, and the lower key takes power away from the key change (and the song itself.) They show token shots of Asian girls in the audience cheering. Jewel loves how they “started that a cappella.” IT’S ALL A CAPPELLA, JEWEL! Shawn felt emotion during the performance and liked that they tailored the song to their voices. I did not. Joe cries during judging, ensuring that they probably won’t go home tonight. Nick tells him not to be ashamed for crying. I think that’s nice? Or it’s totally patronizing, not sure.
VoicePlay is up next, signing “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds. You may remember this from The Breakfast Club, or from the penultimate scene in Pitch Perfect. Jewel would like Honey to be more honest, and wants to take her hurt. This is creepy, but even the guys in the group are crying (so much crying this episode!) There’s lots of vocal tricks in this arrangement, but they’ve lost the center. They also tend to do this weird hunched over davening-style back-and-forth movement when they sing, which I think works fine in live performance for rocking out but it really makes it hard to connect to them on TV. Shawn wanted the “lalala” moment to be more front and center. Ben liked that they took off pieces of their high school identity to move forward. Jewel thinks Honey let her honesty come through and liked the polyphony in the arrangement.
Finally tonight we have Ten singing “Skyfall” by Adele. Jewel tells them they have a great opportunity to provide atmosphere around the solost. This song is basically right in their wheelhouse. DeeDee is singing with a reserved elegance. They create some nice texture in the background parts with neat military cadence rhythms. Emoni comes in and ratchets it up with a keychange. The VP is unfortunately muddy, but there’s a great call-and-response with the keychanges. Ben comments that they are so good at executing an arrangement that he wants to hear them with a band. Jewel loved the reserved quality of DeeDee’s solo. Shawn notes how each show they’ve gotten better, and that DeeDee commanded attention when she sang.
Time for the three Ultimate Sing-Offs, which are really just an excuse for groups to pair up and sing with each other. First up is acoUstiKats v. VoicePlay. The Kats say they have a wall of sound as their secret weapon, and VoicePlay says their cleverness will win. I think both groups are going home (despite what I actually want to happen) so I’m not sure it matters. Their song is “Eye of the Tiger” and they do some funny choreo involving fake teeth flying from a punch. It’s much more like a group number than a sing-off. We get our first pseudo-dubstep breakdowns of the season here.
Next is Vocal Rush v. Ten, singing “Fame” by Irene Cara. (I’m told that Oakland School of the Arts is going to be doing Fame as their spring musical this year!) This is the perfect song for them, but I thought it would be better. The sound is off from the video at one point. The groups pull together well at the end. Jewel thought the rhythm changes worked really well and loves Sarah’s voice (duh.) Shawn talks about the choir room in his high school with “75 blowers” and loves the vocal acrobatics. He also points out the great work that Sydney did on solo.
Final performance tonight is The Filharmonc v. Home Free. They’ll be singing “I’m All Right” by Kenny Loggins and I cannot for the life of me figure out why this song so I’ll blame it on NBC execs. The first lines sound kind of like the chorus of the Saved by the Bell theme song. They do the achey-breaky-heart in one part, and then go into a VP battle. (Ben later will say it’s America’s first beat-box-off, to which lots of my Twitter friends responded “not if you’ve ever been to an ICCA show where the judges take too long! It’s true, it happens fairly frequently.) The whole thing is super fun. The judges all loved the silly gopher move by Rob, and my boyfriend giggles and says “that’s a GIF” when Shawn gets up and wiggles, too. Jewel likes how the groups kind of swapped personalities.
The judges announce that Vocal Rush, Home Free, and Ten are all safe tonight. To which I also say duh. The final three left are The Filharmonic, VoicePlay and acoUstiKats. Though I want VoicePlay to stay because I think they are musically stronger than The Filharmonic, the judges send VoicePlay and acoUstiKats home. Goodbye college boys, goodbye davening dancing!