Thursday, December 12, 2013

PARTY ON GARTH, PARTY ON WAYNE: Saray with The Sing-Off, night two:
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Tonight is “Party Anthem” night on The Sing Off, so obviously the big group number starts with Ten singing “Let’s Get it Started” by the Black Eyed Peas. The acoUstiKats and Calle Sol join in quickly after, and the judges all put on light-up sunglasses. Vocal Rush chimes in with Ke$ha’s “Die Young” and Home Free countrifies it up with some nice bass tones. Street Corner Renaissance is as adorable as ever doing the step-touch in the audience. Element is in the middle of the audience, and VoicePlay on the other side and both chime in for a verse and a chorus. Notice how it’s a “group number” but a significant number of people are not singing for a lot of the song – this is how they make it interesting without having to rewrite too many sections for each group. The Filharmonic runs on stage and their lead singer gets to sing with Honey from VoicePlay to fill out the sound, and now we’re in “Please Don’t Stop the Music”. But they do stop the music, and it’s time to go. Title credits!

Remember how last night I said I would try to write shorter about a cappella? Sorry. You get 2,000 words tonight.

Nick comes on to remind us that these groups won’t have “a single instrument backing them up.” I think we’ve got it, Nick. In case you forgot between yesterday and today, we get clips of The Princeton Footnotes being eliminated. Now I know that NBC thinks we have lizard brains. Nick introduces the judges and points out how sexy Jewel looks tonight. Oh good, I’m mad already! (Seriously, a better option would have been “Jewel, you did great It’s ok though, Nick has saved me with a terrible “B-Y-O-pitch pipe” joke. Now we’re in a weird clip package where a bunch of music nerds are trying to convince us that they can look cool while partying. I don’t buy it, nerds, but you’re all adorable with a piñata so I’m charmed.

First up tonight is Vocal Rush. They were strong last night so I’m excited to hear them on “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C&C Music Factory. They’re showing the rehearsal process and awwwwww, some of their parents had to leave and there’s tears and now I might cry! They’re just high schoolers who want their dads! Time to sing. And YES, that’s Sarah Vela singing the “everybody dance now” line – I told you she was good! The arrangement shows their strengths, and ends with Sarah soloing and a diminuendo (getting quieter) super high, which is very hard to do. Jewel points out that it was a challenging start to the song to have Sarah just sing her line cold. Shawn acknowledges Vocal Rush’s vocal percussionist (who is a girl! It’s a rarity in mixed groups to have a girl VP.) If you want to hear more of Sarah Vela, please go download the first Vocal Rush track they ever released, “Let Us Be Loving.” It is incredible.

Home Free tells us they do a lot of “step touch” and struggle with dancing. We get some cute clips of Calle Sol trying to help them and Rob from Home Free saying “my hips lie. They don’t tell the truth.” It’s actually quite sweet that they were helping each other, and I’m glad to see some of the collaborative spirit I’ve heard that happens backstage. A quibble: Nick says Home Free is singing “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts, but it was originally a rock song written and performed by Tom Cochrane and was a hit (well, in Canada.) Their version is high-energy and their bass is so strong. Ben likes Adam, the VP, because it’s “tasteful”.

VoicePlay is up next, and talks about how they were worried last night when they didn’t do as well as they’d hoped. Performing “Play that Funky Music”, they look more polished than last night. The arrangement is pretty simple, just a rhythm section plus a trio on top, but the breakdown is tonally more complicated, which is good. Honey is injecting soul into this group and it is good, because without her it would be so staid. Ben notes that the method of the group seems to be that they jump from style to style, and that it worked well in this song.

Note: before commercials, we’re getting a lot more backstage interviews and judges’ chats than we ever have in previous seasons. I like this new feature, as it gives you more insight into the process of this show.

Our oldest group, Street Corner Renaissance, is up next. We get a great clip of them “partying” with poker in their hotel room. And then, Kyana, the VP for Vocal Rush, is adorably trying to teach Sonny how to beatbox. I love them all. SCR is going to sing “Do You Love Me” by the Contours, also known as “that song from Dirty Dancing.” Anything associated with Dirty Dancing is good with me. SCR can safely go back to something in their wheelhouse because of the song they sang last night. They twist when they sing about the twist but don’t mashed potato when they sing about the mashed potato! I demand a mashed potato. There’s a lot of other adorable dancing, though. The arrangement is good but not as strong as last night’s. Shawn loves that SCR has shown that there is life in music for people of every age, which makes me happy.

Our lady group, Element, will be singing “Raise Your Glass” by Pink. The package focuses a lot on how they are evolving as a new group, and figuring out how to work together. Rachel, their VP, is helping people modulate consonants so that they can get the sound they want. This is something that happens in a cappella groups all the time – an arranger will write in syllables for the background parts and modify them when it doesn’t produce the sound they originally intended. The ladies are dressed in short sparkly dresses again, which is just about driving me mad. Dear Sing Off wardrobe: all-female does not have to equal sparkly dress with high hemline. Notice how Jo, the bass, holds the mic sort of up to her nose instead of her mouth. She gets a more resonant sound that way. Element gives us a key change in the middle of the song, and hey – I can’t believe we’re halfway into the second show and this is the first time we’re seeing a key modulation in the middle of a song! Ben wants them to have more focus in the beginning of their arrangements. Shawn is amazed that they move well in their heels. Shut up Shawn.

Doesn’t the set look better than it used to? I think they put more money into it. Anyway! Up next is the acoUstiKats (ugh that capitalization) and they talk about being a frat a cappella group at a party school. Zzz. One of their moms comes in to help them with choreography. They sing “Hey Ya” by Outkast. I miss Outkast. Come back to us, Outkast! Anyway. I think these solos aren’t as strong as they were last night, and the arrangement has a whole lot going on. It is rushing. There’s some Polaroid pictures and yep, another key change. Humans are naturally ingrained to respond to key changes, so I’m not surprised that groups are using them. Ben thinks that the groups are rushing the 4 into the 1 (this song is 4/4 time, and means that a measure that has 4 beats. Ben thinks that beat 4 of the first measure is running into beat 1 of the next measure.) He encourages them to enjoy the beat.

Latin’s up with Calle Sol. The group is working to fill the lower sound that the judges said was missing last night, so their VP is going to do some singing and one of the women is learning to beatbox. They’re singing “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin. This is a party anthem? Ok, sure. The ladies are wearing short sparkly dresses. Thanks, wardrobe. They’ve slowed down the beginning of the song, but it doesn’t help the clear weaknesses in this group – the singing. It sounds weak and empty in the background parts. Yes, they can dance, but ultimately, this is a singing competition. Shawn points out that the dancing and singing at the same time wasn’t working. Jewel points out that the transitions between the three sections of the song were really weak, and that they needed to be stronger to take them from one point to another. The group walks off stage in tears. Oof.

Ten will be performing next. It’s Emoni’s birthday and the group is celebrating with cupcakes. They joke about how their word for the next performance is “cohesive.” For a new group, they’re already pretty cohesive! Ten is performing “Hot in Herre” by Nelly. Awesome, now I feel like I’m back in college in St. Louis, holla! The arrangement opens with some gorgeous chords. Not that I could ever understand the words with Nelly, but the male soloist needs more enunciation. I do love when Emoni sings above everyone else with her accent lines because her voice is incredible. Nick: Ben, why didn’t you take your clothes off? Ben: Nick, you know I don’t even begin to defrock until it’s 98 degrees. BURN. Ben is feisty tonight. Jewel also loves Emoni’s lines above the group! Right before commercial, the judges talk amongst themselves about how Ten needs to pick the right “record.” Are the Grammys paying them to say “record”?

Our final performance of the night is Filharmonic. I thought it was pretty obvious last night that they’re being packaged well, so I expect good work. They’ll be singing “This How We Do It” by Montell Jordan. They say they’re going to put some “chocolate covered strawberries” in it but that sounds really creepy. I love this song, though, and the group has so much energy when they perform. I wish there was more texture in the arrangement than just held “ahh”s. There are some beautiful bell tones going into and out of the bridge, though, executed incredibly well. Shawn points out some key problems from the soloists.

Deliberation time! We have all the groups on stage this time – no more sectioning. The bottom two groups will sing in the Ultimate Sing-Off. The final four are Vocal Rush, Calle Sol, acoUstiKats and Element. I honestly feel like the judges are just making up criticisms of Vocal Rush because they need to say something – they are just too good. Calle Sol and acoUstiKats will be performing in the Ultimate Sing-Off to see who goes home tonight. I’m surprised – the criticism of Element was pretty harsh. My guess is that Calle Sol will go home; they won’t send home both collegiate groups in a row.

The groups are singing “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson in battle tonight. This feature seriously works so well. Tough key for the men, but the tenor soloist of the acoUstiKats holds it down. Calle Sol injects Latin beats into the song but their soloists are weak. The groups blow kisses at each other after, though, so yay, everyone still loves each other. Nick says they “left it all here on the table.” Can we come up with another metaphor or is he going to say this all season?

Ben says the acoUstiKats had emotional intensity, but that it dragged the performance down. He thinks that Calle Sol had more focus that they hadn’t heard previously. Shawn knows how hard both groups have worked, but doesn’t say anything actually substantive about the groups’ performances. It comes down to Jewel to announce that the judges have saved the acoUstiKats and that Calle Sol will be going home. Again, the right decision for the judges! This is nothing like the year I totally lost it when Pitch Slapped got sent home stupidly early.

Tomorrow we get two more hours of “number one hits.” In the meantime, you can watch Sarah Vela of Vocal Rush sing “Wrecking Ball” with VoicePlay here. Isn’t that what you always wanted? See you tomorrow!


  1. victoria9:04 AM

    Talent level on the whole seems to be ridiculously high this season!

    Like you, I was totally annoyed by the costuming for Element (more so than Calle Sol, because their costumes at least looked somewhat appropriate for Latin dance). It seemed to me like many/most of them were having a hard time moving around without wardrobe malfunctions. And, I mean, it's Pink. Let 'em wear jeans!

    Filharmonics were my favorite of the night, but I really enjoyed Ten, Home Free, Vocal Rush, and VoicePlay too. I think Element and the acoUstiKats are not long for this world.

  2. Saray9:25 AM

    Sorry guys, I swear I meant to finish writing this sentence: (Seriously, a better option would have been asking “Jewel, you did great last night in your first time judging the show. What was your favorite moment?" or something substantive like that.)

  3. Saray9:44 AM

    Victoria, I agree, and it's something I meant to write: the song was Pink, and it would have been thematically appropriate to let them dress like badasses in jeans or something like that.

  4. Tom Hanks should be paying them to say "record record record."

    I'm not sure, I didn't grab my guitar, but I'm pretty sure that Home Free modulated out of their breakdown, and that the modulation in the P!nk song is actually IN the P!nk song.

  5. Heather K6:27 PM

    Yay! I love these posts. I did have a question that I have wondered about.

    You mentioned in your first one that the show has arrangers for the final battle (or I interpreted something you said as that), but who does the arrangements for the groups? I'm assuming it is each group for their selves, either by committee or by one or a few members. Do you think any of them are allowed coaching or help for that? I mean we saw choreography mom, does the high school have a teacher or coach?

  6. Saray9:53 AM

    Heather - there is a staff of 5 arrangers on TSO. They also act as coaches. Sometimes groups have existing arrangements (such as acoUstiKats with "Blurred Lines") that the arranging staff on the show just punches up. Most of the time, however, (like with Ten, I'd imagine) the group has no arranger, and so the arranging staff writes the full arrangement.

    Vocal Rush is directed by Lisa Forkish, their teacher at Oakland School for the Arts. Lisa was in University of Oregon Divisi (actually the original inspiration for the Barden Bellas) and she's a phenomenal arranger. "Bottom of the River" was her arrangement (they've sung the song in competition) but I'm not sure about anything else they've done so far. I'm also not sure if she's been able to "help" them on the show. I know she was in LA for at least part of the taping, but not sure how involved she was.

    P.S. Sorry my recap's going to be late today - I wrote the whole thing last night and then left it on my home computer. Silly me.

  7. We have finally caught up with the Sing-Off, after a DVR problem during night 1. So glad to have the Sing-Off back and these posts just add to the joy!

    We have generally agreed with each of the decisions on sending teams home, but have had more disagreement with comments than in most year. In particular, we were surprised not to hear harsher criticism of Element during night 2, and also surprised to see the level of criticism levied at Ten, whose performance we really enjoyed.