HomeBlogsWarren B.'s blog5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-5 (Oct. 17): Top 10 (2nd hour)

In retrospect, the second hour is so much more entertaining than the first hour, and so much less stressful to watch (though more stressful to judge, I'm sure). (btw, the irony of the "guilty" aspect of this episode is explained all too well in the first paragraph of Rolling Stone's recap of the episode.) At the open of the episode, we were told that "the top ten groups go head-to-head" for a "double elimination", but it's really five and then another five, so that's disingenuous; I think a literal double elimination from ten groups would've been fairer. Although I know it's a stage management issue (i.e. they can't fit ten groups on stage without it looking like a mob scene), I still find this five-and-five elimination format frustrating and, after the sadness of the last hour, with two groups falling off of their game but only one eliminated, it's a blemish on the integrity of the show.

Anyway, it's Afro-Blue time, and oh my God what a great choice of a song "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" is; such great opportunity for extension-ing an already harmonically interesting song, especially that vi9sus (V/VI) on "when the night falls" (when I hear this song in an ICCA show, that chord pretty much makes or breaks the song for me). Their rehearsals in the video package, as usual, are better than the other groups' competition songs. One of the guys says "We've gotta find a way to keep it fun and still keep our sound-- like, what are gonna do to flip this joint?", which makes me salivate at the prospects, but then Eliza says "There's definitely risk," and then Danielle, misinterpreting the judges' previous feedback, says "We're like, okay guys, let's not jazzify it up too much." BUT THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE AWESOME AT.

Rule No. 3, a/k/a Musical Economics 101: Do what you're best at, and that will yield the best result.

Two episodes ago, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" nearly collapsed because they tried to do something that wasn't their thing, while "American Boy" was the jazziest goddamn thing ever on this show and the judges went bananas. I don't understand where their heads are at all, and now I'm nervous for this new set.

It starts surprisingly empty, and I think I can blame that on the disappearance of the bass, who hits notes off-focus and then quickly retreats for some reason. On the plus side, there's a parade of great solos coming through (all of the women, finally!), and then the bass comes in much stronger on the aforementioned V/VI. The VP isn't very strong here, unfortunately, and for some reason the burden is on him alone to make the transition into the chorus, which would be a bad arranging choice even with a killer VP. The chorus, while technically great and full of energy visually, lacked the kind of full sound we expect from them… and then they turn the bridge into a samba, which while subtle has great features like Latin VP and some tasty moving harmonies in the background…

…and then all hell harmonic hell breaks lose, in a good way. The modulation to the last chorus involves an impossibly loud and clear cascade on a V13sus, and the next 20 seconds are so good it makes me cry.

The two-five-ing and 9sus-ing and minor-ninth-ing of the last chorus is absolutely sublime and took me back to Committed's performance of "Apologize" last season that made Shawn Stockman throw his pad in the air in disbelief. Afro-Blue has returned to form, thank goodness.

Pentatonix, like the now-gone North Shore, also decides to switch songs mid-week. They've put in some impressive performances before, and upbeat goofy pop is their wheelhouse, so we're expecting awesomeness. And we get it.

I can't get over how full their chords are with only two upper parts singing under the lead (three whenever the lead can spare a second). This kind of arranging is almost miraculous, although you have to give credit to their dead-on pitch and the clear, flawless bass. I'm beginning to think that these guys share a house or something and spend every waking hour together, because this kind of visual and rhythmic coordination seems impossible. Ben (and now Shawn) may joke about their futuristicness, but damn, I think these guys really are robots. These guys just became front-runners.

How much perspective do the The Deltones have? I think the line "And it's going to be a bit cheesy, because it's the '80s" says it all. "Born in the USA" (1986) and "Back on the Chain Gang" (1983) are, like, totally cheesy. Roxette's "Listen To Your Heart" seems so out of left field, as it's a song that I tuned out even when it was a hit; it being a guilty pleasure implies some sort of pleasure in the first place. Still, it's an intriguing idea, as it could lend itself to the big-group power-ballading that the Deltones are good at.

The first verse is quite good, with bell tones coalescing over bass fifths into an impressive string section, and it's a very full sound… and then four more people walk upstage who aren't even singing yet, and you realize what an advantage an enormous group like this has, and what a shame it would be to squander it (which the big groups inevitably seem to do). The first chorus is low key but very full; the voicings are tight, although I wish they'd take some more harmonic liberties, as opposed to this progression of triads. The second verse after the modulation answers those wishes, with lots of add2's and suspension, and by the last chorus it's a glorious wall of harmonies supported by solid bass and VP. The look of relief on their faces at the end is well earned, because this sounded quite difficult and took a lot of commitment. Every chord counts, and once it got going, they kept it going. I usually don't insert more than two competition clips per posting, but this one deserves it too:

I wonder why would Ben think that they "don't take [themselves] too seriously" just because of that last group sigh. I didn't see anything but intensity throughout this whole song.

(Nick Lachey has brought back the term "rapapella". Stay out of it, Nick Lachey. And is Bel Biv DeVoe's "Poison" really a "'90s club jam"? Yes, it peaked during the summer of 1990, but we all know the '90s didn't start until August 1991. C'mon now, people.)

Urban Method has made a killer, killer choice with "Poison". This is their song to screw up, because I can't think of a song that could be more up their alley. The iconic percussion intro is almost spot-on, and the equally iconic group swells in the verse are thick. Myke's interjections with the G Rap "poison!" sample is both impressive and hilarious. Things are perfect until the chorus, where the harmonies kinda go nowhere (I'm surprised Tony didn't take the bass somewhere more interesting there). But the New-Jack-Swing inspired choreography makes this impossible to hate, and then Myke absolutely commands the stage on his rap, slow and methodical as it is. (Last year I finally got 3rd Bass's The Cactus Album from iTunes, and listened to his repeatedly, and it's a credit to Myke's skills on "Poison" that I'm just now making the connection between the two.) Yet again, this is clip-worthy:

The backgrounds under Myke are really good too, but then get harmonically static under the chorus again (after an uncomfortable "Me and the crew used to do her" that I'm sure garnered NBC some angry phone calls). At least they end strong, and man, the girls are working it.

(Nick says that this took him back to freshman year of high school, which makes this former boy-band star… three years younger than me. Oh good Lord, this just gets worse and worse. Ben's comments [and subsequent rap] and Shawn & Sara B.'s cabbage-patch are hilarious, but as easy as it is to make light of the line "never trust a big butt and a smile", it's a somewhat sexist take on the safe-sex movement of the late 1980's .)

Wow, this has been a killer hour so far! BYU's Vocal Point, back to full numbers, needs to bring it, and "Footloose" seems like a very unlikely vehicle for it-bringing. I'll be honest: I've disliked this musical hunk of gouda from the moment it leapt onto Top 40 radio in 1984. There's absolutely nothing authentic about this recording, and how do you dance to it without looking like you're either having a seizure standing up or milking a very tall cow? I hope they do something other than the original Kenny Loggins feel, or this is going to be a very cheesy minute and a half.

The opening extended unison in the half-time feel sounds very promising, and then they go into the cheeseball tempo. Ah well. Jake's lead from the get-go is (surprisingly) very methodical, sticking to exact notes where a slide would do-- "Been working so hard" and "what I got" sounds like he's reading it off the page. The little half-time interludes in the channel reminds us how good the previous half-time interlude was, but count for little as the fake rock-n-roll comes back for the chorus. At least the horn stabs were pretty solid! As transcribed a-cappella interpretations go, this isn't bad, but this isn't something that needed to be transcribed.

The chorus, while still cheesetastic, sound quite difficult, and apparently a lot of thought went into the arrangement, which I appreciate-- lots of different interlocking layers going on for just nine people! The bridge is in half-time and feels much more authentic; funny how the "breaks" in the song are the best part. There's a fun guitar-like triad moving up and down by step, and the VP is pretty killer there. On "take a hold of your soul" they start on a lower-voiced V7, which is usually cheesy in and of itself, but then they invert it up, add a screaming falsetto (!), and turn into a fantastic horn stab. But while the final chorus involves lots of jumping and kicking, the background voicing is pretty low in their collective range and doesn't quite match the visual; the ascending figure sounds like a baritone quartet with a single super-high falsetto line in octaves, and the final three measures to the end have a big hole in the groups range you can drive a truck through. Ben Folds later says he's glad Ben (of Vocal Point) is back because of a baritone-ish guitar figure he heard, but the preponderance of baritones is what brought this song down for me.

(Nick's having some Seacrest-like bantering moments tonight! He's really obvious now that he's lot more comfortable than in past seasons.)

Nothing the judges say about "Footloose" convinces me that this isn't the weakest song overall in this bracket. That said, it's says a lot about the strength of this bracket that this song, which would easily have been safe in the first hour, is the clear bottom song for me in this hour.

In this elimination, I'm shocked to see Vocal Point saved early, which means that Afro-Blue and The Deltones, who killed it tonight, are in the bottom two. Anybody other than Vocal Point in the bottom two would be the result of hair-splitting, but Afro-Blue? Really? Well, seeing as there's no way Afro-Blue can leave this early, and Vocal Point isn't in the mix at all, The Deltones have be sacrificed. I get the feeling that the bigger groups are going to get picked off one by one anyway as the judges (and producers) realize that enormous college pop groups that don't already exist on Glee will make for poor record-label artists, so I'm sure Vocal Point will get theirs.

(Nick says that The Deltones are "exiting the Sing-Off stage forever", but if Delilah and Courtney Jensen are any indication, it's a bit hyperbolic to say that.)

The farewell song "Goodbye to You" is big and full but out of tune, and though they nail the obligatory add2 at the end, it isn't the kind of killer tune that makes us beg for them to come back, which is a shame as they shouldn't have been leaving in the first place. Sigh.

Next week, I imagine, there will be a lot of Afro-Blue kicking everyone's asses, and a healthy serving of Delilah clawing themselves out of the the grave they dug for themselves. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease.


About the author:
WARREN BLOOM is a vegetarian libertarian feminist capitalist musician educator. He was a founding member of mixed pop group Spur Of The Moment at Brandeis Univ., sang with Jazz Vocal 2  at the Univ. of Miami (Best College Jazz Choir runner-up, 1997 DownBeat awards), and musical-directed the summer pro group The Hyannis Sound . Upon returning home to New York, he joined the NYC jazz-pop quintet Doo*Wa*Zoo (Best Jazz Song nominee, 2000 CARAs). Since then he's been musical director and/or bass and/or VP for numerous a-cappella projects in NYC, including Dobsonfly (heard in the film The Rules of Attraction ) and Invisible Men  (Audience Favorite, 2005 New York Harmony Sweepstakes; 4 out of 5 on RARB ). He served as a staff arranger for an early incarnation of the Ultimate A Cappella Arranging Service , and was MD, co-arranger and sound tech for Minimum Wage 's Blue Code Ringo at the 2002 NYC Fringe Festival, and arranger for their 2007 off-Broadway production. He spent a year as a composer/lyricist in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop , but left to be director of instrumental music at Talent Unlimited High School  in Manhattan. He currently teaches general music (K-5) at the Robert Fulton School (P.S. 8) in Brooklyn Heights, and has spent nine summers teaching musical theater (middle & high school) at the Usdan Center for the Arts  in Huntington, L.I. "On the side" he's judged 17 ICCA and ICHSA  shows since 2002 (including both 2006 finals), and is a freelance voiceover artist , live sound tech and music copyist. He holds music degrees from Brandeis Univ., the Univ. of Miami and CUNY Hunter College. He's from the beigest place in the world , and currently resides with his cutie and her cat in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The Sing-Off, episode 3-1 (Sept. 19), 1st hour: round 1, bracket 1

The Sing-Off, episode 3-1 (Sept. 19), 2nd hour: round 1, bracket 2

The Sing-Off, episode 3-2 (Sept. 26), 1st hour: round 1, bracket 3:

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-2 (Sept. 26), 2nd Hour: Round 1, Bracket 4

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-3 (Oct. 3): round 2, bracket 1 (1st hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-3 (Oct. 3): Round 2, Bracket 1 (2nd Hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-4 (Oct. 10): round 2, bracket 2 (1st hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-4 (Oct. 10): round 2, bracket 2 (2nd hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-5 (Oct. 17): Top 10 (1st hour)


Deltones, etc.

Thanks for all the commentary/critique on the Deltones these past few weeks.  As one of the arrangers for the group, it's nice to hear someone who knows about things from the theory side.  Especially because we spent so much damn time on the things! I'll look forward to your thoughts throughout the show

bass & arranger, Deltones


Glad you're enjoying the

Glad you're enjoying the blog!  Anyone who can make Roxette sound glorious is a winner in my book, so congrats on that!  You guys have never sounded "collegiate" either, which I appreciate too.  Please tell me you'll all get called back for the finale!


solid! As transcribed a-cappella interpretations go, this isn't bad, but this isn't something that needed to be transcribed.  horoscope du jour gratuit

We'll be there!

And we can't wait. See you around the Brooklyn/NYC aca-scene. -avi

Heh, funny, I considered

Heh, funny, I considered Vocal Point to be, based purely on these 5 performances, the least likely to be eliminated.

C.J. Smith Hempfield HS R# founder/director 03-05 U. of Hartford Hawkapella 05-09 Currently doing many musical things that do not include a cappella groups :-( :-(


Great performance. How much I like how they sing.

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