Home"The Sing-Off" Season 2, Episode 1: Recap

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[[SPOILER ALERT!]]

I’m so excited about this season of NBC’s "The Sing-Off". This season promises to include a lot more of everything - more groups, more singing, and more performances. The stage last night was packed full of vocalists from high schoolers to college students and even a 66-year-old vocal legend. This promises to be one hell of a season!

The premiere was two hours long, and in lieu of that, I promise that I will try to keep this short – a few sentences for each group’s performance. First I want to welcome back the judges – Ben Folds, Nicole Scherzinger, and Shawn Stockman. I’m excited that they all stayed around for a second season.

The first group up was Eleventh Hour. Being a high school group, these kids are the youngest to appear on the show, and they certainly have the potential to be a force to be reckoned with. I thought that their performance of ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber was impressive even for non-high school groups. The soloist had an unbelievably mature voice. The arrangement was great, and the bass/perc, as Ben Folds said, was really in sync. The group should be very proud!

Next up was On the Rocks from University of Oregon. This group is best known for their video of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ that received millions of views on YouTube. So it seems only fitting that they would perform that song on The Sing-Off stage. This group reminded me a lot of Tufts from last season. They are the ultimate performers – they had a big sound (though sounding a bit jumbled at times), amazing energy on stage, and that helped them put on an wonderful show. However, coming from On the Rocks, the performance wasn’t too impressive – it was everything I expected from them. Take that how you will.

The third group that took “The Sing-Off” stage was Groove For Thought from Seattle. Now, I was lucky enough to be picked to write a profile on this group before the show started, so I’ve been looking forward to them for a while now. And they didn’t disappoint, especially picking a song by one of my favorite vocalists of all time – Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish.’ Their jazz influences were certainly pulsing throughout the entire arrangement. The tightness of their harmonies was very impressive, and the soloist really did Stevie Wonder justice. As Shawn said, it was “pleasurable.”

Pitch Slapped from Berklee College Of Music grabbed their mics next. These guys bring a great technical knowledge of music to the show, as many of them play multiple instruments and, of course, study at Berklee. Sometimes, that kind of technical knowledge can be a hindrance. Their rendition of ‘Good Girls Go Bad’ by Cobra Starship was certainly exciting (in more ways than one). But honestly, I thought that the beginning of the song was pitchy in the female sections. Nicole and I agreed that the background vocals were lost at times. Pitch Slapped would be sent home at the end of the first half.

We’re halfway through with the second group I profiled before the show – Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town. I was really excited to hear this group because Jerry Lawson is a legend among the a cappella world. If you don’t know who he is, look him up, or read my profile on JL/TotT. Singing ‘Save the Last Dance’ by The Drifters, the self-proclaimed Godfathers of A Cappella commanded the stage. I don’t care who you are, Jerry Lawson’s still got it! The group keeps it simple, tight, light, and breezy. None of these complicated arrangements and effects like many groups do these days. These guys have class that will take them far into the competition.

The second half started with the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the oldest a cappella group in the country. Just because they’re the oldest group doesn’t mean they’re the best – but they sure acted like it! They sang ‘Grace Kelly’ by Mika and, boy, what an arrangement! Starting and ending as a classical men’s choir like Chanticleer, they interrupted their choral sound with an exciting flurry of vocal harmonies, vibrant dynamics, and modest staging. The guys really put on an incredible performance.

The next group came from Cherry Hill, NJ – Men of Note. MoN brought a classic to the stage – ‘For the Longest Time’ by Billy Joel which I think was a bad choice. It’s a fairly generic arrangement with a few extras thrown in here and there. I feel like they were trying to focus more on staging than the music itself, which is really unfortunate. Regrettably these guys won’t get a second chance to prove themselves on the show.

Representing Nashville, Street Corner Symphony was the next on “The Sing-Off”. The guys took on a nice arrangement of Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears (that may have sounded very familiar – Hyannis Sound anyone?).  Their vocals were nice, though obviously strained at the end. The unison ending was risky, I thought, but their blend made it a risk worth taking.

The Backbeats from L.A. appeared next. This group’s only reason for forming was to compete in “The Sing-Off” (an idea I wish I had followed up on). The group performed Beyoncé’s ‘If I Were A Boy’ and they performed it well, to say the least. The vocals were full, in tune, and dynamic. The soloist really took charge of the stage, though the beginning seemed a bit low in her range. And I have to give my props to the female percussionist. Keep it up, girl!

The last group was Committed from Alabama, performing ‘This Love’ by Maroon 5. The arrangement started like a song by Boyz II Men – great upper harmonies, a droning powerful bass, and a soul that comes natural to boys growing up in gospel music. The song hit a couple of speed bumps, but their tight blend, soulful feel, and unique look at contemporary song made it a very impressive performance that left Shawn falling over the judges table.

And that was it! Men of Note and Pitch Slapped were sent home and I think it was justified – they were simply the weakest groups of the night. But what a tough competition this has already become. Normally, I would pick my top three – those who I think should win the competition. I think there is simply too much competition and too many groups left to decide. However, the ones that impressed me the most tonight (in no particular order) would have to be Committed, The Wiffenpoofs, and… I think I’ll say Eleventh Hour. I don’t think they were necessarily the BEST groups, but they did impress me.

Who is/are your favorite group/s so far? Who impressed you? Who do you think “won” the first Episode? What was your favorite song? Of whom are you most excited to hear more? Please leave your comments below, and stay tuned for the next episode of “The Sing-Off” on NBC, Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 8pm EST! Check your local listing for details.

About the author:
Jeeves Murphy: "I've only heard the a cappella version of that song before." If Jeeves had a nickel for every time he's said that, he'd be a rich man. Jeeves has been singing ever since he can remember (even before he was "Jeeves"). He's performed in classical and renaissance a cappella groups, as well as contemporary groups and barbershop quartets.  He helped found multiple groups while he was in college, including the first of its kind at UMBC (The Mama's Boys) where he graduated with a degree in English Literature. Jeeves currently works in Columbia, MD as an ITS Engineer. In his spare time, he is an all around musician - playing piano, bass guitar, cajon, and of course singing Tenor (high-tenor), arranging, and vocal percussion. He's the Maryland State Ambassador for CASA and writes semi-regularly for the site (or at least when the mood strikes). Jeeves' articles focus mainly on performance and CD reviews.