I’m really not a fan of reality shows. So of course I feel dirty when I find ones that I get entirely invested in. For the second season in a row I am very actively following “Ths Sing-Off“. The basic premise of the show is competing A capella groups. This season it was 16 groups going for a prize of a Sony recording contract and $200K.

I suppose we’re at the halfway point because we’re down to eight groups. I want to assess the groups that got dropped last week and where I think the remaining eight rank.

Last week we said goodbye to the classic doo wop of “North Shore” and the “University of Delaware Deltones”.

I have to admit; initially I was very surprised that “North Shore” got dropped. In retrospect I’m actually very much in support. While I enjoyed what they did to Huey Lewis’ “Power of Love” I have to admit that Huey Lewis has always been Doo Wop and this was an example of “North Shore” once again pulling a song to them rather than really pushing their style into a different sound. I think this was also the detriment that finally took down “Jerry Lawson and Talk of The Town” last season. Make no mistake; both these groups are professional, tight, and amazing to listen to.

The problem and this will form the basis of my evaluation throughout is that the prize comes down to that Sony Contract. The winner needs to have unique marketability to break thru and sell albums. I feel that both these groups, as outstanding as they are, are not unique in sound. I can find at least five groups that do these vocal stylings and it’d be very hard to remember which group is which. And I want a winner that is going to sell me a record on name recognition alone after I hear them.

“The University of Delaware Deltones” – were sadly being more and more out-classed as the competition went on. You could tell there was a young sound that really hadn’t found their unique voice. Episode 4 brought a reasonalble but unoriginal cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love” which left them pretty low ranked in my list and in my laser sites for the following show. For “Guilty Pleasures” they went with Roxette’s “Listen to Your Heart.” I think as far as the show theme; this alone was a bad decision. It’s a reasonable adult contemporary gold song and doesn’t lend itself for doing something that will make the audience go, “Oh cool.” Further; the Deltones suffered from two consistant problems of College groups. First is the Glee club sound. They sound like an academic group singing together for fun and mild entertainment; not a professional career. Secondarily, when a group gets too large they suffer from “Wall of Sound” With their performance this week, there was lead vocals and just one giant chord behind it that was overly heavy. And with a song as delicate as this Roxette number; there needed to be far more delicate treatment of the backing.

So what’s left and who’s going first?

First off, I think “Delilah” is done this week.

I saw week one after week two. But when I finally got to week one I was BLOWN AWAY by “Grenade.” Presentation, style, music, power, and to be very shallow; not hard on the eyes at all. Delilah came out with an explosive performance to prove that “Sweet Adelines” don’t have to be sweet anymore. Delilah has an amazing lead vocallist and a bass that reminds me of one of my very favourite all female acapella groups “The Mint Juleps.” Week 2 brought us “Whataya Want from Me” and “(Love is Like A) Heat Wave“. The former showed fantastic dynamic but gave me the feeling that not all of Delilah were “Lead Singer” material. They also proved that they were stronger on the hard than the light. “Heat Wave” was my first Delilah disappointment. There was really little departure from the original apart from occassional flourish. Again… I missed the lead singer from Grenade. While the the other vocalists have good voices, they don’t have the same power and presence. Heat Wave simply left me bored. Finally, in “Flashdance“, Delilah stayed close to the original and didn’t so much depart as not replicate. For an all-female group I was VERY surprised that the backing chords didn’t feel like they were missing parts. Delilah also surprised me in that this rendition didn’t have the punch I was expecting from the song. Again, the song felt like it suffered from a lead that just couldn’t deliver the impact. I think Delilah has amazing potential; but I think they needed a year to gel and figure out where their power and pizazz were in the group before returning to “The Sing Off.”

If two groups go this week, number 2 is the University of Rochester Yellow Jackets. The YJ are fun. There is no doubt in my mind about that. However, of the remaining three college groups I think that the YJ are the ones with the weakest sound and frankly can’t compete with the remaining four non-college groups. The African tribute “Wavin’ Flag“, while appreciated and a huge departure from their typical sound, I don’t think quite connected. Frankly, it was too caucasian-sounding and a bit sharp in places. Opening week nerves are understandable but in competition that will be remembered. “Dynamite” was a good entry; but a bit too character-driven and in the words of a rude soprano, “A little high” for the lead singer. This entry also really succumbed to “Wall of Sound” which is going to be a handicap for any group over 12 people. Remembering even if you cut standard voices into first and second chair: That’s 8, 10, or 12. And 12 point harmony is VERY hard even for polished groups. YJ is NOT giving the impression of much beyond 3-4 part heavily doubled up. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” was one of their strongest songs. The backing chords split well, and there was good balance in the soft areas; but in the heavier bits it did fall back into “Wall of Sound”. Kudos to good use of a lyric tenor. It’s a hard voice to work for because it is potentially a very effiminate voice style, and it’s difficult to find songs for all-male groups that don’t emasculate it. Then we end with “Wannabe“. Honestly, I think the group knew they were in danger with this one and wanted to push on the fun button of the judges. I was amused by them letting the song fall apart in organised chaos and then come back from the brink. Unfortunately, it never got away from the Wall of Sound. So I just can’t see them really pulling back or finding a more dynamic sound. YJ has a fantastic and infectious presence. To break out of that horrid glee club curse they are going to have to thin their numbers and find a unique sound that matches their unique style of presentation. As it was well put by the judges… will I love them as much when I can’t see them; only hear them?

Six more will go on… Next post: who’s left and how I think they will rank.

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