Category: Directing

The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 5- Movie NightI would like to thank Andrei for the invitation to join him in blogging the Sing-off. He sets a very high bar so I hope I do not disappoint.

Episode 5 – Part 1

Opening number – Time Of My Life

I could have done an entire entry just on the pairings of the leads, but this is a two-hour episode and I think there will be a lot more to talk about. Altogether the performance was a great production; the arrangement really built up well to the dramatic climax. There may have been a tiny tear-up.

Home Free – Another good one! From Andrei’s pre-show write up I knew what their song choice was, and I thought Pretty Woman should work well for them. And boy, did it. I loved the mix of “toe tapping” and “tenderness” that they weaved in. Really tight harmonies which I have come to expect, appreciate, and frankly, that I think are missing from a lot of the other groups. This had just enough country flair to be true to their roots without making me say “oh, that’s a country-western version of Pretty Woman.” I did catch a glimpse of the Oak Ridge Boys a few times. Nice to see them “suited up.” (oh, wait, was that just another version of Shawn Stockman’s “you look lovely”? At least I saved it for the end of the critique.

Vocal Rush – I’m so glad they gave multiple leads the chance to shine, including their beat-boxer! Kyana was really lovely (her voice! I am not pulling a Shawn). They were all wonderful. I was surprised they could connect so well with this song emotionally since 1) it came out before they were born and hasn’t been remade, to my knowledge, by an artist they would be familiar with and 2) they are usually very exuberant and I was not sure they had the ability to restrain themselves without pulling back completely. But, I was wrong.

Acoustikats – Old Time Rock n Roll. I was expecting a return to the “frat boy kats” with this one, which is a shame because I enjoyed their more choral style “Amazed.” Actually, I felt like they toned down the frat boy just enough to still be entertaining but they did not make me cringe this time. The choreography was less chaotic than in past weeks. All three leads were their strongest performance yet. I wish they had actually had someone do the slide across the floor if they were going to strip to boxers-n-sox. They are entertaining to watch but I wouldn’t want to listen to an album.

The Filharmonic – Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing. I was a little nervous for them. It’s a BIG rock ballad and they have done neither of those styles so far.  They turned the arrangement into something more comfortable for them, and it worked, it was very “them.” I heard a little loss of control in the leads a couple of times, which is easy to do when you are selling the emotion of a song (armchair directors, like armchair quarterbacks, are allowed to criticize people who are, in fact, doing something than better than the armchair can do it themselves). It was fine but I’m getting a little tired of them; they are not really evolving.

Voice Play – They were coached about being more emotionally connected. I didn’t think that “Don’t you forget about me” really needed that, but I liked this performance the best of all their performances so far. Harmonies were much tighter. I liked the arrangement. I liked the “Breakfast Club” character costumes. I liked lead #2 getting to shine a bit. But, the breakdown (la, la, la) fell apart a little and Honey lost control of the pitch.  Such a shame, because I was really with them until that.

Ten – Skyfall – I had no preconception of this song other than “How is Ten going to make the most of their gospel roots (I say that because they seem to say that about themselves). Well, the breakdown certainly answered that; the finish of the song was great. The lead in the first verse was really good, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Stealing from Jewell, they have such a good “choral” sound and that speaks to me. They are getting better every episode. However, I’m not sure they have my heart.

I am writing this after the broadcast, but I have not read ahead. I’m going to call Acoustikats and Filharmonic to be going home based on pre-USO performances.

Next entry – the Ultimate Sing Off match-ups.

Jut a really quick post that my review of Episode 6 will be up later today.

But! Before then… I want to welcome Armchair Judge Erin to the blog who will also be putting up comments and reviews as well. I’ll let Erin do up a little bio post; assuming I haven’t terrified her with all the annoying meta. I’m really thrilled to be bringing her on board and I hope you’ll enjoy her opinions as much as I do.

The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 6- Judges' Choice - EPDown to the final 4.

In 2 hours on the east coast we’ll have our final 3 for Monday’s 2 hour gala. (I hope this year that NBC doesn’t decide to edit out what the charities actually do. To this day we support the Trevor Project and their support for bullied gay children.)

I’m not going to look at the songs for tonight. I’m just going to talk about the final four groups and try to hit odds on elimination.

Going in we have:

  • Home Free
  • Ten
  • Vocal Rush
  • The Filharmonic

Home Free – A Cappella-Country with a great cross over sound, a stunning lead vocalist, an unbelievable bass (No worries, still a fan of the Avi the Bass Canon), and of course who could forget, a beard! Home Free has a sound that isn’t just original, it’s tight and creative. I was worried in the early weeks that they were getting formulaic, but they managed to find a surprise in each episode. Good odds for survival tonight.

Ten – I was not a big fan of Ten going in. Gospel and R&B has to kick me so hard I’m grateful for it to really touch me. Ten’s initial foray was very scattered. You could tell it was 10 really good singers looking to come together. While it’s not obvious from the crunched in schedule; taping for this series was over weeks rather than days. Ten has obviously matured and coalesced into a group. They will only get better with each performance. Good odds for survival tonight.

Vocal Rush – I love these kids. Every episode they show more depth, more maturity, and more style. This group has so many different and eclectic weapons in their musical arsenal to call from. Vocal Rush’ ongoing danger has come from their biggest asset. They know no fear. The put it all honestly out there and that means if it’s fun, they are going to bring the party. And the care-free attitude is where the really hard hitting songs begin to break down. If they can conquer this, they’re in… If they let it get away from them, the other thing that will get away is the competition. Sadly… Lowest odds for survival tonight.

The Filharmonic – To think that I’d ever enjoy a 90’s boy band. These guys have a locked in sound. They have a style and swagger to match. Finally, they have an ear for arrangement and performance that really pulls people in. After the last episode they also have figured out how to rip their hearts to shreds to bring it to the next level. Whereas Vocal Rush comes unglued when they have fun, The Filharmonic becomes unglued when they don’t put the full emotion in. Filharmonic needs to keep focus, not make tuning errors, and be as openly honest and without fear as Vocal Rush. Low odds, but I think they have a better chance of overcoming/hiding their shortfalls better than Vocal Rush does.

Odds for tonight to survive:

  • Ten – 2:1
  • Home Free 2.5:1
  • The Filharmonic 12.5:1
  • Vocal Rush 14:1

35 minutes and counting. See you in a few more hours!

Why yes, this is FOUR Sing off posts in one day.

The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 5- Movie NightGood gravy, this was a full episode. So, to recap; with six groups having done their main performance of the night we were moving into the TUSO! (Triple Ultimate Sing Off) The groups would be paired off for an Ultimate battle and then their individual performances would be factored into the decisions.

My rankings as a reminder to this point were:

  1. Ten
  2. Home Free
  3. Vocal Rush
  4. Filharmonic
  5. VoicePlay
  6. Acoustikats


Ultimate Sing Off 1: acoUstiKats vs. VoicePlay: “Eye of the Tiger” – Survivor.

If I do anything this season let me have one nay saying moment against my beloved Pentatonix. After the rush of the win PTX presented this as what was theoretically their Swan Song. It was probably one of their weakest things on the entire run of season 3. As a result; this is a song that makes me cringe when I hear ANY a cappella group do it.

In the intro video we see that the groups are counting on their assets:

  • VoicePlay: Experience and being clever
  • Kats: Sheer number and “Wall of Sound”

After two seasons of writing posts on A Cappella to hear a group self identify as a “Wall Of Sound” was mixed vindication. I’d had many people tell me not to use that term in describing college groups because it’s just a style. And here was a college group describing itself that way. It’s also something I don’t like to hear.

It was also made apparent that this is for show and that while a ‘competition’ the groups are going to try to work their best together. This is obviously from the producers. If you haven’t seen by now; finalists and the winners of the season will be touring in the spring with favourites from the season as well as new ‘ultimate sing offs.’ What this means is that they are really trying to push the combined group performances. The Ulteriour on the Ultimate begins to make more sense.

Working together works so much better for these groups. The performance is simply fun. And wonderfully the theatrics don’t upstage the really good music. There is an odd latino beat thrown in half way. It was enjoyable. I’m not entirely sure how they will judge that.

The judges:

Ben: That was really fun. You guys worked together so well. As much as a competition as it can be, it’s always together. There are no Divas. Everyone had a moment.

Shawn: A mixture of Loony Tunes and Monty Python. You’ll never see anything like this anywhere else on TV. So Cool. A lot of fun. Everyone sounded wonderful. Very cool.

Jewel: Really silly. Really enjoyable. Loved the leg lifts. Forgot to listen to the sound. And it was sound.


Ultimate Sing Off 2: Vocal Rush vs Ten – “Fame” – Irene Cara

When asked why this pairing; Jewel responds that she see the seeds of Ten in Vocal Rush and the youthful origins of Vocal Rush in Ten. She calls it a credit to a Past, Present, and Future Vibe. Again it’s made clear that the groups are working together on the performance but there’s mock trash talking. This latter I can do without.

The performance was unexpectedly stunning. This song fit Vocal Rush better because it has that honesty from naive exuberance. Something that Vocal Rush has innocent mastery over. Ten doesn’t exactly have a problem either, but their more mature voices lend an almost bittersweet maturity that dampens a little. Granted between the groups together it is amazing. I actually lose track on who is in which group and have to remind myself by outfits. Amazing energy all a round. That latin beat shows up again unexpectedly. Calle Sol must really be unhappy now. With one of my favorite tweets of the night coming from Season 2 2nd place finisher (which I felt was a bad choice, thinking they were better than winner Committed) “Street Corner Symphony” (@StreetCornerSym):

SPOILER ALERT: Most of tonight’s @thesingoff choreography ends with a fist pump.

The judges:

Jewel: You guys did not disappoint. Sarah: Love your diva. Nice mix in the group. Really a good job.

Ben: Rubbed off on each other. Ten seemed more youthful, The kids seemed tighter. Vocal Rush held their own next to Ten. Not a bad lead vocal in the bunch.

Shawn: Just watching and seeing it, reminded me of my HS days at HS For Perf Arts. Same energy. 75 blowers just singing. They could just do it. A great sense of vocal acrobatics and flips. So much fun to listen to. (VR-)Sydney: Where have you been? So interchangeable. Great job.


BeatOffUltimate Sing Off 3: Home Free vs The Filharmonic – “I’m Alright” – Kenny Loggins

Both groups want to show the best of both groups. They want to have fun swapping and combining their talents. I would not expect these two groups to mix well, but they did superbly. Watching Filharmonic line dance while Home Free rippled like mermaid was an experience. Both Austin and Joe have AMAZING voices and carry their groups well. Then the surprise. The Sing Off’s first BeatBoxBattle. As a fan of KRNFX, this has come a long way from when I was in High School (Appreciating VoicePlay’s song from earlier). Granted back then instead of  vocal percussion or beat boxing, I think my father called it Tourette Syndrome. This was the most powerful duet of the night.

The judges:

Shawn: How much fun was that?! Beard Did the gopher – So much fun and energy – but showed the distinction between the groups. Country and Boy Band… Heard both. Showing the personality.

Jewel: I have not stopped giggling like a school girl. Oh my heck. I’m going to focus… Laugh. Adorable to see the swap in personalities. Filharmonic. Sometimes I hear it come unglued… But it didn’t happen this time.

Ben: America’s first (really bad edit)… Beat-Box off.

As was confirmed by Tim Foust on Twitter, Ben actually did say, “Beat Off” unintentionally and the censors had to come in and have him refilm/reloop that because they could say “Beat Off” on the air.

My other annoyance is that it wouldn’t be America’s first Beat-Box competition any more than The Sing Off is America’s first A Cappella competition. In both cases, America’s first “TELEVISED” versions. Remember kids, American Ninja Warrior is actually around 30 years old… and Japanese.

At the end of the TUSO, I actually decide to hold my ground on my rankings:

  1. Ten
  2. Home Free
  3. Vocal Rush
  4. Filharmonic
  5. VoicePlay
  6. Acoustikats

This is killing me because I’m not ready for VoicePlay to go, I don’t want to lose The Filharmonic and I’m terrified that they’re going to boot Vocal Rush who’s a dark horse favourite.

First three safe:

  • Vocal Rush
  • Home free
  • Ten

They called my 3, 2, 1.

Nick gives the judges comments:

  • VoicePlay: 1st perf: So powerful, but arrangement didn’t peak. High marks for USO
  • Filharmonic: Deeply moved, rock star aura. Sometimes fall apart. Beatbox issues : USO standing ovation.
  • Acousticats: Props on the musical revue: wavered, needed more growl. USO: Stayed in tune

At this point I’m very much hoping not to lose The Filharmonic. But as if Honey hasn’t had enough musical therapy, each group waiting for their fate is asked the obscenely ridiculous question, “How are you feeling?”

  • Honey: Really thankful for the opportunity to be here. Really glad to have made connections
  • Filharmonics: Amazing groups to compete with and to learn from.
  • Acoustikats: Most amazing experience of our lives. VoicePlay… So much fun. Singing with Voice Play was the pinnacle of performance life. Made it so far… Still more in our tanks.

And then they turn to Mentor Jewel who after too long of a dramatic pause tells The Filharmonic that they are safe and we say good-bye to the Kats and to VoicePlay.


Next Up Thursday @ 8pm The final 4 in Judges Choice (Because I haven’t written enough today (Thursday) as it is.

There are two episodes left. and the quote from the episode that they will beat into the ground came from Jewel:

“I think I missed a climax there and it was sort of frustrating.”

Back in a few hours with the pre-show

And before we kick of Part two of episode five…

Here’s a link to a video of Pentatonix doing their (now 29 song) Beyonce medley at ABC News.

The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 5- Movie NightWhen we last left out intrepid band of mighty adventurers… Wait, wrong series… 3 groups up and 3 to go. Let’s get back to it!

The first two groups did a really great job. And the Kats went back to partying. At this point I was basically calling the order of the performances:

  1. Home Free
  2. Vocal Rush
  3. acoUstiKats

I wasn’t impressed by them. I really wanted to be, too. But there were three more groups and they could do anything to the positions of the previous performances. There was also the question of how the triple ultimate was going to fit in.

Fil-VJThe Filharmonic (@TheFilharmonic) – “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” – Aerosmith

The intro on this piece was quite silly. Initially the idea is that they will dress like painters (Well, astronauts) with an asteroid hurtling towards Earth. By the power of the Angelic voices combined, they save the planet by singing a note that changes into a beam that destr…. Yeah, the band didn’t buy it either. On a more serious note: The band commented that this is redemption for them. They need to convey the emotion. Jewel tells them that the song is a bold move. They’ll either hit a home run or go home. She wants to feel who they are singing to. She tells VK not to be just a smiling face. She wants real feeling and to see all the emotion.

My comments earlier about The Filharmonic:

In case you don’t remember this is, ‘That Aerosmith Armageddon Song.’ The Filharmonic is coming out with a Ballad. And one that I think would lend well to the Boy Band sound they have. This is the coin flip. This could either work stunningly well or be an exploding failure that would be called Glorious by a cadre of Kingons. (Did I mention that my Geek runs deep and I do embrace it.

I gave The Filharmonic a 12:1 which put them floating in the 3-4 spot. Either a solid land in the finals or a moment of doubt that they will return. The song started with a simple and single voice. It was smooth and lovely. All the vocal leads were on top notch. I loved the mix of voices and you could feel how everyone in the song was utterly committed to and moved by the piece. This even carried a little into the voices making the tone even stronger with emotions. The arrangement was simple; but it was powerful. There was a lot of maturity in the decision making. On the downside; even my ear could pick out some harmony tuning issues.

The judges:

Jewel: Bold Choice: You seem really moved. You seemed really vulnerable. Joe is overwhelmed.

Nick: Real sincerity.

Ben: Joe: Texture of your voice… Was stunning. The emotion helped push it. you connect and have a rock star aura. Don’t blow any moments. Hears it come unglued. Beat Box: Think about a cymbal when you use it. Think it you need it. A ‘good’ performance

Shawn: I think you interpreted lovely. Made the song your own without losing the feel. Gotta lock the harmonies.


VP-Elkins cropVoicePlay (@theVoicePlay) – “(Don’t you) Forget About Me” – Simple Minds

With a look back on last week, VocalPlay talks about how much of an emotional roller coaster the experience was. They really worked hard getting into the character of it. Jewel Freud then appears and begins an intense counseling session with Honey. (On twitter last night Ben Folds reminded people that the judges call her ‘Honey’ because that’s actually her name.) Jewel wasn’t sure if the angst she saw in “Don’t Speak” was real angst or ‘a really good assimilation of angst.” Which Honey was surprised at. As Jewel pushed her analysis further into Honey seeming to have a “Deep well in her heart,” Honey eventually broker down entirely. Says Jewel, “You give it, we’ll receive it.” Then she added, “I come, make you cry, and leave.” Trying to be light-hearted about it. She states she just wants to ‘feel the real.’

This walked the razors edge down what I don’t like about reality shows. Emotions run high in art no matter who is the artist or what the medium is. I felt like the producers were really baiting for emotions and I felt uncomfortably voyeuristic over the entire thing. I think it could have been edited with similar impact but not quite as invasive.

My comments earlier about VoicePlay:

I really like VoicePlay. I’ve made it clear. They have a Pentatonix vibe but different. Several people have actually gotten on the other side of the fence for this group because of this. This is a song that I think they will knock out of the park. It falls in their (to use a growingly annoying term) wheelhouse. But I think the pleasant surprise here is that we’ll see more of the other vocalists step up in this one and Honey may move to harmonies. This is a song like “Video Killed the Radio” that has such pure fandom and love behind it, that doing it right could seal them into the top two. Not doing it right could end the competition for them. I lean towards success.

My 10:1 odds had VoicePlay just edging The Filharmonic; but the Filharmonic brought a great performance and this song really is a definite make or break. I’m hoping that Honey will sit back on the vocals but to my surprise she leads off the song. And it is very poignant. It’s some of her best, leaning towards the gospel. There were some very nice cascades in the vocals. However; it was a complete rework of a VERY recognizable song. Once they finally got into the “LaLa” section that is the one thing most people familiar with the song know; the group seemed to fall apart. So, there was very little to hook into the original. The arrangement was very original, but sometimes that isn’t the best approach.

The judges:

First Shawn starts with a comment to all the groups:

To all – Vulnarability: What makes artists unique is that we bare our souls in front of millions of people. You can always be honest.

Shawn:  I loved the arrangement, I love how you started. Honey – Love your delivery. Eli – Nice to see you there. Group is not a one trick pony. With all that. The arrangement went up and wanted the peak… didn’t come. I wish there was more of the”LaLa” at the end. Other than that… It was a good performance.

Ben: Honey: Awesome. That was fantastic. Normally don’t comment… In the last chorus, taking off the symbolism was very performance. Loved the vocal without the net. Going to half time may not have been necessary. Was very moving. Thought it was great.

Jewel: Very proud. It’s an ongoing journey. Let your realness come out. Like the deconstructed the song. Moment of Polyphony. Ben: The La las at the end… the rhythm at the end was what was missing.

During the commercial lead up the judges reaffirmed that they missed the most memorable part of the song. This is a huge spike in the coffin likely to arrive in the episode for VocalPlay.


tenlogo-whiteonblackTen – (@OfficiallyTen) “Skyfall” – Adele

“I don’t thing the Singoff has seen out best performance yet.”

This is a very interesting comment about the group. What started out as 10 backup singers has really begun to become a very cohesive unit. Each performance has been better than the last. Jewel lends her opinions: There is great opportunity on their choice this week. This piece has a lot of texture. The voices and the arrangement need to deliver what is needed. Members of Ten add that they know they are taking a big risk with this song. Showing at least the spirit they convey that it’s go big or go home but go for it. They are hoping to show that Ten is now ready to show that they can sing. And that they can sing anything. Their performance plans to embody the Song, the movie, the style in one big package.

My comments earlier about Ten:

This is basically a Torch song from Adele. I think Ten is going to suffer the most from the short season. With the longer run of Season 3, the groups definitely had time to grow and mature. The shorter season doesn’t allow for much growth of experimentation. I think this is something strong for Ten’s voices. But the cohesion that we want to see may not get a chance to shine with this one.

I called 15:1 which was very weak odds of survival based on the simple idea that with a double elimination they’d have to kill the song to turn things around. And that wasn’t the only thing they turned around. They did the same for me. The song started with a nice slow tempo. The backing vocals were almost a tuneless drone. But as the song built, everything built on top of it. the cohesion, the harmonies, the power all grew. And the growth was organic. Ten has finally found their strength as a group and not 10 separate singers. They are now contenders to win.

The Judges:

Ben: Very powerful. Fantastic performance.

Jewel: I loved it. It was like a movie. Great painting. Fantastic reserve vocals. Really intricate 10 part harmonies.

Shawn: Adele is in London… “Oh my god! It’s amazing.” It’s a joy to watch you develop. You keep getting better and better with each show. Coming into your own. Finding your voice. Understanding what you can do vocally.


Ranking these performances was very hard. In the end this was how I ranked things:

  1. Ten
  2. Home Free
  3. Vocal Rush
  4. Filharmonic
  5. VoicePlay
  6. Acoustikats

My spouse plays along at my annoying insistence and came up slightly differently:

  1. Ten
  2. VoicePlay
  3. Vocal Rush
  4. Home Free
  5. Filharmonic
  6. Acoustikats

In Part 3… Yes, I need to do a part 3; I will cover the Ultimate Sing Offs, how things shook out and what’s up next.

To hold you for the next few hours: The Seattle PI has an exclusive video from the final episode of an entirely spontaneous, not at all rehearsed, completely off the cuff…. Duet Production Number between Nick Lachey and Jewel with the groups backing them up.