Tag Archive: a capella

The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 6- Judges' Choice - EPEpisode 6 – “Judges’ Choice”

The groups still in the game – Home Free, Ten, Vocal Rush, and The Filharmonic.

Home Free – five men in their twenties, super-tight harmonies, clear tenor lead with the occasional toss to the uber-bass. Lots of performing experience at festivals. They consider themselves “country a cappella” but they are proving to be comfortable applying their style to songs that are not traditionally “country.”

Ten – Ten members (duh), mixed voices. Mature, rich sound, lots of experience as background singers so the harmonies are very full and developed. All of the leads shine. I will steal from Jewell here because she verbalized what I was thinking, which is “I’m not sure what kind of group you are. What kind of records do you want to cut?” This has been puzzling me as well.

Vocal Rush – Performing arts high school group. Twelve members, full of energy and heart, with some pretty mature abilities. The harmonies are a little light on the low/middle end which is really the only thing that highlights their youth.

The Filharmonic – Classic boy-band, adorable, energetic. They have a couple of solid leads that are holding things down pretty well. They have been on the chopping block a couple of times and I personally feel they don’t have a lot of variety; they stick right on the 90’s boy-band sound all the time and I’m getting a little tired of it.


Opening number:

I didn’t know the song but as usual, the opening number was completely enjoyable. I think the bass from Home Free must sing at a sub-sonic level.


The Filharmonic: “Baby I Need Your Lovin’”

Pretty much the same old thing. I didn’t hear enough soul. The lead was happy and sincere but I still didn’t feel quite enough desperation in “I neeeed your lovin’’” Nice choreography, fun to watch but the ooomph was missing. You can’t just throw it a pelvic thrust and equate it with the true aching need that you hear in the Four Tops version. I’m’a leave Jewell’s comments about climaxes alone.

Ten: “Proud Mary”

Wow, this is a song I have trouble imagining a cappella. But of the groups here they are the only one that could probably pull it off. Oh yeah, they did. Very solid, enjoyable performance. The “Tina Turner” lead got a little breathless occasionally, but she wasn’t locking a chord with anyone, and it seemed to fit with the frenetic pace of the song. The backup was really what made this arrangement.

Home Free: “Colder Weather”

I didn’t know this song at all so I could only judge this performance against other Home Free performances. It was clearly in their wheelhouse. Loved Rob’s solo, so beautiful and sincere. I actually liked his better than Austin’s solo. Austin shied away from the “country vowels” they were a little too rounded for this song. You have to do that in a choral arrangement if other singers are singing the same words at the same time, but I don’t think they were; he could have freestyled it just a touch more. And why does he always go “Bah-ah-ay-bee”, instead of “Bay-yay-yay-bee” like most self-respecting country vocalists? I enjoyed the performance and overall it showed off their strengths and reminded us where they came from.

Vocal Rush: “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark”

I didn’t know this song either. Because I’m hopelessly out of touch. But, this meant, again, I didn’t have a prior performance in mind to compare their arrangement to. Classic Vocal Rush performance; energetic, lots of variety in the arrangement. Thought I heard the various leads go sharp here and there (dark and fire). But, they were so, so, in it and I was in there with them. I can see this group selling tickets, if not records, based on the popularity of Glee and Pitch Perfect. Maybe more so than Ten even though Ten is much better technically.

Safe: Home Free & Vocal Rush

USO: Ten & The Filharmonic

Ulitmate SingOff: “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (BTW WTF???)

The Filharmonic pretty much did their same old thing and they did it well. But as usual there was no variety. In contrast, Ten seemed to have a different flavor to each verse. And their sound is so much bigger (not just because of more members but also because of more sound in the lower range) that Fil was clearly overwhelmed.

The thing is, a Filipino Boy Band might sell more tickets than a mature gospel/soul group. Based on vocal performance, my winner is Ten by a lot. If the judges are using commercial viability as a criterion, they might go with Filharmonic.

drum roll…Ten is safe!!!  I’m happy to see talent win over commercialism this teeny-weeny time.

Until the finale…







Having been heavily drugged since 9am this morning I am slowly regaining my faculties. I have transcribed my notes from Vocal Rush, Home Free, Voice Play and am in progress on SCR from last night.

Fortunately, tonight is a short episode with only 4 groups (I am assuming) So I should be able to get caught up by the end of tomorrow. Such is what happens when you slam 7-8 episodes into a two week period.

I’m curious what might make the reviews better. More detail, more background, more comparisons, or just leave it like it is.

Drop you opinions, we’ll go from there.

In the meantime I plan to stop funding air so fascinating by 8pm to take notes again.

Here’s the pre-review

In Your Eyes – Intro Production number

It’s really hard to mess up this 80s classic. I expect it to be full of love and tears.


Ten – Chain of Fools

Ten last episode took a step towards what they an do. This will assure us if they are on the path. A good choice for their style.


acoUstiKats – Amazed

This group has two speeds. Frat choir and new evolution in Acadameia a cappella.  Let’s hope that yesterday’s USO reminded them we’d like more of the latter.


SCR – Forget You

I am especially surprised when they take modern music and attach it to their style. This could be a strong entry for them. Or likewise may show us that they are a one niche wonder.


The Filharmonic – One More Night

I’m going to assume Maroon 5 and not Phil Collins here. Once again, Filharmonic deep in the heart of their style. It was made clear that Stockman is watching for missing notes; so now they have got to get the technical as tight as the performance.

Thanks for keeping up. See you soon

jewelWelcome back.

I was pleased in the first hour of the show to do a fairly good job staying up to speed with the judges. I’ve had episodes where I’ve been right on the mark and a few that left me utterly scratching my head. I figure it won’t be the last time for either of these situations.

Jewel has made a very fresh addition to the show. Adding a country charm mixed with a solid understanding of music, performance, the industry; Jewel is not afraid to speak her mind. Throughout the show she gives a truly honest feel for her opinions and at times does not resist to be a dissenting voice between the other Judges. I enjoyed Sarah Bareilles, but I always felt that she was pushing more fluff than substance. In the case of Jewel, her compliments seem very genuine and her critiques seem even more educated.

To answer these, let me get into the analysis and review

The show rolled from hour one directly into hour two. The big exception of course in the second hour was the tease concerning who would face off against, “Princeton.”

One nice moment during the show was a tip of the hat to visiting winners Pentatonix who were in the audience to attend the taping of the episode. Many fans of “The Sing Off” but not necessarily the group may have been surprised to discover that Kirstie Maldonado isn’t actually a blonde. Personally, I’ve always wondered if that was her idea, the group’s idea, or the producers to make her blonde for the season 3 competition. Also on a personal note; she looks far better with more natural dark hair.

Back to the competition.

tenGroup 6: Ten – “Tell Me Something Good” – Rufus and Chaka Kahn

Rolling in from Dallas, 10 professional backup singers came together to form a group to compete on The Sing Off. Several of the series competing groups have come from this origin. The back story on Ten notes that as a group they have never performed on stage before. This was the case for last year’s winner (oft mentioned) Pentatonix, however, in the case of PTX the core 3 vocalists had been performing together for years. Ten projects a high level of gospel inspiration going all the way to their faith in God above to help carry their group and their voices to the top.

My review: The gospel influence and sound of Ten is apparent from the first measure. They demonstrate some very experienced and complex jazz harmonies.  Sadly, for 10’s accumulated experience; their group’s lack of experience is their downfall.

  • There was a ‘laggy’ feeling to the ensemble parts. You’d expect much sharper group dynamic.
  • 10 gospel singers run the occasional risk of running into the “Wall of Sound” issue.
  • In general there was a lack of cohesion to the entire dynamic.

The judges:

  • Ben Folds: Amazing, Everyone has great voices but every song has a story to be told and this story was lost. He referred to that as the group’s crack in their armour.
  • Shawn Stockman: All powerhouse singers but noted the cohesiveness was missing.
  • Jewel: Disagreed entirely with Ben and Shawn. Said the group hit the first chord amazingly and the harmonies were very tight. Jewel also noted that she felt the store and thought it was great.


elementGroup 7: Element – “Burn” – Ellie Goulding

In a throwback to such memorable past season groups as Delilah and Pitch Slapped; Element is the sole all-female group in this seasons competition. 10 strong singers from around the US converged on New York to emphasise that female groups can hold their own in a male dominated niche of music. The also stress that as an all female group they are aware of the limitation of their voices for certain ranges and plan to use clever arrangement to make up for it.

My review: And indeed the group did make up for some of the range shortcomings with a very good arrangement. I felt their entry was a little tenuous but once they got rolling they were in strong voice. There were some great harmonies and unisons among the lead singers which gives potential for a lot of variation going forwards. their beatbox could easily stand with some of the greats from past seasons. My biggest concerns:

  • Similar to Delilah, have they given us their most powerful from the start and can they keep it up and make the dynamic changes or will they weaken moving away from the style.
  • Low to high was a very small space. I think they started to strong and didn’t leave themselves to far to reach without overpowering. They may have peaked in song too soon.

The Judges:

  • Jewel: Loved the electronic sounding beat loop. Clever and smart arrangement. Rushed the pocket of building up. Power doesn’t come from rushing or getting louder it comes from intensity. Noting the limitations of the female chest voice range, she applauded the group working well with their ranges.
  • Shawn: Loved the look of the group, called them beautiful. Commented that they didn’t leave themselves enough room to build. Started the floor too high.
  • Ben: Noted the fact that it was an all girl group in an all male area. Complimented the creative ways the group used to get through it. Sees the potential dynamic in the group. Wishes they’d started the song as one voice near a whisper and worked from there.



Group 8: Voice Play – “Feel This Moment” – Pitbull

When I saw Voice Play online they had a female guest singer that really gave them some stunning depth. Again referencing last season’s top group; they had a strong PTX vibe about them. The have a tenor with a clean falsetto, a strong midrange, and a fantastic bass. Adding in a surprisingly good beat box it’s hard not to see some PTX in them.

My review: The group appears to have added the female to the line up for the purposes of the competition. This is positive because it gives them the ability to have some sounds that they otherwise wouldn’t have. It also separates them from groups that are all of one gender. Their piece was a simple dance hit where they kept running thru different arrangements, styles, vocal tricks, and harmonies. Many of the “Vocal tricks” right down to the group ending on the sound of an album being slowed to a stop were HIGHLY out of PTX’s playbook. So much so that when the group finished, if you watch carefully, you can see Ben Folds steal a look back at where Pentatonix is seated from when  introduced earlier in the show. I loved them to pieces and I only had two small nit picks:

  • The female vocalist has an almost character like voice. It’s not generic; but I feel it could be grating or annoying in the wrong arrangement.
  • The vocal stunts were like watching all of PTX performances at once. I really hope that wasn’t the end of their show. PTX excelled by using their surprises in a limited manner. Now if Voice Play has just opened one can of surprises, then they may be the group to beat.

The Judges:

  • Shawn: Percussion kept the piece moving. Felt the take off was slow but then became a good performance.
  • Jewel: Loved the character of the female voice. Not being a generic voice will help it stand out. Jewel felt it was smart to add her to the group. She noted it was a dance track so it felt like the same section was just repeated with different styles. Did say that it was interesting to hear.
  • Ben: One of the great moments were the harmonies. Midrange can suffer and this didn’t. The piece felt really good. He wished that there was more of a consistent line through the piece.



Group 9: The Filharmonic- “Treasure” – Bruno Mars

6 first-generation Filipino American boys trying to recapture the “Boy Band” sound of the 90s. Very energetic and full of personality and post pubescent bravado, The Filharmonic has an infectious manner about them.

My review: I am not a Boy Band fan. I think the last Boy Band that I really got into was “The Monkees” which probably says a lot about me. The Filharmonic blew my mind. They came out of the gate in a hard sprint and didn’t let up. They completely captured the style and new the sounds of the voices in the group and how to make them work best for the performance.  The harmonies were obscenely tight and the lead vocalist clicked into what he was doing vocally as well as how he performed. Finally, the piece fit their niche perfectly. I could easily hear their performance as a produced single. I honestly had nothing bad to say about them.

The Judges:

  • Jewel: Appreciated the fact that the performance came at her. She called it her first love note. Loved the bass lines and the group’s personality.
  • Ben:Found it absolutely fun and entertaining. Grabbed it from the first note. Did say that he noticed them get a little ahead of the beat.
  • Shawn: Strongly appreciated the style from his Boyz II Men background. Admitted that this style is not loud but smooth especially in the harmonies. Also credited the bass for locking in and keeping a groove. Thought the bands charisma was natural and fun. Noted there were some imperfections but didn’t mention what they were.



Group 10: acoUstiKats – “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke

It seems that The Sing Off likes to have two different college groups. I saw a video from this group ahead of the performance. I was surprised that they didn’t have a Wall of Sound to them despite their size. The AcoUstiKats showed a surprising sense of harmony and a lack of glee club cleanliness that set them apart from collegiate groups. Their bio tended to swing more towards smarmy fraternity ‘guys’ than really giving the feeling of a serious group.

My review: The group did in fact repeat the good sides in performance. Good balance, no real wall of sound. The group obviously carries its character into its performance. My issues:

  • The song was a weak pick as it tended to throw around more of the Frat-Boy mentality when their music seems to stand above that.
  • In the free form section it got a bit chaotic and lost it’s cohesion.

The Judges:

  • Ben: It was fun. Very good. The fun was controlled an a way that was reasonable. However it did get rushed when the fun occurred.
  • Shawn: Noted that the vocalist Ron showed about 3 octaves. Fun to watch
  • Jewel: Giggled. Commented that she needed an acousti-shower. Pleased that the obviously trained lead vocalist could drop the training to be looser in pop stylings.

At the end of the second half my picks from top to bottom:

  1. Voice Play
  2. Filharmonic
  3. Element
  4. AcoUstiKats
  5. Ten

My call is that Ten will edge out Princeton. (At least it is honestly my hope to see Princeton sent home this week. Apologies to any fans of the Footnotes)

The judges call three safe… grill two, then pick the 4th safe eliminating the 5th.

3 safe:

  • Filharmonic
  • Ten
  • AcoUstiKats

Well this is a surprise. I suppose I should be happy to see I’ve misread the judges and I’m not just parroting their opinions. But to be honest; this feels wrong. Even taking what the judges had to say; they seemed to like Voice Play the most out of the 5 groups this hour. Also, Ten was a surprising entry in the top 3 safe. They really gave Ten the most critique of the lot.

Honestly at this point… Element and Voice Play were in my top 3, I really would hate to see either eliminated.

And then add in: Element

Voice Play is at the bottom of Part 2 but will face off against The Princeton Footnotes in the “Ultimate Sing Off”?

My spouse and I were utterly reeling. This made no sense. Voice play had an issue; but not on a par to put them at the bottom of these other 4 groups. For the first time; we began to feel… odd about this season.

Upcoming Voice Play will face off against the Princeton Footnotes in the “Ultimate Sing Off”…

Knowing what we’ve seen in the hour, this should be an embarrassment. Voice Play is just too good. They’ve been talking about how each group will have minutes to bring their best chance to change the Judges mind and keep them.

What occurred next was in fact an embarrassment. However, I feel the embarrassment belongs squarely on the shoulders of Mark Burnett.

Both groups sang the song “Bye, Bye, Bye” simultaneously as if in an arm wrestling match. An actual ”sing off’ which each group doing some very complicated choreography and arrangements. I’d almost believe that it looked as rehearsed and produced as one of the opening numbers. Actually that’s not correct… I honestly feel that’s what I watched. We were utterly in disbelief that either of these groups could muster that kind of performance in the suggested time offered.

Both were polished and gave performances better than some of the groups that were voted to stay in. Ben Folds went so far as to say “If you’d performed like that during the show, you wouldn’t be here trying to stay in.” In general, Vocal Play did what Vocal Play does. Princeton wasn’t even Princeton. They gave a performance that was fiery, raucous, and seemed beyond coached.

In general this “Ultimate Sing Off” I have to say feels like it cheapens the show. I can not bring myself to believe that this isn’t prepared. It was suggested that all the first hour groups might have to prepare their half and all the second half groups have to prepare theirs. (Similar to the farewell song of seasons past)… This would explain the choreography and arrangements for each group but doesn’t explain the times that the two sides harmonise together.

Further, with all the press from Burnett about how this is a ‘feel good’ show and how it ’embraces the holiday spirit’ this section undoes that. Instead of groups competing with themselves to be the best they can be; it now becomes a head-to-head battle for elimination reducing this down to the ugliness that you get on Survivor.

Throughout the previous three seasons it was made clear that even though the groups are competing for an end prize, there is a love and respect between the groups and a sense of family that extends among them all. This one section removes that allusion and makes it seem far more vicious. Personally, I don’t think that’s what the fans of this show are about. Even if it did occur in “Pitch Perfect.”

Looking ahead here are my odds going into Wednesday’s 2nd episode to survive “Party Anthems”

  • AcoUstiKats 5:1
  • Calle Sol 3:1
  • Element 7.5:1
  • Filharmonic 5:1
  • Home Free 10:1
  • Street Corner Renaissance 10:1
  • Ten 20:1
  • Vocal Rush 10:1
  • Voice Play 5:1

If I had to call the Ultimate Sing Off for the next episode (which I guess I should) I’m going to go with Street Corner Renaissance edging Ten. I love SCR but Party Anthem could be a stumble for them.

  • Single Best Thing in Episode 1: Jewel
  • Single Worst Thing: The Ultimate Sing Off
  • Single Nice Thing: Hi Pentatonix! Kirstie looks awesome with black hair. (And they will perform in the finale episode!)

Tomorrow it’s another episode! See you there!

Please feel free to leave comments in the blog. I’m always happy to hear any opinion whether it agrees or not.

Ratings: (18-49) 2.4 /  8.4(M)

Additional Reviews:

(And here I am on a Tuesday evening desperately missing “Face Off“)