Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sing-Off II competitors a diverse bunch

The group Committed was my favorite competitor
of the first night of the Sing-Off.

Last night, the second season of the Sing-Off premiered and did not disappoint—I was quite impressed with this year’s competitors, and also pleased to see a wider and more diverse set of genre’s represented under the catch-all category of a capella, meaning without instrumental accompaniment.

Although the show aired for two hours from 8 PM to 10 PM on Monday Dec. 6, it was presented as two separate episodes run together and airing back-to-back. Each episode was composed of five different a capella singing groups competing with each other, where one of the five groups was eliminated. The other four will compete on Wednesday when the show airs again from 8 PM to 10 PM. I assume the logic in this was to enable the NBC network to split the show into eight individual one-hour episodes instead of the four two-hour episodes which are scheduled. I personally would have preferred seeing the show in one-hour installments. The finale will air at a future date.

Here are the groups, in order of appearance last night.


Eleventh Hour
Kettering, Ohio
7 members: 3 men, 4 women, diverse. High school students.

Being in the difficult position of having to go on first, Eleventh Hour impressed the shucks out of me. I couldn’t find a thing wrong with this diverse group of high schoolers, and neither could the three judges. The group dressed in a fun ensemble of pink, gray, and black, and performed “Baby” by Justin Bieber so effortlessly, I forgot that this was a competition and assumed it was simply an opening number to get the crowd warmed up. Wow! Their backup vocals blended perfectly, their singers were all on key, and their arrangement was magical.

Clip from the show:

On the Rocks
Eugene, Oregon
15 members: all male, former and current college students, diverse

You cannot go wrong covering Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and this group of both current and former University of Oregon students pulled it off with perhaps the most humorously interesting “monster-ish” choreography of the night. My only criticism of their performance is that by being an all-male group, it’s easy for the backup singers to accidentally overwhelm and drown out the lead when singing live. They should work on perfecting their singing technique so they can blend farther into the background.

Live version:
On the Rocks perform "Bad Romance" live
Judges critique after the performance

Groove for Thought
Seattle, WA
6 members: 4 men, 2 women. Caucasian, Various ages.

Smooth is the word for Groove for Thought, a band consisting of five music instructors in the greater Seattle area and one of the instructor’s daughters. They performed a version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” which was high tempo, perfectly in pitch, in sync, and due to their diverse ranges, sounded as smooth as a silky Starbucks' mocha latte.

Clip from the show:

Pitch Slapped
Boston, MA
12 members: 5 women, 7 men, college students

My favorite act of the night was the male/female a cappella group from Berklee’s school of Music in Boston. Their strong suit was the dynamic in which they played the female singers off the male singers performing Cobra Starship’s song, “Good Girls Go Bad,” both in choreography and in question/response singing. Their background vocals blended perfectly and floated behind the lead singers – complementing and not overwhelming them.

Sadly, they were eliminated, and at first I thought the judges were prejudiced against them, perhaps due to the fact that they are students at one of the more prestigious music schools in the world, or perhaps due to a lack of racial diversity amongst their members. However, after listening to the original version of the song, it was clear why they were eliminated. The song in itself already had all of the elements I admired: primarily the arrangement of male and female parts. The original, however, has a cool techno synthetic vibe which was not well emulated in their vocals. Perhaps if they had chosen a song which was not already so clearly delineated, they would have excelled.

Live version:
Pitch Slapped perform Good Girls Gone Bad
Cobra Starship’s music video

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town
Oakland, CA
6 members: men, African American, older

In an unusual twist, Jerry Lawson, the lead singer for the Persuasions, the group who made their mark in the ‘60s singing Carolina Beach music such as “Up on the Roof,” resurfaced as "Jerry Lawson and the Talk of the Town" in order to compete in the Sing-Off. I think the audience was perhaps more stunned than the judges and assumed that Jerry Lawson was simply making a star appearance, not actually competing. However, these are very tough times in the music industry and record contracts, especially one from SONY which is the grand prize awarded to the winner of the Sing-Off, are as rare as blue diamonds. The judges were too in awe to offer any criticism. However, I feel that the backup vocalists were not as tight, nor as in key as perhaps they could be with proper training from a professional vocal coach. Sometimes, when you achieve a certain level of success, you tend to feel you are past training, but there’s always room for improvement. I also felt that the group should experiment with trading lead parts in order to give Jerry Lawson some moments to get his breath.

Interview and performance clip from The Sing-Off:
Jerry Lawson interview and live performances

The Whiffenpoofs
New Haven, CT
14 members, male, college students, diverse

"Cute" is the word I’d use to describe the Whiffenpoofs, a witty camaraderie of Yale University students, who showed up in their penguin suit uniforms of “white ties and tails.” Judge Ben Folds called them ‘sassy’ and admired their arrangement without beat-box vocal parts. They performed an unusual song called '”Grace Kelly,” by Mika which I’d never heard before that I've linked below and is a fantastical video. Judge Shawn Stockman (who is now donning glasses similar to those worn by Ben Folds, perhaps to appear more intellectual) noted that by slowing down the tempo and bringing down and raising the volume into a crescendo, they created interesting dynamics in their execution.

Clip from the show:
Whiffenpoofs perform "Grace Kelly"
Judges critique after the performance
Mika’s "Grace Kelly" video

Men of Note
Cherry Hill, NJ
6 members, high school students, diverse

In the world of music, if you’re going to cover a hit song, either perform it exactly the way the original performer executed it, or make it your own. By choosing Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” an a cappella hit from 1983, the band "Men of Note" already had an uphill battle, because the judges had no choice but to compare it to the original. Their lead singer struggled to stay in key with the low notes, but did an excellent job in the higher ranges. This is the perfect opportunity to trade off lead vocal lines with another singer who can sing the low notes perfectly. Men of Note were sadly eliminated.

Video featuring different lead singers:
Men of Note perform "The Longest Time"
Judges critique after the performance

Street Corner Symphony
Nashville, TN
6 members: men, Caucasian, young to middle aged

Members of two southern families join together to form Street Corner Symphony, and the result is pure harmony. Their rendition of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears is stellar. Their voice created instrumentation was flawless. Their arrangement was original and dynamic. In one word, it was awesome!

Clip from the show:
Street Corner Symphony perform "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"
Judges critique after the show

The Backbeats
10 members: 5 women, 5 men, former and current college students, diverse

Another surprise of the night was seeing the return of some of the singers who competed and lost last year, reformed as part of a new ten-member male and female group of some of the best a capella singers in the LA area. I recognized Kelley Jakle, the blonde girl, because last year she sang lead with another group who was eliminated and I’ll never forget the sad disappointed look on her face. All that aside, I was pleasantly surprised to see a prominent female beat boxer in a male/female lineup. The Backbeat’s execution of Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy" was flawless, their lineup diverse, and their talent bottomless.

Clip from the show (Sound kicks in at 6 seconds):
The Backbeats perform "If I Were A Boy"

Huntsville, AL
6 members: male, African American, college students

Wow! Expletive! Expletive! These were the words that we all shouted in amazement as my little viewing party watched the group “Committed” perform “This Love” by Maroon Five. Their strength is in their perfectly matched and orchestrated backup “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s,” their impressive timing, their creative and dynamic arrangement, and their quality lead vocals. The judges were equally amazed. It was like watching seasoned performers, not young contestants.

Clip from the show:
Committed perform "This Love"


  1. Jerry Lawson's Persuasions did not sing Carolina Beach music. They were not a 60's group or a Doo Wop group. They released their first LP in 1971 when Frank Zappa signed them to his label. Their recordings were mostly a variety of covers of the music of the day. They sang Grateful Dead to Shirley Temple.Without them I dare say there would be no Sing Off. Nice that some folks think they reached a level of success that should disqualify them from a show of amateurs but in truth The Persuasions were were never given their due because the music industry wrote them off as being nothing more than a novelty act because they had no band. No marketing behind their releases. Just a tax write off for the labels. Lawson left The Persuasions after 40 years and 22 albums. He was through with A Cappella and on his way to record with The Moscow Philharmonic when fate revealed other plans. Perhaps this is his last chance to get the recognition he deserves.

  2. Thanks for clearing this up for us and taking the time to write your comment. Wikipedia states that the band began in the early 1960s in Brooklyn, but it frequently has incorrect information listed since any Tom-Dick-or-Harry can make changes. An article on Singers.com http://www.singers.com/persuasions.html also states that the band began in 1962. The book "All Music Guide to Soul" by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine states that the group was formed in 1966.

    Regarding genre: Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Although the Persuasions did cover the Drifters' songs (a well known Carolina Beach music band), they also covered a very diverse group of artists and this slipped past me in my brief research of the group's history. However, in covering other artists, they made the music their own and perhaps we should agree with the authors of "All Music Guide to Soul" and place them under the genre of Soul. A cappella in itself is the style in which the music is performed without instruments, not a genre in itself.

  3. I live in Huntsville, AL and the guys of Committed go to church with one of my friends that goes to school with me and they told her that they might come to our school free of charge.

  4. I LOVE COMMITTED!!!!!!!


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