Monday, October 3, 2011

Judges talk about the Biz on the Sing-Off

The University of Delaware Deltones

Sixteen groups are competing this third season of the Sing-Off, so many that the preliminary elimination round had to be divided into four one-hour segments with four groups competing in each part. This past Monday, September 26, two more groups were eliminated, Messiah’s Men from Africa and Soul’d Out, a high school group from Wilsonville, Oregon.

The twelve remaining groups will compete in Round 2 beginning tonight, Monday, Oct. 3 on NBC from 8 pm to 10 pm. Here in Orlando, you can find the show on channel 4 or 1020 (digital Brighthouse cable) on WESH 2.

Finding a group who can record a CD

During this stage of the competition, only the judges have the power and control to select which group will move forward and which group will sail off the show whilst singing their swan song. Some fans have been critical of the judge’s decisions, believing that technically superior groups have been sent packing, while less proficient groups have been allowed to move forward. Accusations of favoritism have been flying.

As a completely neutral viewer with the love of music as my most important credential, plus the fact that I am a bit familiar with the world of entertainment, I must say that I do not feel that the cards have been unfairly stacked. In fact, I’ve agreed with all of the judge’s elimination choices thus far. A good friend of mine, who shall not be named, who has worked in a very high position at record labels explained it to me best. She said that when she goes out to a show to see if an artist can “make it” or not, she looks for one and only one thing: “passion.” If the artist grabs you by the nuts when they sing, they will make it. They might be chock full of flaws, sing off key and might not play their instrument that well, but if they reach into your soul and pull on your heartstrings, then they have what it takes.

After a beautifully heart wrenching performance by the Deltones of Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home,” Judge Shawn Stockman explained the feeling: “A lot of times, it’s not about how perfect a song is, but how good it felt, and it just felt good. I feel like you have a lot of potential.”

Stockman had said earlier in the show how he chooses groups to move forward, “I’m just looking for that constant inspiration...We sit here not only as judges, but fellow artists as well, and fans of the music and fans of the art form. So, we’re just looking to be inspired by how well they do what they do. That’s why they’re on the show. So, that constant energy, that emotion, and that passion.”

Groups also have to be malleable, willing to improve and not allow their egos and pride get in the way of making changes.

Judge Ben Folds said, “We’re trying to keep in mind that they’re taking a musical journey… Some of them might be technically amazing, proficient, but they’ve taken a journey that we think has ended. They’re not the kind of group that is going to be making records. Other times you’ve got some groups that are maybe shaky at times and they’re not really quite on their game, but we see potential, and we think that if we’re doing our job we might get a really nice surprise later on in the season and see someone really come to life on the show.”

Unlike other musical talent shows, one of the true joys of the Sing-Off is the fact that each of the judges, even Host Nick Lachey, are all experienced and qualified group harmony singers in their own right. That's why sending groups home can be personally painful.

The newest addition, Judge Sara Bareilles, who has now settled into her nickname, Sara B, was a member of the a cappella group “Awaken” at UCLA, and said, “I’ve stood where all of you stand on stage and this is obviously my first time as a judge, so I’m feeling really emotional about it all.”

The music business, aka “the biz” is tough. Groups have to really want to be there, have to want to be on stage and be willing to weather all sorts of terrible disappointments, low pay, and uncomfortable touring situations such as sleeping on strangers' sofas and living out of a packed-to-the-roof Winnebago.

Folds spoke from experience, “A music career is a series of humiliating and depressing and desperate moments. That is a music career. And you should totally get used to it. Because even if you make it, then after that, then it gets humiliating and desperate again. So just do what you’re doing and enjoy the music part of it and screw that other stuff.”


Round 1, Parts 3 and 4

Round 1 - Part 3

Messiah’s Men performed a wonderfully soulful rendition of “People Get Ready,” a 1965 gospel song by the Impressions. However, what brought the Fannin family down causing them to be sent home after Round 1, also worked against Messiah’s Men. Although the group is large, they are not diverse, being composed of 9 similar people, in this case all men from Liberia, Africa. A cappella really is one of those genres where having several very different types of voices in your group gives you a fuller richer, well-rounded sound. While the Fannin family lacked the low end, Messiah’s Men lacked the high end, and sadly were also sent home. Both groups perform gospel songs. Perhaps they should consider singing together.

The Dartmouth Aires caught my eye with the coolest outfits of the night, as their brightly colored orange and yellow and green socks flashed at the audience as they ran around the stage.

The Sonos impressed me with their interesting and creative rendition of Chris Isaac's "Wicked Games." Judge Ben Folds singled out one member, Ben Mclain, praising him, “Ben, your beat boxing is choo choo choo choo choo choo the future…”

Pentatonix did not disappoint and proved to be my favorite group of the night, performing ET by Katy Perry and blowing everyone away with their magnificent harmonies.

I was curious how they would sound with the new addition of two more members to their group. Rounding out the core lead singer/harmonizers of Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, and Kirstin Maldonado who founded the group in high school are Avi Kaplan on bass and Kevin Olusola on beat boxing. The result is an amazingly smooth, yet powerful, rich and complete mix of their five perfectly diverse voices.

The performance itself was to be commended as each member took center stage soloing on one part of the song. Judge Sara B said, “Top 40 and club songs those are not easy to do with 18 and 20 voices, much less with 1-2-3-4-5. I love that each of you had a moment where each of you got to shine and sparkle…and I feel like an alien.”

Dr. Folds added, ‘’ I thought it was a really great ride and you were all dead on with each other with your plans. It’s all about the groove... Kevin’s effects were wicked awesome… Your low end is impressive. I mean in general, you’ve got the club low end that you’re looking for and that’s a hard thing to find in a cappella… I thought it was really great and it was really fun.”

Judge Stockman also loved the group, “Yo, Kev, I swear ya’ll were cheating… And how you kept up with the riffs Scott, boy, you were a beast!”

Round 1 - Part 4

Soul’d Out, a group from Wilsonville High School in Oregon performed Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine. It’s an incredibly difficult song to perform and they nailed the first part with Aquarius, not an easy task. However, during the second part when they launched into Let the Sun Shine, it became messy with the leads getting out of control, although they brought it all together at the very end and the overall impression was quite good.

Although they show great promise, they were unfortunately sent home, perhaps more because the music industry wouldn’t know what to do with them if they had actually won the competition. With 16 underage teenage members, that’s a lot of managing and expense.

The Collective made beautiful musical, but seemed a bit too much of a group of leads and needed more support in the background. They are a new group and this may not be their year, but it’s too early to tell.

North Shore performed a stellar rendition of Runaround Sue using only bass to carry the grove and “all without a beat box,” noted Dr. Folds.

Stockman noted, “When doo wap is done right, it sounds so crisp and clean and classic and timeless. You gentlemen did it right.”

The Deltones performed a heart-wrenching version of “Feels like Home” by Randy Newman that made me bawl on my couch, it was such a beautiful and emotional rendition of the song. They seem to truly know the secret of not only how to arrange their individual parts in the song, but also how to arrange their personal lives around their group.

Stockmen commended their fraternity, “Friends first, singers second? That’s cool… I really felt the sincerity.”

Sara B noted, “My heart is beating fast. I feel like I got transported.”

Dr. Folds: Such a pretty arrangement… The slow build was really artful … overall it was just moving, and that’s the main thing, and you guys rocked it.”

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