Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sing-Off a Cappella show continues to make its mark on primetime with high ratings

The Filharmonic a cappella group featuring six Filipino-Americans residing in Los Angeles. 

The Sing-Off a cappella show is now entering its fourth season in 2013 after a one year hiatus when it was not renewed by NBC. The show is a competition reality show with ten singing groups competing for a grand prize of a $100,000 Sony recording contract. It is judged by Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman, and Jewel. Hosting it is Nick Lachey. It debuted on Monday night in first place for its time slot of 9 p.m.

It's hard not to say, "I told you so," to the invisible powers that be at NBC. 

But what the heck? 

We told you so. The Sing-Off is a great show. It can be a force to be reckoned with when not challenged in an impossible time slot.

With a first place ranking of 9.34 million viewers during its debut hour at 9 p.m. following the Voice semi-finals on Monday, December 9, 2013, the Sing-Off proved that it not only is prime time material, but also showed that it can swim with the sharks, beating out FOX's Sleepy Hollow (great show, I might add), CBS's Mike and Molly (also a decent show), and a Christmas movie on ABC. While the Sing-Off's own a cappella group Street Corner Renaissance was doo-wopping One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," the real McCoy, the actual band One Direction was barely pulling in views on their own iHeart Radio special on the CW with only 600,000 viewers. 

The second hour drew in nearly as many ratings with a first place ranking of 7.38 million viewers. 

Adjusted viewership numbers showed an average of 8.39 million viewers for the two hour show that night. 

It was a very good night for the Sing-Off.

Keep in mind these numbers are not perfect and are only based on a few discreetly placed Nielsen ratings big-brother boxes, usually located in single-family homes, not in the college dormitories where a cappella has its base. I'm sure the viewership is most likely even higher in reality. [ see article on how Nielsen ratings are tabulated published May 21, 2012 ] 

Season 4, Episode 2 which aired on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 was pitted against two other reality shows: Survivor on CBS, which took the lion's share of ratings at 9.92 million, and the X-factor semi-finals on FOX which had less viewers at 4.97 million. The Sing-Off, with a ranking of third for the night at 6.03 million viewers behind ABC's the Middle is making a large primetime impact. 

Season 4 Episode 2 Recap – "Party Anthems"

Vocal Rush
Oakland School for the Arts high school in Oakland, CA
12 young men and women
covering "Gonna Make You Sweat" by C&C Music Factory

This is one fun song to dance to. Vocal Rush successfully pulled off "Gonna Make You Sweat," one of the most difficult and complex dance tunes of our century so well, that I forgot that these were children, that there were no instruments, and that the group had only been given one week to learn and practice the song before presenting their version to the judges. Vocal Rush exhibited remarkable control and depth for young vocal chords, swelling in intensity when the song called for it, and working in unison to create those beautifully thick walls of multi-frequency vocal sound that A Cappellaeans such as myself love so much. Everyone was exactly on their mark. They sold the song and I believed it.

"You guys have such a poise, to be so young," said Stockman, "…holding down the beat... and doing 90s dance moves is quite impressive… You guys were not even born when this song was out… But you captured the energy of it."

Jewel felt the song started slow, but "the breakdown was awesome. It was wicked and really rocked after that."

"We just keep forgetting you're really young," said Folds, "So, as of now, you're just adults and you have to swim with everyone else… You just have to tighten some things up."

Home Free
Minneapolis, Minn
5 men
cover of "Life is a Highway" by Rascal Flats

Home Free stepped "out of the box a little bit" noted Stockman, to take a risk attempting some rather safe dance moves on stage for their rendition of "Life is a Highway" by Rascal Flats. "And then, you jumped back in the box… but you know what? That's good. You stay with what you know and that's what makes you guys so great, and so far, so consistent," said Stockman. The song was exemplary of good arranging, with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end, noted Stockman. 

"Like a three course meal," added Jewel.

The first first few notes were soloed, then the song launched cleverly into a spare, yet exact mix of tasteful drums and bass backing the lead singer, then melodically swelled into the bridge as the other two members joined in, finally becoming a more formal three-part-harmony choral arrangement during the chorus. It was all well planned and well executed, the mark of a true professional and experienced touring group.

Although the song was well done, I will never get used to Tim Foust singing solo lines in that insanely deep voice of his. It always cracks me up when it's his turn to sing. 

Folds noted it as well: "When the bass guitar starts speaking, that's crazy. That's like my bass just jumped off the shelf and 'wah wah wah wah wah'"

Orlando, FL
6 men and women
covering "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry

A unique and original arrangement, VoicePlay brought it and represented in their version of "Play that Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. They utilized their assets and did what they do best: the five backing men provided a solid melody and rhythm while lead singer Honey Larochelle sang, then rapped, then vamped out the lyrics. 

The judges were also impressed. Stockman gave them a standing ovation and commended them for reinventing themselves after a rocky start in their first competition. "The whole dance hall break down, the arrangement, everything was smooth, it was seamless, it was great." 

Street Corner Renaissance
Los Angeles, CA
5 men
covering "Do You Love Me" by The Contours

Street Corner Renaissance mash-potatoed and twisted their way through "Do You Love Me," a 1962 Motown standard by The Contours. Their doo-wop rendition was so natural and so relaxed, it was evident that this was not the first time they were performing it. Once again, I felt the loving arms of music wrap around me and comfort me like a warm blanket. 

There's really nothing to criticize with this group. They are who they are, and they do it well. 

"You guys are proof that less can be more," said Jewel, noting that the arrangement was spare and full of lots of quiet moments, termed "space" in the music world.

"There's more than one way to party," said Jewel, "and you guys bring a vibe and you set the tone and everybody… joins in and sings along."

New York, NY
10 women
covering "Raise Your Glass" by Pink

Performing "Raise Your Glass," by Pink, Element utilized an interesting technique where they joined their voices together to "chong," creating an almost bell-like melodic rhythmic percussion behind the lead singers.  I felt the technique of incorporating a key change and singing in unison into the final chorus gave the song strength and power and drove it home.

Though the group could use a little work, I felt this was a great rendition. I especially enjoyed the moments where the lead singers soloed, also noted by both Folds and Stockman: 

"The bridge is where the party started for me," said Folds, "I think some of it may have been you were singing in unison at the top. Almost nothing was sung as a solo, so we didn't get a chance to latch on to anyone. And then suddenly, in the bridge, you started splitting off and singing, and I got a chance to hear you actually sing and I prefer that," said Folds.

"It would have been nice to hear you guys individually," echoed Stockman. "It would be nice to hear a spotlight on one of you guys and then the next one and let them do their thing while you guys back the girl up."

University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts in Lexington, KY
12 men
covering "Hey Ya" by Outkast

The acoUstiKats covered "Hey Ya" by outcast. This is one particular performance that sounds even more phenomenal when you only "listen" and don't try to watch the usual accompanying choreography, which is always a highly entertaining spectacle of typical-collegiate antic-filled danced-out skits. 

Jewel gave the group props, complementing them on an impressive key change into a high note, "…and we think that's as high as it's gonna get, and then you… take it up to 11, spinal-tap style, even higher."

Though well executed, the arrangement was extremely busy so that it sadly lost tempo in two very noticeable locations. "Just savor the groove," suggested Folds. "You had us from an entertainment point of view for the whole thing. it's just a matter of … really locking in the musical part of it." 

Calle Sol
Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
6 men and women
covering "Livin' la Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin

When the ladies of Calle Sol sing in unison and back up the male lead over a backdrop of percussion, the sound is like pure acoustic honey. To incorporate dance into their rendition of "Living la Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin brings their performance into the rhythmic gymnastics expertise level of a cappella singing. 

Sadly, the musical portion suffered as a result of attempting to both dance and sing and "for me, there were some holes in the performance," noted Jewel. 

Stockman stated it well, "The crazy thing about this whole show is that arrangement is everything… Sometimes the dancing can be somewhat of a hindrance," he said, noting that at times the singers were laboring to simply catch their breath, much less sing. 

"You have to look at what you've got. You know that one of your strengths is dancing," noted Folds, but "the party has to be supported by music."

Though the overall result was not good enough to keep the group in the competition, Stockman said, "You are very courageous first and foremost in creating this type of a cappella group. Because, you not only have to dance, you also have to lock in on some of those harmonies."

Dallas, TX
10 men and women
"Hot in Herre" by Nelly

The Dallas group, TEN performed a highly entertaining, incredibly amazing rendition of Nelly's "Hot in Herre." The arrangement was complicated and the performance tight, so that the overall result was simply beautiful. The group is so professional, I have no doubt that they will make it to the finals, provided of course they don't get hired away before the competition ends.

I think there's an intrinsic value to having a gospel choir and backup singer background, as each of the members of TEN have. 

"All of you are lead singers. Any one of you can be stars," noted Jewel. 

But what makes TEN special in my opinion is that each member knows when to step forward and take the lead, and each member knows how to step back and offer support instead. Singing is like crew rowing. Only one person can steer the boat to where it needs to go. Everyone else must paddle hard in the same direction, or they will simply go nowhere. By working together, they can be the first to cross that elusive finish line upstream. It takes a certain humility to step back and let the leader lead. Church singing does that. Being a backup singer to a professional teaches that as well.

Emoni Wikins, who was also celebrating her birthday on the day of the taping, sang lead for this song. "When you're hitting it like that, it doesn't even need the band," noted Folds.

"i just want to thank you for the gift," complemented Jewel, "'Cause all of those little notes and those trills you were doing were icing on the cake." 

The Filharmonic
Los Angeles, CA
6 men
covering "This is How We Do It" by Montell Jordan

Saving one the best performances for last, the Filharmonic of Los Angeles delivered their version of Montell Jordan's "This is How We Do It" as smoothly sweet as "chocolate covered strawberries," as promised by Joe Caigoy, one of the members before their performance. All singing was done well and in unison. Vocal breakdowns added interest and build-ups were on cue. The overall execution was smooth and professional.

"You showed a lot of new elements," noted Jewel as she complemented them on their vocal arpeggios. 

"You started it from the gate, ...from the first note you sang, it was a party," said Stockman, who said he enjoyed the way that the group incorporated 90s dance styles such as "running man" into their choreography. 

"You guys have a good sound," said Folds, "You've got a really slick midrange. It's just the way you blend together." Folds added that he had no criticisms for the group, only pats on the back, "I'm trying to think of anything at all to tell you other than, "You grabbed it from the beginning, it sounded like a record, and it was fun, and I was wishing it wasn't over." 

I felt it was the best performance of the night, so great that I feel comfortable predicting that the Filharmonic will go to the finals and have a shot at actually winning this Season's Sing-Off. 

What's interesting is that some of the members are still quite young. As these young men age and gain a bit more maturity in their voices, they will only sound richer, stronger, and fuller. 

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