Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sing Off Sings into the Semi-Finals for Episode 6

Ten from Dallas, TX performed an amazing rendition of "Sky Fall" in episode 5.

Tonight, December 19, 2013 the Sing-Off a cappella competition show will air Episode 6, featuring their four remaining acts, Vocal Rush from the Oakland School for the Arts, Ten from Dallas, Home Free from Minneapolis, and The Filharmonic from Los Angeles. They are each competing for a $100,000 recording contract with Sony Records.

The show is in its fourth season and is judged by Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men, and Jewel and is hosted by Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees. It will air on NBC at 8 p.m. tonight and replay again on Saturday night. Following tonight will be a two-hour Saturday Night Live holiday special.

Six remaining groups performed for the judges on Wednesday's show last night, and two groups were eliminated: The acoUstikats from the University of Kentucky, and VoicePlay from Orlando. 

The two-hour finale featuring the finalists is scheduled to air on Monday night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. and will feature a special treat: performances by the judges. 

Be sure to tune in!

In case you missed it, here's a recap of Wednesday night's show, which aired on December 18, 2013:

Season 4 Episode 5 Recap – "Movie Night"
Each of the groups was mentored by Jewel who inspired the groups to sing with emotion and heart.

Home Free
Minneapolis, Minn
5 men
covering "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison, from the movie "Pretty Woman."

Home Free performed quite a creative version of "Pretty Woman," a 1964 hit by Roy Orbison, first launching into an upbeat almost punk-country rhythm, then adding in an exclamatory group "Hey!" here and there. It was a bit like Johnny Cash meets Roy Orbison meets the Ramones.

The judges found their rendition to be interesting. "Home Fries, y'all my boys… that was tight. That was really great," said Folds. "One little silly thing that I liked to see you guys went 'Hey' … that was very cool."

The group then brought down the tempo into a beautiful, quiet and romantic section reminiscent of the original recording, per suggestions their mentor, Jewel had made during rehearsals. "Just make sure it doesn't pass by as just a toe tapper," warned Jewel," When you get done singing, we want to have it to haunt us, and we want it to have moved us."

"it's a really iconic song. It's a song everybody knows, so we want to be able to bring the really familiar aspects of the song to life. But we also want to do something with it to make people enjoy it in a way they weren't expecting," explained band member Austin Brown.

"Sounded awesome," said Folds.

Vocal Rush
Oakland School for the Arts high school in Oakland, CA
12 young men and women
covering "Against All Odds " by Phil Collins from the movie, "Against All Odds."

Noted for high energy songs with lots of choreography, the Oakland School for the Arts high school a cappella group, Vocal Rush, toned it down a bit and delivered a beautiful moving rendition of "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins. The performance was so momentous and heart stirring that it made me cry.

Kyana Fanene, who is usually singing the percussion, instead boldly took a risk and sang lead vocals on the intro and outro of the song in a delicately sweet voice, "The judges said we have a lot of youthful energy that tends to make us too excited and speed up. This will show how mature we can be," she said before her performance.

Jewel complimented the young singer, "Kyana, you're only 16 years old and you came out there and you allowed yourself to be really vulnerable and I heard your nerves. I heard it kind of taking your breath and cutting off your phrases and I liked it.  It's endearing because it's really honest and I like hearing that. I want to hear your vulnerability. I don't want to hear something perfect without emotion. I want to hear emotion even if it's slightly flawed, 'cause those flaws make us relate to you as human."

The group used 18-year old Jordan Holly's soulful vocals to deliver a powerful punch for the meat of the song. Stockman noted the singers' technique, "Jordan, I loved you since the first show. And the fact that you have such control with your voice and you're 18?" noted Stockman, "Sometimes it takes people years to develop that type of vocal control and to develop that type of such a richness about your voice and that is a great, great trait to have if you're gonna sing."

Folds, who has two teenagers of his own at home, was equally impressed with the moving rendition, "I just like you guys and you all sort of stand for something in a good way."

"As a unit, I believe that you guys have the ability to do anything you guys want because you understand each other. You really are a group. Great job," said Stockman.

University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts in Lexington, KY
12 men
covering "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seeger, from the movie "Risky Business."

One thing a large all-male collegiate a cappella group can do well is put on an entertaining show, and that they did while acting out the song, "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seeger, which featured Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear in the movie, "Risky Business."

"Because these are movie songs, create a picture for us, you know, give us a character. It's a fun song. It's about nostalgia," suggested Jewel during rehearsals.

The 'Kats (as they are affectionately known back at the University of Kentucky) started out their rendition in barbershop before quickly flipping into a very true-to-the-original version of the song led by singer, Ross Hill.

"Jewel gave us some really good feedback, like having a story line, having excitement, and a nostalgic feel," said Ross.

For the second verse, the group changed up the song and delivered a honky tonk country swing version with Jeremy Michael Lewis on lead vocals. They then transitioned into a bluesy version with the help of lead vocalist Ron Wilbur, a shift that Jewel noted as a "musical tour."

Despite all that was happening on stage, the vocals were reasonably tight, "Seriously guys, it was a great performance. Lots of energy," said Stockman, "Harmony wise, sometimes when you do the choreography, those harmonies can waiver. And I heard that just a little bit. But other than that, it was still a wonderful performance. Obviously, you guys found a niche."

"I thought the transitions were good. They were well executed," noted Folds. "I'm not dead sure if I was sold on the idea of that many styles of music being represented in a song that was about rock and roll," and suggested the "lead vocals could have used more, uh, growling."

In the final chorus, all three leads came together and stripped into their tidy whiteys, dancing across the stage in an homage to Tom Cruise's iconic scene.

"It was rocking' and rollin'. I could have done without the exposure," joked Stockman.

Sadly, the group went home after this show, not a reflection of their performance, but more as another sad casualty of the necessary elimination process, which has become quite difficult this year due to the impressive caliber of groups this season.

The Filharmonic
Los Angeles, CA
6 men
covering "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," by Aerosmith, from the movie "Armageddon."

There is no doubt that The Filharmonic group are six very attractive young men, with lead singer VJ Rosales notably a "pretty boy," in the best sense of the term. Since the group is known for its good looks, beautifully smooth voices, and slick dance moves, mentor Jewel suggested to them that they add emotion to their performance, something she felt was lacking, "I just encouraged VJ to not just be a cute face, smiling, but to give me some feeling, give me some heart. Make me believe what you're saying."

"It's important for us to show and convey emotion this time around," agreed VJ.

And show it, they did. Their rendition of "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith was sweet and emotional, opening with the smooth croonings of VJ Rosales, before switching to the more powerful lead vocals of Joe Calgoy, who was moved to tears himself by the ending.

"It was really nice to see that vulnerable side of you," commended Jewel, "I love how you started that a cappella. It was really touching. You guys did a tender emotional performance of that," said Jewel, "you weren't relying on a lot of energy and dance moves, and so it made you guys really vulnerable."

Host Nick Lachey also gave his approval of Joe's emotional outpouring, "It's a blessing to see you up here giving it your all and coming from a place of real sincerity and honesty. That's a beautiful thing, man. Don't be ashamed of that at all. That's awesome. "

Folds had nothing but praise for the lead vocals, "Joe, especially in your lower range, the texture in your voice, and the tone to me that was the tambour of your voice, it was the most compelling thing about your performance," he said, "VJ, too. Great singing. The lead singing was really fantastic on both your parts."

"I think you guys interpreted it, lovely," added Stockman.

Folds took the opportunity to make a "global statement" about beat boxing on cymbals, finding no point to them in most a cappella renditions, "You might not need them. A cymbal in real life sustains beyond everything else… It is like, 'Psssssss' and it keeps going. But when you're beat boxing, you have to drop that in the middle. And what it does to the listener, is you hear someone spitting. And this is no reason for it."

Stockman reminded the group, "You have to make sure those harmonies stay locked from beginning to end," noting that their arrangements tend to come apart at the bridge. "You guys can be better. Just keep that in mind."

Orlando, FL
6 men and women
covering "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds, from the movie, "The Breakfast Club."

Ben Folds joked that when the song "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds came out in 1985, someone who looked like Nick Lachey was beating him up in the school yard over lunch money.

I think the song hits home for a lot of us who have seen the movie, "The Breakfast Club," a movie which explores the high school angst of how students divide themselves into cliques where one person in one clique doesn't generally associate with someone in another clique, but then are suddenly thrown together, and find they actually really like each other. Folds noted, "I'm not someone who normally comments about choreography, but I liked that in the last chorus, you all kind of took off pieces of your high school identity to move on. I thought the symbolism of that was really powerful. That was really good."

During rehearsals, Jewel mentored the group.

Honey LaRochelle spoke of her fear of letting go of her emotions, "Being transparent and being vulnerable is a scary thing, but maybe that's really the way to go," said Honey. "Jewel said that maybe I wasn't being as honest as I thought I was being. I thought I was really putting it all out there, but the fact that she wants to see even more is even more scary."

Jewel gave her pointers, "I think you have a really deep well in you, and it's really vulnerable. Give me your heart, and I promise people will give it back to you."

Stockman shared some wise words based on his own experiences in the music business, "I think part of what makes us unique as artists and as singers is that we can bare our souls in front of millions of people… That's the magic and power of being an artist. You can be honest. Always remember that. And do not be afraid."

The group's vulnerability made their vocals that much more special as both Honey and Eli Jacobson sang emotional opposing lead parts, reflecting the mood of the song.

"I'm proud of you Honey, and it's an ongoing journey and I really do encourage everybody, every singer to really let your honesty come through. You know your realness is your thumbprint. It's what makes you uniquely you," said Jewel.

"Elliott, you surprised us all," said Stockman. "That's awesome that you came in the front and did your thing," noting, "It was nice to see you comin' out the box, sir."

The groups arrangement of the song was also complex and intricate.

"I liked how you guys deconstructed the song, it was a moment of polyphony, not to steal one of Ben's big words, but, I kinda had to do it," laughed Jewel, explaining that polyphony refers to intertwining, separate and distinct complementary melodies that are being played simultaneously, "instead of it being a harmony built on the triad."

"…as opposed to monophony," explained Folds, referring to music with just one melody or 'voice.'

"In other words, it was dope," joked Stockman, "I loved the arrangement. I love how you started. I loved how you brought in Honey, you have a unique voice in a way, because you can do almost anything. I always love your delivery, and I love your performance."

Both Stockman and Folds noted a loss of momentum in the arrangement somewhere near the bridge.

Stockman suggested that the group incorporate the song's musical hook, "the most memorable part of that song, "la la la la, clap, la la la la, clap…" as a way to end the song in a grand finale. "I didn't get that at the end, and I wish I did. Other than that, it was a good performance," said Stockman.

Sadly, the group was sent home, despite their amazing rendition. Once again, not due to anything they did or didn't do, but more attributed to the fact that someone must be eliminated.

Dallas, TX
10 men and women
covering "Skyfall" by Adele from the James Bond movie, "Skyfall."

I always want to turn up my volume louder when I hear Ten perform, since the wall of sound they create with mere vocals tickles my eardrums. It's important to have good speakers while watching the Sing-Off, really good speakers with a full spectrum of sound, in order to truly appreciate and enjoy the amazing harmonies truly good a cappella groups can create.

"You guys are doing really intricate ten-part harmonies. It was very impressive, very sophisticated and very appreciated," said Jewel.

Ten chose to perform a 007 James Bond movie song, "Skyfall," by Adele, as their movie hit with both Deedee Yancey-Mackey and Emoni Wikins on lead vocals.

"That was really good guys, that was really powerful," said Folds, "You hold back the groove like nobody else. Your choir is world class… amazing."

Jewel complimented the arrangement, "I loved that. It was like watching a movie. You had a lot of suspense and drama. A lot of great brushstrokes in the beginning. You set a scene."

Ten seems to have discovered the secret of how to arrange their parts. The song began with Deedee on lead vocals, hitting every note absolutely perfectly, then transitioned to the higher-ranged Imani, who was able to punch the high notes with power at the end.

"Deedee, that was a great reserved vocal at the top. That's so hard to do, especially on a competition show," noted Jewel.

"You've understood vocally what you guys can do as far as dynamics," said Stockman, "Deedee, your voice is so mesmerizing… You take over the song, you bring it to where everybody is in full attention at what you're doing. And that's the power and the drama that we as artists can create. You drew the picture, and Imani, you just brought it way home."

Stockman also complimented Deonis Cook on his percussion, "I was gonna see if you did the syncopated, do do do do do do do do do do do do do do, and I was like, YES! Everything was on point. You guys sound amazing. I'm so happy that you found your niche. Congratulations."

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