Thursday, December 18, 2014

Season 5 of The Sing-Off: Blink and you missed it

Melodrones from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN became the first collegiate winner of The Sing-Off.

Last night (Wednesday, December 17, 2014), we were treated to a two-hour spectacular Season Opener / Series run / Finale of The Sing-Off, a group a cappella singing competition show. It was Season 5, all compressed into a teeny tiny compact little two-hour time slot on primetime television on NBC.

Six well-chosen extraordinary groups heralding colorful matching uniforms performed amazing vocal acrobatics as they competed for a $50,000 Sony Music Recording Contract.

I felt as if I had been flicking channels and stumbled upon the yearly NCAA Cheerleading competition, coming in at the end and having no clue what had already transpired in order for these particular groups to arrive at the finals. I had no idea who they were. I wasn't given the luxury of getting to know the teams over the course of the season, not even a short one.  I felt as if I had been cheated, as if I'd walked in at the end of an amazing movie, and hoping to find it on Netflix so that I could rewatch it from the beginning, sadly realized that it was not available. I wanted to get to know the team stars and hear their heart wrenching stories of trials and tribulation; find out how they formed their groups and trained for countless exhaustive hours; and watch as they grew as artists over the course of the season in response to the judges' constructive criticisms.

I missed host Nick Lachey's dorky banter with the judges, who each had little time to say much of anything. Though Jewel and Dr. Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men returned, Ben Folds was off on tour somewhere and had to be replaced by Fall Out Boy's lead singer Patrick Stump. Poor Stump didn't even get his photo featured on the NBC website and is shown as a sad looking gray silhouette avatar:

I missed Ben Folds. I missed his dictionary-cracking vocabulary and insightful and intellectually complicated redneck-geek-charm-filled critiques.

Dr. Folds should be happy to hear that he finally got a win for a collegiate a cappella group. He's been rooting for this since Season 1 in 2009 when he helped launch the show with Deke Sharon, Mark Burnett, and Dr. Stockman after recording a college a cappella album. The black and gold Melodores of Vanderbilt University, formed right there in Dr. Folds own back yard of Nashville, Tennessee in 2009 (the same year the Sing-Off debuted), pulled out a win, beating out five exemplary groups.  I would not be at all surprised to see Folds work with the Melodores in the studio or on tour. 

My fear that the show would sink into the over-commercialized world of electronic dance music and auto-tuned vocal bands was dissuaded when the majority of the competing groups happily rejected the use of aids and stuck to the purist form of a cappella: meaning "in the manner of the church," without musical accompaniment.  Only one group, a.squared, took advantage of the newer relaxed restrictions and used a loop machine with a dedicated operator to create a musical backdrop.  In the end, it was all for naught, for they did not advance to the finals. In my opinion, the Sing-Off should return to the previous strict requirements. There's no need to muddy the playing field. 

I hope that like college cheerleading, a cappella competition returns to television next year in some format, perhaps aired on one of NBC's lesser sister networks over the summer, or even under a different name and with a new producer and record company sponsor. The Sing-Off may have lived out its life. However, a cappella will never die.

Show Recap

Jodi Walker wrote a nice recap of the season opener/finale/special for Entertainment Weekly, a la TVgrrrrl style, listing each act and the songs they performed. 

Season 5 Competitors

New Haven, CT
5 member male group, formed from Yale University students, using an electronic loop machine.

The Exchange
Myrtle Beach, SC
5 member male group, formed from various members of other teams who met on the Sing-Off show while competing.

Nashville, TN
14 member male collegiate singing group formed at Vanderbilt University

San Francisco, CA
6 member diverse group, formed to compete on the show.

Timothy's Gift
Nashville, TN
6 member female group, formed as a Christian faith based ministry to perform in prisons.

New York, NY
5 member female group, performing jazz and soul music.

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