Why ‘The Sing-Off’ Is TV’s Best Singing Competition

'The Sing-Off' is hitting all the right notes (Lewis Jacobs/NBC)
'The Sing-Off' is hitting all the right notes (Lewis Jacobs/NBC)

(Television Without Pity) — This singing competition has been quietly airing during December for the last two years, spotlighting a capella groups and airing only a handful of episodes. But while "The Sing-Off" doesn't get as much attention as "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," or the forthcoming "X Factor," it really is one of the best vocal-adrenaline-filled shows on television. If you haven't been watching, this season is already off to a great start -- and here's why it's worth checking out:

Excellent Singing
The majority of these folks are quite talented and can do things with their voices that you don't hear on most shows of this nature. They push their limits, usually have a working knowledge of music theory, and know how to modulate their voices for percussion, bass, or even delicate melodies. And they all just seem really pleased to be there and competing. We're not entirely sure if they give these people some happy juice backstage, but the show exudes a positive vibe all the way around. The sounds they create are so rich that it's easy to forget there are no instruments. Sure, there are off-notes -- otherwise, no one would ever go home -- but by and large, it's music to our ears.

It's Like the Best Parts of "Glee"
You want to know what an actual show-choir competition might look/sound like? This program gives you a far better representation than the three groups on "Glee" competing at Sectionals. But for those who love that drama's actual-show choir moments, with the costumes the choreography, and the harmonies, this series will appeal to that sensibility. It's usually modern music (not all Journey!) done with an all-vocal twist and some dancing. And you don't have to worry about pesky storylines that don't make sense.

Intelligent Judges
Tired of Paula babbling incessantly or Randy repeating phrases like "in it to win it"? This show has capable judges in the form of Ben Folds, Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman, and Sara Bareilles, who offer up thoughtful and constructive criticism. And they're funny. Ben has a great dry sense of humor, Shawn has a sexy silliness when he's really enthusiastic about something, and newcomer Sara seems like a self-effacing fan girl. They're a great combo -- they are equally competent and they don't just mouth catchphrases over and over again. You definitely hear more detailed technical musical commentary than just "pitchy."

Nick Lachey
No, he's not judging; instead, he realizes that hosting is more his forte and takes advantage of it. He's amiable without being distracting. And he's a snappy dresser.

Opening Group Numbers
No need for lip-syncing in these performances ("Idol," take note). These large group numbers are effortless and bring a great spirit to the show, as many different styles of vocals blend together to create some truly beautiful music.

No Awful Band or Overpowering Backup Singers
After watching the "Dancing With the Stars" premiere and being subjected to that band and the vocalists who brutalize songs to the point that they're barely recognizable, we were delighted to switch over to this and hear true craftsmanship. There's no Auto-Tune or "Idol"-style backup singers trying to get a moment in the spotlight. It's just well-done harmonies.

No Lame Audition Rounds
The premiere started with the top 16 groups right out of the gate. No need for us to sit around listening to the screechy tones of people who actually don't know how to work together and are only there to serve as comic fodder for the show's judges and producers. And "The Sing-Off" cut two groups in the first episode, again getting right to the point. We appreciate the lack of the unnecessary and the ridiculous.

No Nicole Scherzinger
How awesome is it that Nicole Scherzinger (who, admittedly, was mostly tolerable on this show) has left to go work on "X Factor" just as "The Sing-Off" gets expanded? Very awesome.

Understated Effects
The show isn't all flash with some ginormous stage that swallows up the performers. It features an intimate space, where the performers are confined to a relatively small area that keeps the focus squarely on them -- as it should be. We also like the little balcony boxes where the performers sit ("Hollywood Squares"-style, with their names in lights) and watch their competition.

Our only real complaint (now that they've lengthened the season) is that the intro packages often show too much of the groups rehearsing the number that we later see on stage. If they could fix that, "The Sing-Off" might be practically pitch-perfect.

Watch the "Sing-Off" season premiere in full right here:

"The Sing-Off" airs Mondays at 8pm ET on NBC.

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