After a couple of lame episodes packed with '60s-inspired musical numbers that made the entire show seem like a community-theater production of Hair, NBC's a cappella competition "The Sing-Off" triumphantly returned, and retuned, this week with its '80s/'90s-themed "Guilty Pleasures" night. And I don't feel the least bit guilty saying that this episode was, if I may lapse into '80s-speak, like totally rad. This was "The Sing-Off" at its bitchen best. Sure, it was still as cheesy as ever, but this was the kind of cheese I could really sink my teeth into.
For the first time this season, all of the teams competed on the same show, albeit still in their individual brackets (with one team apiece from bracket 1 and bracket 2 getting the boot). The eight teams that survived all belted out solid performances, but there were two crews that really made me want to moonwalk and cabbage-patch to their beatboxed beats. I would actually say that one of these performances, by Pentatonix, even tied Beelzebubs' "Magical Mystery Tour" from Season 1 for the top spot on my list of favorite "Sing-Off" performances ever. Like totally, fer sure.
Yellowjackets - I am not a Yellowjackets fan per se, but I realize now I like the 'Jackets a whole lot more when they're in Spice Guys mode, wearing Union Jack newsboy caps, adopting British accents, and zig-a-zig-ah-ing. The YJs' cover of the Spice Girls' "Wannabe" had lots of Boy Powered-energy and was good for more than a few chuckles; I enjoyed this jolly olde English side of them. "That was a ton of fun, and I'm laughing really hard. I loved that there was so much performing onstage!" said judge Sara Bareilles. Shawn Stockman said some of the harmonies were a little "flart" (his snicker-inducing term for "flat and sharp"), and he was a little spooked by the sight of a bunch of men slamming their bodies down and winding them all around, "but somehow I enjoyed it." And Ben Folds loved this peek into the Yellowjackets' Spiceworld, saying, "Everyone in room was smiling. Every four to eight bars there was another 'event,' which was really great arranging." I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want, from the 'Jackets: more performances like this one!
Delilah - I loved seeing a chorus line of wannabe Jennifer Bealses dance around in primary-color legwarmers, artfully slashed sweatshirts, and fingerless gloves to the Flashdance theme "What A Feeling." And the way that Delilah chair-danced was a nice touch; all that was missing was some vigorously thigh-slapping "Maniac"-dancing and a few buckets of cold water splashing down on them at the end. However, in the end, I didn't quite think the Delilah girls captured the full energy and glory of Irene Cara's iconic '80s anthem. Ben said the song took four bars too long to really get going, and that they still need to "crack the code" when it comes to figuring out how to make all their high voices blend pleasantly. Shawn thought "at the end it came undone a bit," but said the girls salvaged the song eventually; he also praised these former "Sing-Off" rejects for persevering, saying, "You're a testament of what never giving up represents." Sara, perhaps not surprisingly, liked them the most, gushing, "This felt like you to me. I see that you guys really dug deep this time; the emotion is really coming across!" So, can Delilah take their passion and make it happen? We shall see.
North Shore - When these senior citizens announced they were going to do Hanson's "MMMBop," I rejoiced. But then, I recoiled, when the guys had a last-minute change of heart and switched their song to Huey Lewis & The News' "Power Of Love." Apparently Hanson never get the credit they really deserve, since North Shore admitted that "MMMBop" was just too difficult for them to take on! I would have liked to see a bunch of grandpas singing a song originally recorded by young boys, honestly. The Huey song just aged North Shore even more, and it make their shtick seem old (no pun intended). This was old News (pun intended!). And for the first time, the North Shore fellows received from serious criticism from the formerly fawning judges. "I look for you guys to exude emotion," said a disappointed Shawn. "I wanted to feel another side of the sound. I wanted see something a little different from you guys. But I know you didn't have enough time." Said Ben, "I'm with Shawn. The last thing on the list that we need to see is the identifiable timber of the delivery." (Fancy words from TV's most intellectual and nerdy reality judge.) Sara admitted to having a soft spot for Huey Lewis, the first artist she ever saw in concert, and told North Shore, "I think you guys really took some risks this week." I, however, think they played it too safe. They should have done the Hanson song!
The Collective - "I Will Survive" was a song this group could relate to after their struggles this season, but I still couldn't help noticing that all of their vocals combined, even including the fabulous Ruby's, still didn't quite match the power of disco diva Gloria Gaynor's one amazing voice. I almost wished they'd done the dryly humorous Cake version of this hit, but I suppose that would've been more suitable for a jokey group like the Dartmouth Aires. The judges, for the most part, appreciated the Collective's attempt. "Damn if I didn't love that!" said Sara. "I loved that it was so emotional for you guys, but you still delivered a performance with some great vocals and stellar arrangements. I know you guys want to do more than just survive, and you did with this performance." Said Shawn, "With each week, you find yourself, with each performance"--but he did say he thought it took the group too long to get into the disco groove. Ben disagreed, however, saying, "One of the main improvements is you grabbed us from the start on this one. I respect the choice you made by not glomming on the anthem feel of the song. Everything was a step up from where it was." Let's see how long the Collective survive on this show, if Ben is right.
Dartmouth Aires - The Aires are one of my favorite groups on this show; their humor, energy, ability to never take themselves too seriously, and willingness to add some extra cheese always make their performances so much fun to behold. I loved how they mugged it up and acted out the plotline of Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" (which, incidentally, is NOT a "guilty pleasure" song; it's just a perfect pop song, period). And it was awesome when they punctuated their performance with superfly group member Clark's bold high-kicks. "Clark, I'm surprised at how high you got your leg up!" exclaimed Shawn. "I knew with a hairstyle like that, there was gonna be a 'Clark moment.'" Said Sara, "I was smiling from ear to ear. Brendan, you kicked ass on that lead. We're missing a little bit of consistency and focus on the low end, but it was super-entertaining." And Ben elaborated on Sara's point by saying, "It's not quite grooving really, just virtually. Get that record-making stuff going on below, so you don't have to put out so much energy visually for us to feel it!" Hey, I felt it, but I see what Ben meant: Close your eyes and just listen, and the Aires do lose some of their magic. But for now, I'm enjoying the 'Clark moments'!
Afro-Blue - These guys had serious guts to cover a golden-era Whitney Houston classic, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." Whitney can't even sing that song well anymore! One girl in the bunch noticeably struggled, but for the most part Afro-Blue kept it together and held it down. "That was a very, very entertaining and smart arrangement," praised Shawn, who loved their "signature Afro-Blue 25-part harmony" and samba breakdown. "You were riding that fine line between doing too much and not enough." Ben said the first chorus seemed "a little separated," but thought the performance kicked in by the second chorus. And Sara loved the group's sense of whimsy. "I was worried you would take yourselves too seriously," she admitted. Being too serious on a show like "The Sing-Off" is the kiss of death, I think...and one bracket 2 group was about to learn that in the hardest way possible. Luckily, it was NOT the next group...
Pentatonix - Covering the Buggles' MTV-kickstarting classic "Video Killed The Radio Star" (a song once wonderfully covered by Ben Folds himself) was a shrewd move. (By the way, this is another song no one should feel "guilty" about liking. It rules.) Everything about this performance WORKED: the Club MTV neon outfits, the Robot dance moves, the bold vocals. No wonder the crowd was going nuts. Pentatonix said this performance was inspired by their fallen friends in the similarly electro-inspired crew Sonos, but man, Sonos was never as much fun as this. Pretty much NO crew on "The Sing-Off" has ever been as much fun as this! "I think you guys are sent back from the future to save a cappella and do it in a futuristic way," declared Shawn. "I think this '80s type of electronic, synth-saturated space music is right up you guys' alley." Agreed Ben, "You definitely hit on something with this one. There's a looseness about it that really suited you." Video may have killed the radio star, but "The Sing-Off" just birthed an a cappella star with this breakout number.
The Deltones - Swedish popbots Roxette have many upbeat, silly selections in their songbook, like "The Look," "Joyride," and "Dangerous," but their power-ballad "Listen To Your Heart," which the Deltones chose to cover instead, didn't quite possess the fun vibe of the other teams' songs. After seeing Pentatonix doing the Robot, Delilah rocking those legwarmers, and the Dartmouth Aires high-kicking, this Deltones performance seemed so somber and dreary to me. "I think the song choice might have been too serious," sighed Sara. Shawn said, "I would have loved to hear more dynamics." And Ben while Ben liked the Deltones' emotion--"You're one of the few groups on the show that earnestly sings the lyrics every time," he said--he did suggest leader Courtney go the country route, and noted, "The breakdown should have worked and I don't know why it didn't." I just don't think anything really worked during this performance. The Deltones should feel guilty, but only for blowing it.
Urban Method - This was my second-favorite performance of the night. So far I've been underwhelmed by this "rap-a-pella" crew, but Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" was THE perfect song choice for them. If they can put on performances like this every week, Urban Method might have a surefire method of getting to the finale. They had a lot to live up to, since Shawn's Boyz II Men were actually signed to Motown by Bell Biv DeVoe's Michael Bivins, but it was clear that Shawn was thoroughly entertained by Urban Method's New Jack dance moves, with everyone cabbage-patching and running-manning and the ladies in the group convincingly acting like '90s video hoochies. The group's theatrical tendencies, which sometimes can be irritating, worked awesomely here. "Oh, snap!" exclaimed Shawn. "You guys took on the premise of the record. It was a fun song from the gate. It's fun, it's sexy, it's flirty, it's street, it's hip-hop...it's basically Urban Method!" Said Ben, "That was loads of fun. It grooved from the beginning to the end, and you can't fault that!" Then Ben rapped and seemed even nerdier than ever--but in the most adorable way possible, of course.
Vocal Point - "Footloose" was a timely song choice, given the movie remake in theaters now, and VP's energetic delivery and slapdash choreography fit the vibe of the song. But this didn't quite make me want to do a prom-line group dance or scream, "LETTTTTT'SSSSS DAAAAANCE!" all Kevin Bacon-stylee. "That was some of the first real rock 'n' roll I've heard from the a cappella groups," said Ben, proving just how non-rockin' "The Sing-Off" really is. "You made the crowd go crazy, you made us go crazy, I am sure there are people watching TV in Hello Kitty pajamas dancing," said Shawn (which made me adore him, since any Hello Kitty reference on television is a wonderful thing). "I think Kenny Loggins would love that performance," said Sara, although I am not sure that's the greatest compliment ever. "You're exuding the essence of the song, this innocent, poppy version of rock 'n' roll." Judges, seriously: "The Sing-Off" is NOT rock 'n' roll. Stop saying that.
In the end, two more crews went home, and they were North Shore, whose shtick was starting to seem too hokey even for this hokey show, and the Deltones, who sang well but just didn't offer the same entertainment value as the other, more effervescent teams. I think the judges made the right decision on both counts. The grand prize at the end of this season, after all, is a record deal, and I honestly cannot imagine many people buying a North Shore or Deltones LP.
But even if it's not rock 'n' roll, I might actually considering picking up an album by Pentatonix, my new Season 3 favorite, if they keep putting on killer performances like "Video Killed The Radio Star." Was this week just a fluke, or can these a cappella stars keep it up? I can't wait to see them try--and I may even wear my Hello Kitty PJs for the occasion.
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