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The biggest musical challenge ever to hit the stage features eight teams, great music... and no instruments.

Recaps by Chico Alexander & Gordon Pepper, GSNN
Host Nick Lachey
Judges Ben Folds
Nicole Scherzinger
Shawn Stockman
Creator Joel Gallen
EP Joel Gallen
Deb Newmyer
Sam Weisman
Packager Tenth Planet Productions & Outlaw Entertainment for Sony Pictures TV
Origins Sunset Bronson Studios, Los Angeles
Airs 8p Mon-Wed, NBC
Available In High-Definition Where AvailableStreaming Online

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December 14

Now, if you know me or have read this page for any given amount of time during American Idol season, you know I've been a member of various chorales and groups dating back to 4th grade (almost 20 years, for those taking score), so a cappella group singing... I'm somewhat of an expert. And now, thanks in no small part to a hit show about a glee club on another network, the whole nation is singing the praises of... well, singing. Enter this contest, which may or may not look familiar. Eight a cappella groups from all across the nation will arrive, but only one will win the title. And with that title comes $100,000 cash money, a recording-contract with Sony Music, and a chance to join such luminaries as Straight No Chaser, the Manhattan Transfer, Rockapella, and Five O'Clock Shadow.

And here to help our groups are three seasoned vets of musicality, Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger, Ben Folds Five lead singer Ben Folds, and Boyz II Men's high tenor Shawn Stockman. And acting as ringleader of this whole ordeal is one Nick Lachey, who did some singing of his own back in the day as leader of 98 Degrees.

So we have singers. We have judges. We have a stage. I ... have Gordon! t's time for a good old-fashioned Sing-Off.

And as all the contestants descend to the stage to sing "Under Pressure" by David Bowie & Queen, time to meet the teams!

- NOTA (San Juan, PR)
- FACE (Boulder, CO)
- MAXX FACTOR (Baltimore)
- SOLO (Omaha, NE)
- THE SoCALS (Los Angeles)
- VOICES OF LEE (Cleveland, TN)

Tonight, the groups will perform a signature song, a show of the strengths as melody makers and as entertainers, and they better be bloody good, because at the end of two hours time, only SIX groups will remain to perform on tomorrow night's show.

First up, from Puerto Rico, we bring you Nota, which, like Puerto Rico itself, is a combination of Latin roots and contemporary styling. One of the group members' wife was in a coma with H1N1, but she recuperated while her husband and the group sang to her. They do believe that music has a healing effect, but will they heal themselves with Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours".

What they say: Nicole says that it's a good start to the show. Ben says that the arrangement is cool and that the song choice was a very smart one. Everything was in tune there. Shawn says that the Spanish remix is hot, and says that if this is how we're starting, he can't wait for the rest of the show.

What we say: Some of the melodies were a little shaky, and it felt like a few lyrics were invented on the spot. BUT when they switched it with the Latin flavor, that's when their true essence shone forth. Some people may not "get it", but as a Latin male having grown up on this style of music (I love you, dad!), that spoke to me on the depth of their creativity.

What Gordon says: What I liked the best about this performance is that they are not afraid to change up the keys, the tempo, the language, or the culture. Using the stereotypical 'you have to make it your own' cliche, the arrangement was excellent. A threat to win the whole thing early.

Next up, relying on their faith and their voices, it's time to talk to Voices of Lee.  Their thing: inspirational music. They say that they're FAR from straight-laced, though. Their leader pushes them only because he believes in them. They begin what they hope to be a long story with "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield.

What they say: Shawn says that the interpretation is very tight, but if they're not careful, they're going to stray off key, going sharp TOGETHER. He heard some shakiness. Ben thought it was uplifting, but it ironically took them a while to find their voice. He was hearing a lot of soprano. It built well, though. He wants them to not be so ambitious and to thin out the arrangement. Nicole says that she enjoys the message of why they're here.

What we say: If Gordon was here, he'd say... "You need to sack your lead singer." Or something infinitely clever. I've heard college-aged singers sing bigger than they actually were. As a group, though, they have very tight chemistry, and their stage presence is impeccable. They have a niche, but what happens when they have to break out of that niche? I fear what may happen, but at the same time, I enjoy their blend.

What Gordon says: I hated the fact that they had one vocalist with the rest of the choir doing the back-up lyrics, which spurred an awful 'Clash of the Choirs' Flashback. It got a lot better once they got to the chorus, and the background shifting keys and gears were very nice, but it took a while to get there. If they stick around, they must be more on point quicker.

Next, it's time to face... FACE. They call themselves an all-vocal rock band. They don't "doo whop". The working-dads  prefer "in your face wall of sound". One of the group is a new father. Hopefully, that's enough fuel for them, as they take on Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer".

What they say: Ben says that they kept the rock alive. The chorus didn't hit, though, because they didn't have enough top support. Nicole was into it. Shawn agrees, but he wishes for more lead or for everyone else to back off.

What we say: .... what happened to the wall of sound? What happened to the shield of colors? Where's all that power you promised?

What Gordon says:  I really liked what they did in the intro, so I was expecting that they could do a lot with 'Living on a Prayer'. I was severely disappointed. The back up accompaniment was very pitchy and there's no hard rock edge to the song. I would have gone country like they did in the intro (because that sounded sharp), and I think the wrong song choice combined with no execution is going to cost them this evening.

The pressures of school and the pressures to perform are what makes these girls from BYU so Noteworthy. They say that their goal is not to make anyone believe anything, but to give hope. They will sing ALMOST anything (no swearing or innuendos). They want to be the favorite... quickly. Will "Think" by Aretha be their ticket to the top?

What they say: Shawn says that they brought attitude and flavor. The trick with female groups, though, are there are too many low voices, and when it gets "tinny", they get "slightly piercing of the ear" with the upper range. Ben says that the arrangement has to be a lot more inventive. They need a more elaborate spread of voices. "Maybe little more cussing would've been good." Nicole liked the elements of the female group dynamic. And then... she ends up agreeing with the panel saying that it builds to a point... and then they move past it.

What we say: They're going into the "E Pluribus Unum" school of group singing, as it didn't start off like a group, more than it did like "nine white girls from Provo, Utah" just colluding. But Mohawk Girl has some chops on her. We needed to hear more of her. The rest of the group, though... needs some (^_^) (^_^) mother (^_^)ing work, (^_^)(^_^) it. And we agree with Ben. It kept killing... and then it kept killing... and next thing you know.... it's dead.

What Gordon says: I really liked the beginning of the song. The choreography is smooth and added to the song, and the background harmonies are hot. The problem that I have is the lead singer. She can nail the notes, but the tone is so sharp that it can shatter glass if she oversings it. The modulation from the first half to the second half of the song was rocky. I think they get past this week, but they will have to get better if they want to get to the finals.

The four groups are reunited on stage. Three of them are coming back tomorrow. The other... is going home with nothing. Advancing first... NOTA! Following them is... NOTEWORTHY. Your first-half bottom two are Voices of Lee and FACE. Voices of Lee was shaky and a little ambitious. FACE drowned out the harmonies and lacks support on the upper range.

For Voices of Lee.... another chance. They're SAFE. For FACE, it's time to grab the mics and sing your swan song... literally... "Home" by Daughtry.

Next up, the next four. We start with a bunch of fun-loving college guys from Tufts University. They're big. They're bad. They're devilish. They're the Beelzebubs. They have one secret weapon: Bub Gear.... a shirt, coats, and pants that don't match. Together, they are the epitome of upper-crust academia... Nah, they're just a bunch of fun-loving rascals. And they're spreading the love today with "Magical Mystery Tour" by the Beatles.

What they say: Ben says it was fun and full of charisma. "My entertainment dollar exploded in my pocket." It was pitchy at the times when it was the most entertaining. Shawn thought he was watching Broadway. There were some parts... when things, though, are not necessarily perfect, that's when the entertainment comes through. Nicole... is just winging it at this point.

What we say:  Even with their quirky stylings... Even with some pitch issues. EVEN with all that... ... EASILY... the team to beat.

What Gordon says: They were a lot of fun. Great harmonizing and very clever use of choreography, especally with the double-decker bus pyramid cheerleading number. But I agree with Ben - when they started moving around, their pitch started to waver, and they need to be really really careful about avoiding that.

Next, the smallest and the oldest of the groups singing the smallest and the oldest of a cappella media. It's the barbershop quartet of Maxx Factor. They are in the top three... in the WORLD. They like to sing. They like to win. They like each other. They were friends long before they were a group. One of them has a father who was in our little world, and he was in a group called "Something Extra". He's gone now. But his legacy lives on as his daughter's group mixes up ABBA's "Dancing Queen".

What they say: Shawn likes the sass, the style, and the professionalism. He wanted a little more lead, though. Nicole thought it was dope. Ben thought it was great, and the barbershop aspect takes care of the challenge of having an all-female group.

What we say: Technically proficient and hitting all the boxes perfectly. They know how to sing, and so far, they're the only group who's got the crowd to clap along (that we know of. Remember, they have no vocal percussion). But it seems to me at least, that they are a little bombastic. But the bass line is killer.

What Gordon says:  They were technically, the cleanest group, and 2nd best in pitch only to Nota. That being said, they had a problem staying in tempo. Dancing Queen is a fast song and they slowed is down to ennui-like levels. They must be faster paced and hipper the next time out.

Two more groups. The first is a group of alums from USC's SoCal VoCals. Their mission: put a contemporary spin on any genres imaginable. They'll take on anything, and they're looking forward to taking on anything. Tonight, they're taking on Queen's "Somebody to Love".

What they say: Ben thought the song was tough, but they managed it. Their key center was a moving target. They find "a new key to love every five seconds". Because of that, the lead sounded flat. Shawn thought it was spirited, but they went off key quickly. Nicole thought their stage presence was innovative, but they need to work on cohesion.

What we say: They have a lot to live up to, and for the most part, they don't disappoint. They have the energy. Now they need the focus, because there were some sour moments... most of which is the soloist not having the strength to capitalize on "the note".

What Gordon says: They remind me of Glee if they did Rent: The Musical. They brought the emotion and intensity that Face didn't have. They need to focus more on the harmony and less on the percussion, which was mediocre at best. But I'm a fan and I want to see what they can come up with next.

One last group. That's Solo. They have a rare opportunity, because music is all they have. Some have no job. Some have no money. Some have no house. This is their one shot at greatness. "We need this show. We came together to better all of our situations." Will it happen with "Watcha Say" by Jason DeRulo?

What they say: Shawn says he knows how it feels to have a dream come true. Be proud that you're up here. Nicole says "They're already winners." Kiss of death. Ben says that the part they're getting right is "not teachable."

What we say: Umm... not good.

What Gordon says:  I so wanted to like them. I wanted to, but when you're that off-pitch on the tape (which they must have had hours to find the best they could), then you know you're in for a musical train wreck. This just wasn't good. They were completely off-key, complete with clashing harmony and uneven choreography. This is going to sound harsh, but this felt very cliché and stereotypical. There are so many better a cappella types of this genre out there that I wonder if they got in less because of the talent and more of the storyline. They really needed 2 or 3 more years before getting on this stage in this sort of competition.

That was the easy bit. The hard part is next. Four teams enter, three leave to sing another day. One... just leaves. The first group saved by the judges is... THE BEELZEBUBS! The second group saved by the judges is... THE SoCALS! That leaves the second bottom two: Maxx Factor, who was thin with the arrangement, and Solo, who was just a vocal trainwreck.

SOLO... is about to sing their swan song... Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive".

And so have we. Here are our rankings for the final six...

1) Nota
2) Beezebubs
3) SoCals
4) Maxx Factor
5) Noteworthy
6) Voices of Lee

Next time, big hits... and even bigger guilty pleasures.

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