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)
- THE BEELZEBUBS (Medford, MA)
- FACE (Boulder, CO)
- MAXX FACTOR (Baltimore)
- NOTEWORTHY (Provo, UT)
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
4) Maxx Factor
6) Voices of Lee
Next time, big hits... and even bigger guilty
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