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'The Sing-Off' Recap: Final Four Get Serious

Sexy saxophones, cool mic tricks, and a tear – or three

November 22, 2011 1:50 PM ET
urban method
Urban Method performs on NBC's 'The Sing Off.'
Lewis Jacobs/NBC

With only four groups left in the running, The Sing-Off has officially become emotional. Last night was the beginning of the end for all of us: it's time for favorites to be named, votes to be prepared... and questions to be raised as to how the hell this show can still manage to be two hours long.

This week's episode featured a weird pair of obstacles: the first hour had the final four arrange a two-hit mashup (even though we've already had a mashup week), while the second hour featured performances of songs the judges hand-picked for each group (they called them "challenge songs," but really, how hard could they have been?). Here's what went down.

Act I kicked off with Pentatonix's impeccably arranged "Forget You"/"Since U Been Gone" combo, which showcased the quintet's rhythm section to sparkling praise: while Ben practically gave them his blessing to start their recorded music career on the spot, Shawn took it a step further by renaming Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola "meat" and "potatoes." Okay, guys, we get it. You want them to win.

Putting Peggy Lee's "Fever" and Nelly's "Hot in Herre" together is basically a recipe for sexy times, and rap-a-pella ensemble Urban Method seemed to be banking on that with their glitter-abounding mashup; it drew hot-and-bothered responses from the judges, who just looooooved the balance of jazz and R&B in their arrangement. (Sidenote: there was also sexy sax in this one. It's about time this show had some good sexy sax.)

Then, Afro-Blue's mashup of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" and Nicki Minaj's "Fly," which made the angels cry, rallied the group from two consecutive rounds of bottom-two scares, as judges noted how much they've grown since the first episode.

Dartmouth Aires mashed up the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"; the performance, by which the judges were actually not too impressed, both had some pitch problems and served to call attention to how bizarrely similar these two songs are.
The second half of the night finally let the judges air out their gripes: before announcing their "challenge" song for each ensemble, a series of Ben/Sara/Shawn confessionals mapped out each groups' strengths and weaknesses.

Pentatonix, the judges said, would have a hard time continuing to surprise people, but they obviously didn't have a problem with their fancy rendition of Florence + the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over," which drew more worship from the judges table – the quintet, Shawn said, has what it takes to sustain a compelling recording career.

Urban Method and Afro-Blue got Kanye's "All of the Lights" and Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" respectively. While the former (who judges noted were often just "really good" and not "great") pulled out their usual exciting bells and whistles (how about that sick mic trick?!), the latter (who, as it's been said before, tend to overcomplicate arrangements) hit their stride so well that both Sara and Shawn got verklempt. Shawn called the Afro-Blue performance his favorite.

Finally, Dartmouth Aires were served the ultimate shoe-in song, the Eisley Brothers' "Shout." (Despite even more pitch issues, these guys have figured out the formula: pull off a lot of choreography and tuning shortcomings are forgiven. Judges did, however, note their tendency to choose entertainment over technical proficiency.) It was Ben's turn to get misty-eyed, as he told them their rendition brought him back to his childhood of Sam & Dave and Otis Redding.

In the end, it was Afro-Blue and Dartmouth Aires at the stocks. Unlike in weeks past, before the chop, the two groups were first subjected to a (mildly humiliating) repeat performance of their strongest song of the season. Afro-Blue reminded us how kick-ass their rendition of Estelle's "American Boy" was back in the third episode, and Dartmouth Aires hammed up the "Somebody to Love" part of their Queen medley. Then, to make it even more uncomfortable, each judge voted individually: Bareilles in favor of the Aires, Shawn for Afro. Ben (of course it was Ben), acting as tiebreaker, saved the Aires. The angels (as well as members of the Aires) wept once again as Afro-Blue, arguably the show's most technically on-point group, walked off the stage singing the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun." Seriously, guys, we hope so.

The end is nigh for The Sing-Off. Next week's episode, which will be broadcast live (expect a lot more awkward comments from Goofy Lachey), will subject Pentatonix, Dartmouth Aires, and Urban Method to merciless viewer votes, which will be pouring in throughout this week via text, web, and phone. How close is this race, really? All we know is, there can be only one.

Last Episode: Yesterday and Today's R&B

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