First things first: this week’s theme on The Sing Off was officially “guilty pleasures” (in which groups performed particularly goofy, often 1980s-era tunes), but unofficially? “Irony.” For a genre that prides itself on puns and music theory jokes, a cappella is often the one place that songs like “Flashdance” lose any guilt element whatsoever.
The University of Rochester’s Yellowjackets and all-soloist group the Collective were both safe this week, with the college boys (ironically) covering the Spice Girls’ hit, “Wannabe” to rave reviews from the judges – who loved it despite some tuning issues – and the Nashville bunch tackling Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” with much-improved blend and stylistic choices. The theory that the Collective can do little wrong in the judges’ eyes, as they improve episode by episode, still stood its ground this week. The question remains, though: at what point will they be forced to get past the subjective “shows improvement” praise and snag an objective “outstanding on all counts?”
Though also safe, the usually perfect Dartmouth Aires got some surprisingly technical criticism for their rendition of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” this week. The Aires, garishly decked out in whatever purple stuff the costume department could find backstage (not to mention the Champion-brand letterman’s jackets that screamed product placement), pulled out the stops with the choreography (shout out to the adorable Clark Moore for those moves), but judges said the bottom vocal parts were missing in the arrangement.
The first pair of groups on the guillotine this week were Delilah and North Shore, both of whom elicited high praise from judges early on, but, for some inexplicable reason, fell out of critical favor. While Delilah narrowly missed the chop last week, the supergroup suffered yet another blow with their sub-par arrangement of Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a Feeling.” Meanwhile, North Shore’s delivery of Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love” fell flat emotionally, with Ben noting that the men needed to match their stellar physical interpretation with an equally warm vocal timbre – a crucial element of a recording artist’s artillery. (Still, we might interject that this was the first time North Shore had so much as smelled the chopping block, which makes what happened next, quite frankly, the a cappella crime of the century.)
In a moment of insanity, the judges decided North Shore was the first half’s weakest link, and sent them packing. As predicted, Nick Lachey looked pretty ashamed of himself as he announced the quintet’s farewell performance, a grandfatherly cover of Spaniels’ “Goodbye, Sweetheart.” Even members of Delilah sobbed. The inhumanity on this show, I tell you.
The second half saw three performances that kept their singers far from elimination: Pentatonix‘s “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles, Urban Method‘s “Poison” by Bel Biv Devoe, and Vocal Point‘s “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins. Decked out in Daft-Punk-esque black-and-neon getups, Pentatonix wowed the judges with their robo-choreography and their “specific, meticulous [stylistic and arrangement] choices” (It was also clear that everyone was super relieved that the group ditched their first-choice song, Cher’s “Believe”), while Urban Method’s performance elicited a semi-disturbing nerd rap outburst from Ben Folds, not to mention the advice, “Tell your kids never to trust a big butt and a smile” (ummmm…). The nice Mormon boys of Vocal Point, perhaps with the most irony of all, pulled out a song about rebellion from a musical about an über-religious town, but did it perfectly; judges applauded the first real “rock ‘n’ roll” performance of the season. (Based on previews from next week, these guys are definitely gonna pull out a tear-jerker, in tribute to returning member Ben Murphy’s late father, whose recent illness kept him off the show for the first few episodes.)
At the end, though, it was Afro-Blue and Deltones on the block. Afro-Blue, judges said, didn’t live up to their previous standards, falling a little flat on diction and a lack of middle-range in their harmonies on their cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” They pulled through, however, because they incorporated the criticism they received in previous weeks – that they over-thought their arrangements – and came out with a better, more likable performance.
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Alas, it was the Deltones who were told to hit the road, after a lackluster rendition of Roxette’s “Listen to Your Heart” seemed to bore the judges to tears. In so many words, Sara told them their “guilty pleasure” song choice was a total downer, Shawn begged for some variations in their dynamics, and Ben said everything short of “you’re boring and we forget who you are because you don’t stick out.” Bummer for the “friends first, singers second” group, who sang “Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch as they filed off stage, but if both Afro-Blue and North Shore had gone home last night…well, let’s just try not to think about that.
Last Episode: Judges Get Brutal