Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Shaina Sounds Off: Premiere, Part 1

The first eight groups of the season come together to perform P!nk's "F**kin' Perfect." Image courtesy of NBC.

The title for my review series probably sounds like one of those lame puns that Nick Lachey's writer comes up with. (Poor Nick...) Anyway, I apologize for taking so long to post this review, but I was working hard on yet another review for The Sing-Off for the Neon Tommy, USC Annenberg's award-winning digital news site, which you can read here. I hope to continue covering the season there, but we'll see if they'll let me. (Haha, I'm a newbie.) However, that article is more geared towards those who have yet to see the show and is mostly a summary of the episode. SNCQN gets my (probably unwarranted) opinion on the night's events. So let's get started, shall we?

The group performance of Pink's "F-in' Perfect" was energetic and great as they usually are, and I loved the rap part of the song. It was great to see each of the groups featured in the song in short snippets, and from this performance, I was able to make preliminary judgments on each of the groups and how I thought they would fare tonight in the competition.

It was great seeing how well Sara fit in with the Sing-Off family, and I know that she's going to be a fantastic replacement for Nicole. At least we can count on Sara saying something of musical worth, being critical of the performance, and not making weird sexual jokes... Oh, wait. Scratch that last one. (But for some reason, I'm more willing to forgive Sara.) And her potty mouth hasn't begun to show itself... Yet... (Or maybe the editing crew did a REALLY good job.)

First up, the Yellowjackets. I know the song that they performed very well; UCLA's Scattertones came to 'SC to compete at Absolut A Cappella and the ICCAs last year, and that song was a part of their set (and very lively). I thought that their arrangement really brought out the "African" feel, especially in the bass and background vocals. It was a lively performance, and the fact that they waved around scarves with Kenya's national colors was really awesome. However, they didn't really seem that much different from the all-male collegiate a cappella groups from past seasons, namely the Beelzebubs from season one and On the Rocks from season two. Though I think that they're good enough to make it rather far in the competition, they don't really have anything that sets them apart, and musicality can only go so far.

I thought the Fannin Family actually did a really great job. Maria NAILED the lead vocals, and their blend was so smooth, as I'd expected. Though, because they're a family group, I have a feeling that they aren't seasoned performers. Their movements on stage felt a little static to me, and the lack of choreography probably didn't help much. I also noticed that they didn't have a vocal percussionist, so that, along with not having a "real" bass, made the song (in terms of its arrangement) not as lively as it should have been.

I absolutely loved Afro-Blue's jazzy version of "Put Your Records On." There's something about jazz groups, and the jazz sound in general, that makes me happy. Keep your eye (and ear) on Christie, the soloist. Not only is she a great soloist and fantastic alto, but she can SCAT. That's all I'll say. The arrangement was great because it showcased the group's jazzy sound without being overly complicated, and it really showed off their group personality. Also, Ben's opening comment after the group performed was so awkward and weird. I love Ben.

Delilah was the surprise of the night. I generally am not a fan of all-female groups; almost always, they lack a firm foundation, in terms of vocal percussion and bass, and the highs always sound shrill. Their arrangements tend to be top-heavy, and it gets annoying to listen to. (Trust me on this; I speak from experience in both SINGING in all-female ensembles and LISTENING to all-female aca groups.) However, Delilah solved ALL of these issues. Not only do they have an AMAZING bass and vocal percussionist, but their ARRANGEMENTS are the key. Rather than having the girls in the ensemble singing syllables to imitate instruments, they act more like a bunch of back-up singers to Amy, singing the lyrics of the song and harmonizing with the lead. They left the bass and beatbox to suffice for the background, driving the tempo, and when the rest of the group did come in on random syllables, it wasn't overly annoying because we only got a small amount of it. (Side note: did anyone else notice Deke Sharon running around in the background of their interview in his bright green plaid shirt? Haha!)

I wasn't surprised that the bottom two were the YellowJackets and Fannin Family. The competition is stiff and the other two groups gave very memorable performances. Ultimately, I agree with the judges; Fannin Family just happened to be the weakest group of the bunch, and so they were sent home.

On to the next set of four!

Urban Method was interesting for me. I thought that it was interesting that they're a hip-hop a cappella group, and I immediately started to wonder how they will handle the judges' challenges, which force the groups outside of their comfort zones. However, this first performance was good. The emotion was there, and they really performed the song well. However, I didn't think that the actual arrangement was all that great. It was what you expect, which isn't exactly a winning formula for me.

Cat's Pajamas are really a fun act to watch. I'm sure that I'd love to watch them perform live (one day, I'll head to Branson!), and in light of what I'd heard before them, I thought that the judges' comments were a little unfair. As seasoned performers, I can't help but think that "Some Kind of Wonderful" might be one of those songs ingrained in their minds and that their constant performance of the song might have something to do with their not connecting to the audience to the extent that the judges wanted.

Kinfolk 9... Okay, let me say something. I just found out that their bass isin USC's Trojan Men, and I'd seen him direct the group, so when I saw him, I thought he looked vaguely familiar (but of course, the bright clothes were a radical change in wardrobe from the suit and tie I usually saw him in). AND, tonight, I found out that Moi, the lead singer, sings at the church of one of Overflow's newest members. Weird. But anyway, I thought that their performance was very emotional, though I agree with the judges; some spots had blending issues.

And now for... VOCAL POINT. These guys are my favorite of this bracket, hands down. They are so sweet and awesome and CUTE. When Sarah and I found out that they were competing this season, we had a mini freak-out and squealed like five-year-olds in a candy paradise. Seriously. These guys are great, and I was bummed that I missed them at the ICCA Semifinals last year at USC (they ultimately came in second place to Pitch Slapped). They always put on a show and are great musicians. These guys apparently got a very long standing ovation (that they had to cut, of course), and as the last performance of the night, this is INCREDIBLY commendable. As a frequent Sing-Off audience member (and I'm sure Sarah can attest), as the taping progresses, it gets more and more exhausting for not only the performers and judges, but also for the audience members. I mean, we applaud and yell a LOT. So the fact that the audience was willing to give them such a long ovation at the end of a very long night after having been there for about six hours (I'd be willing to bet this was taped around 11pm, maybe later) is EXTREMELY impressive. Yes, I love these guys. Yes, I want them to win. Yes, I briefly considered transferring there or pursuing a master's degree at BYU. (Too bad they don't have a master's program in Public Relations...)

And now yet another elimination. As much as I hate to admit it, I can see why the judges chose to eliminate Cat's Pajamas. Since they're able to make a living in singing a cappella and because they're already professional musicians, they probably thought that they'd feel less guilty about sending them home than if they had sent Kinfolk 9 home (since they basically epitomize the "struggling musician" stereotype). Furthermore, because Cat's Pajamas are so professional, they probably thought it would be harder for them to fix the flaws in their performance, since it had more to do with abstract ideas (as opposed to Kinfok 9's pitch problems, which can be solved over time). I sighed as I watch Cat's Pajamas sing "Bye Bye Love" as they left the competition.

In my opinion, all of the groups this year would have been good enough to make it to the top four in previous seasons. The competition is stiff, the groups are better than ever before, and the stakes are even higher (even though Nick didn't mention whether or not the winners get the Sing-Off trophy, haha). If this is a good indicator of what is to come, the third season of The Sing-Off has a promising future, and I can't wait to see what the next eight groups have up their sleeves (even if I've already seen it)!

What did you think about the first part of the premiere? Did you agree with the judges' choices to send home? Do you have a favorite in the competition yet? Weigh in below!


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