'The Sing-Off' premiere: Keen singing and swan songs

I didn’t expect much from The Sing-Off, the new a capella competition show that combines American Idol, Glee, and America’s Got Talent with host Nick Lachey and the sad little caterpillar pasted to his upper lip. But during its two-hour premiere, The Sing-Off offered some pleasures both intentional and inadvertent.

Some of the groups, culled from around the country, were Glee-fully good and others were bad (no surprise that Face was sent home — over-emoting the already over-the-top “Livin’ On A Prayer” just doomed those guys). A couple of the acts — Voices of  Lee; Noteworthy — made such a point of emphasizing their religiosity in their taped introductions, I wondered when one of them was going to realize that one of their opponents was a bunch called the Beelzebubs. Beelzebub. As in demon. As in Satan. Don’t let those nice blazers the Bubs wore fool you, kids! E-e-e-e-k! Run for your lives! (For the record, I thoroughly support the Beelzebubs, as the group was founded in 1962 and named by a Tufts student who was reading Paradise Lost, thus the source of their name.)

But getting back to running for your life: Maxx Factor, the all-female barbershop quartet, broke into a version of “Rehab” that was meant to make us chuckle warmly and say, “Awww, see? The ladies covered an Amy Winehouse song — how racy!” I was racing to the fridge for a soda before they finished that bit of cutesiness.

This being the post-Susan Boyle era of TV competition judging, no act was ridiculed in the making of this show. And I do have to say that Ben Folds is my new favorite TV judge, hands down. The once-and-future Ben Folds Five leader was smart, articulate, funny, and perhaps the only person currently on TV who can use “keen” as a word of praise and not seem like he’s reading from an old Archie comic book.

The other two judges seemed cast as types. Former Boyz II Men member Shawn Stockman took the Randy Jackson role (“Wow, wow!”; “Pitchy”), while Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger was the Paula Abdul effusive-babbler (“Your voices are limitless!”).

When Lachey explained that each group voted off would sing a parting tune, he said, “We call it their ‘swan song'” — as though he thought the term “swan song” was some mysterious foreign phrase that only inside-the-biz folks could possibly comprehend without him enunciating very carefully.

All in all, kinda fun. Will I stick around to see which act that you-you-you will be voting for to win the cash prize and the Sony Records contract? Probably not. But e-mail me if Voices of Lee ever looks up “beelzebub” in the dictionary…

Did you watch The Sing-Off? What did you think?

Comments (213 total) Add your comment
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  • john

    Agreed go ben folds and some of the acts were awful. have to give them credit though none of music is produced unlike glee which sounds fake and is awful.

    • BlackIrish4094

      Don’t hate on glee, it’s not a reality show like this so how could this be produced? Plus Glee rocks.

    • beaumont

      You have to be kidding me….
      Who are these people and do they actually know what acappella.
      10-12 people hiding behind each other.
      Get 4-5 STREETCORNER singers up there. Then you’ll know what acappella is all about.
      Just another commercial disgrace.

      • Tucker

        Well, that would be right for doo-wop, but a capella covers way, way more than doo wop.

      • beaumont

        More then DooWop? Correct but too many voices pollute the pot. Streatcorner harmony is 4-5 voices and if you understand the vocals you can hear the harmony and blend, the bottom, the baritone, 1st, 2nd and false tenors.where was it? NO where to hide…How about those judges. What kind of ears do they have, I wonder?
        Just show appears to have no idea nor care about the music.

      • Zach

        You know if you bothered to look up Ben on his wikipedia or anything you’d know he did an a cappella album. A couple of the groups on there were only three or four people big and he even did two of his own songs as a cappella with four or five voices. The man knows what he’s talking about more so than the other judges when it comes to this stuff.

      • z

        Fielding 10-12 people in a group isn’t hiding. It’s allowing for more sounds to be portrayed and more harmonies to be blended. Sheesh. There are subgenres in the a cappella genre. And barbership like Maxx Factor is one! Only one! Most collegiate a cappella choirs have at least six members; some go up to 14! You’re really close-minded.

    • Jim

      I enjoyed the singing; but wonder how effective the talent search was to have a group with only 13 weeks of experience. Also, I’d suggest replacing Nick and Nicole; and hiring a few good writers.

      • A.J.

        Yes! Nick and Nicole bring are glitter without substance. Maybe Regina Spektor would be a fun woman judge (not just because of her duet with Ben Folds). She does like experimenting with her voice, and is just a little nutty.

      • A.J.

        Or maybe Sara Bareilles? Maybe she’s not popular enough, but she was so great with her a cappella group a few years back at UCLA.

    • MeMe

      I would pay big money to see Andy Bernard get up there with his accapella group.

      • Caitlin

        Oh, definitely! Here Comes Treble ftw!
        Seriously, though, Ed Helms is so musically talented.

  • Caitie F

    The show is pretty good – I wish one of the judges would be honest and say that some of the acts weren’t very good. They are acting like acappella is incredibly hard when it isn’t. I think SoCal will win…they are the most precise and the best. I hope the middle-aged women are gone soon – they just aren’t good! Same with the group from the Christian college…they were off for their performance and their preview of tonight.

  • ash

    Ben Folds is *the* find of this show. He could intelligently articulate the plusses and minuses of each group’s performance.

    The “Bubs” will be in the final 3, I predict.

    • moonbeam

      Ben Folds is the best judge I’ve seen on any talent competition. He obviously knows what he’s talking about.

      • mollie

        Yes.

      • doogin

        Totally agree. Ben was a refreshing note (no pun intended) as here was a judge who: knows what he’s talking about, said exactly what he thinks (even if he wasn’t crazy about it) without having to resort to being insulting, and then offering genuine constructive criticisms that were meant to improve a group’s performance. I am so impressed that I am going to check out his “Ben Folds Five” work

      • Zach

        Everyone should check out his solo work too. He’s been going at it for more than ten years since the five broke up. He’s a writing and recording monster so his other work is worth the listen.

      • Becca

        Ben Folds has always been amazing. I’m disappointed more people dont’ know about him, he was the soundtrack to my highschool (well him and ska :P). He does alot of tours all over the world mainly hitting universities. He’s great live, and very funny and gets the crowd invouled in his shows. He’s quite possibly the best pianist I have ever seen and on his solo work he basically plays all the instruments as well. I’m glad this shows has put him out there has gotten more people interested in his work.

    • beccaboo

      And he was succint…didn’t run on like other judges I know.

    • Katie G

      I totally agree on this. I found Ben to be a joy, frankly. Especially when so many judges on reality TV are more walking sound bite then actua help …

    • Caitlin

      I adore Ben Folds. I screamed (with joy) when I saw he was a judge! haha. He’s a refreshing, real, constructive judge to have on a show like this, or like any other.

  • maris715

    I’ve never been 1st with a comment, but here it goes. I watched it – actually for the 1st hour I switched between this and Jennifer Hudson’s Christmas special. I didn’t like their name, but I loved the Bubs performance a lot. Looking forward to seeing them again tonight. And I totally agree about Ben Folds – I never heard of him before but he was very entertaining as a judge, and knew what he was talking about. The whole time Nicole was talking I was like “what the h*** are you talking about?”

    • maris715

      Guess I’m not first after all. -:)

  • Janice

    I think it’s going to come down to the Bubs, Nota and Maxx Factor (who are pretty amazing if you asked me). Having sung for years I can easily say those groups have the most talent, and actually both Shawn and Ben know what they’re talking about, whereas Nicole just seems totally out of her element. Also Nick Lachey is a TERRIBLE host… given someone with a little personality, this show might actually work.

    • remidogg

      I agree that Nick Lachey is a terrible host. I got so annoyed when he kept repeating the rules over and over in his monotone voice. He was obviously reading the teleprompter with no emotion and looked like a robot.

      • Anna

        And he and the judges kept repeating what a capella meant. “Can you believe they made all that noise with just voices?” “Wow, you guys rocked out without instruments!” Yes, all voices + no instruments = a capella.

      • Eric

        it could be worse. nick could of been singing the rules. lol. i was sick last night so i put it on, and the group nota is why i’ll watch it again tonight. bubs have some tallent but nota has a sound that i would buy.

    • Allan

      Nick Lachey thumbs down; the rest of it pretty much thumbs up.

  • Sherry

    C’mon guys–unbelievable that you did not step up and help the members of SOLO. Outrageous that you have people right in front of you who are homeless and hungry and you did nothing!

    Provide someone to help them with their singing and FOR SURE do what you have to do to make sure they have a bed, a roof and food!!!

    TOTALLY disgusting of you!!! No they were not the best but STEP UP. Where’s your humanity and decency??!!

    • Cindy

      I agree about SOLO. If 100,000 viewers sent in $1 that group would have as much as if they WON! They need it so what can we do about it NBC??????

  • alyssa kaplan

    I am surprised that there are not more acapella groups from colleges or more groups that have competed at the ICCA [varsity vocals) (like yale dukesmen), seeing how awful some of these groups were,

    • Joy

      Really? Noteworthy and SoCals — two ICCA champions! And I’m pretty darn sure that the Beelzebubs have seen their fair share of ICCA.

      Personally, I think a lot of Ivy League groups are over-rated (in some cases, not unlike the schools from whence they come)…

      • Jo

        Joy – The Bubs have a rule AGAINST competing in the ICCAs. I believe they may have once in the very early days, when it was still the NCCAs, but since then, their only involvement has been as a host.

      • Maia

        Wow. No mention of NOTA in the article? FAIL.

      • Q

        The Bubs won the first ICCA (it had a different name back then), and then made the self-imposed rule to never do it again. ICCAs are a waste of money for the groups anyway.

        Talent is thin overall in this competition. Many of the groups that are top in the field (House Jacks, Naturally 7, Hyannis Sound) couldn’t do it for logistical/legal reasons. Still entertaining none-the-less!

      • Amy

        The Beelzebubs don’t generally compete, but record CD’s that win multiple BOCA (Best of Collegiate A Cappella) awards.

        The timing of this show was bad- I know two a cappella groups who were asked to audition but could not miss their final exams to be on the show. Plus, I’m not sure what a collegiate a cappella group is supposed to do with a recording contract. What happens when the members graduate? Or if they’re going to medical or business school? The Beelzebubs already record an album almost every year. It doesn’t seem like an appropriate prize.

    • Danielle

      I agree. When they started showing a cappella groups from various universities I was extremely surprised that there wasn’t one group from Yale. It’s possible that the Singing Group Council did not permit the groups to audition though.

      These groups are pretty amazing. I’m all for Nota and Noteworthy to go all the way.

    • A.J.

      While we’ve all seen comparable groups from different universities, I’m sure they didn’t want ALL college representation. Just like Idol/SYTYCD, they don’t pick the best, they pick the best of a certain genre who happen to look good on camera and fit into certain criteria (All-female, older, minority, etc.). You don’t really get to the talent until halfway through a series. Still, I prefer this kind of competition than those that alternate between truly terrible and talented (America’s Got “Talent”).

  • dpinmd

    I agree that Face’s performance was a bit over the top, but as between them and Voices of Lee, they should have been the ones to stay. I found Voices of Lee to be just “meh.”

    The “Bubs” were high on entertainment value and low(ish) on musicality, which I think is typical of a lot of college a capella groups — particularly the all male-ones. They do seem like a talented bunch of singers, so I’d like to see them tone down the theatrics/comedics a bit and pay more attention to the music.

    Loved Nota — they are my faves so far and my pick to win. I also liked Maxx Factor, a lot more than I expected to! (I’m not a huge fan of the barbershop style.)

    I was glad to see Solo go home. Their “story” was somewhat compelling, but that’s basically all they had going for them. (And their “story” would have been even more compelling if they were a group that had been together for more than 3 months. I’d find it easier to root for a committed, coherent group that’s pursuing their lifelong dream, as opposed to a hastily slapped-together assortment of semi-decent singers, hoping that “their music” will help “lift them out of poverty.”)

    • rentagoodbook

      Agree. Didn’t think Face was the best, but I think they outsang Voices of Lee. I think Nota are the ones to beat.

      • Mike

        Face was terrible. It was embarrassing to see them singing on the same stage as some of the other groups. Groups may have out “entertained” Voices but no one out sang them. You’ll see em next Monday on the finale cause the judges understand its a singing competition, and I bet Nota will be there as well.

    • nonpartisan

      I agree. All of them fun, Nota to win, they’ve got it all, great sound, each of them a terrific singer, great moves, multi-cultural, look great.

  • Maserda

    Ben Folds recently released a CD of him performing with a capella groups (doing his songs of course), so he should know how they should sound. Good choice as a judge.

    • Brian C.

      Nice chicken and the egg comparison. You think he should know how an a capella group should sound BECAUSE he just released a CD of it? I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around… he released a CD of it because he knows what he’s familiar with it. Thanks for nothing, Maserda.

      • Jason

        Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Brian sad!

      • Jennifer

        Brian, you’re an ass. Notice how Maserda never used the word “because” in her sentence. Maserda gave us an example of Ben Folds’ experience with a capella. On the other hand, you brought nothing to the table.

      • Jay

        How Folds’ a cappella album worked is that he is huge amongst college kids, and many a cappella groups arrange and perform his songs. He learned of this and thought it was so cool that he had them send in samples so he could choose his favorites. He then visited and directed his top choices and put them on the album, along with his own a cappella versions of 2 of his songs.

      • Zach

        You have no idea how the recording process works do you?

    • Katie G

      whoa…Brian, smoke a joint and calm down, brother.

      Also, the Ben Folds a capella album is actually awesome

      • MJ

        Totally awesome! I wonder which group will be brave enough to take on one of Ben Folds’ songs.

      • Annie

        Eek…it’s pretty bad, actually.

  • Joy

    With regards to including several non-college groups, I thought it demonstrated (or at least attempted to demonstrate) that a cappella is something you can do at any age — it’s not restricted to ages 18-22.

    Personally, though, I’m hoping SoCals, Nota, and Noteworthy for the final 3 — and keep the Beelzebubs on for Wednesday night!

  • hen

    okay, i could watch this show if it had singing, off tune gophers as long as it has ben folds. he’s one of my favorite artists and an awesome judge! he’s just ridiculously cool.

  • moonbeam

    As a fellow Jumbo (i.e., one who went to Tufts) I loved seeing the Bubs do their thing. All of the groups suffered from a bad sound system – it was obvious from the preview clip how good the Bubs can sound on a stage with great acoustics. I think the clapping and hooting from the audience was not considered when they adjusted the microphones. I hope the groups continue to harmonize and not have just one person on lead vocals and everyone else beatboxing in the background which is so common in a cappella. I’d like to see Maxx Factor draw on their barbershop strengths and depend too much on lead vocals. Loved Nota – they are my pick to win but go Bubs!!

  • Winona

    I thought it was a great mix of a cappella styles. Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman are perfect judges for this competition; Nicole Scherzinger is just there to be the nice one/eye candy/Paula Abdul.

    I thought Voices of Lee should’ve gone over Face, but it was a very close call. Solo was definitely the right choice to go home in the 2nd batch. They had a great sob story, but the other groups were miles ahead of them musically. I really hope that Bubs and the SoCals rely more on their voices tonight instead of using showmanship to cover up vocal transgressions (which didn’t get past Folds or Stockman, BTW). And three cheers for Maxx Factor, too! I knew the barbershoppers wouldn’t have a problem with the low-end in an all-girl group.

    As a barbershopper, I was glad to see “swan song” being used (it’s often used in the barbershop world as the final performance from outgoing champion choruses/quartets).

  • Caro

    Love the show, but see I’m in an a cappella group so I kinda have to share the acalove. Courtney (VP of Noteworthy) taught a bunch of VP and girl power classes at SoJam at Duke last month and I was super duper excited to see Noteworthy do their thing on stage. I guess i understand selling the stories of everybody being compelling/uplifting, but dude, SoCals and their biggest compelling story is one of them has acid reflux? so do I. get some tums.

    • FLGrl

      I know right? Congratulations, you have GERD. Embarrassing.

    • Tina

      Oh Caro! Thank you for taking the words out of my mouth! I was thinking the same thing about the “discussion” of that chick’s acid reflux – HUH?!? I was laughing so hard after that. I’m not a big reality show fan, but am tuning in b/c one of my cousins is in Noteworthy, and I adore Ben Folds. Glad I checked it out…What NBC won’t do to create drama on their network…

      • Tina

        Yeah, that was pretty classic, lol

    • Jenn

      HAHAH! I yelled at my TV: “Drink some Maalox, shut up and sing.”

      • Eric

        lol that’s awsome. “i have acid reflux and don’t know if i’ll ever be able to sing again”. lol.

    • z

      It *is* serious. She has been hospitalised for it in the past. Sheesh. Judgey much?

  • BruceMpls

    I agree that Ben Folds makes an excellent judge and admit I have never heard of him. I did a search online and listened to a few of his songs and have to say he is a much better judge than singer but he is not there to perform but critique. This is a good thing.

    • A.J.

      Make sure to look through all of his catalogue. If you don’t like his later Ben Folds stuff, you might like his earlier solo work or his even earlier work with Ben Folds Five. As you can tell, he’s one of my faves. :)

    • nate

      and don’t just judge him as a singer. judge on merits of multi-talented musicianship (notably a crazy-good pianist) and fantastic songwriting. also, don’t start with his last album. look at earlier stuff.

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