My intuition about potential manipulation of the results seems to be lining up quite nicely based on this episode. On the season premiere, one high school group and one sanctioned collegiate group went home. Who will join Men of Note and Pitch Slapped in the "why were you eliminated over them?" exits that are the standard on The Sing Off? And what songs with the groups be allowed to perform for the "Big Hits" theme?
The opening number was a nice arrangement of "Use Somebody" by The Kings of Leon ruined by an overuse of melisma (riffs and runs, bells and whistles) by every lead singer.
The groups in performance order this episode are: On the Rocks (collegiate all male group who can "dance"), Street Corner Symphony (southern rockers who would rather drink than practice), Eleventh Hour (the high school group acknowledged as such), Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town (the professionals), The Backbeats (The Ringers/Frankengroup of recruited college/graduated a capella singers), Committed (gospel sextet), Groove for Thought (the "cool" music teachers and daughter), and The Whiffenpoofs [of Yale] (the apparently polarizing and music-hating group from Yale). Split them in half and what do you get? The "brackets" for episode 2 of The Sing Off.
First up were On the Rocks. They put their usual, poorly danced spin on "Live Your Life" by T.I. featuring Rihanna. The most interesting part of their performance was confirmation that NBC employees choose who gets what solo as the members of the group were shown auditioning for the solos in this song. With the performance, the rapper had no sense of cadence or style, but the guy singing the Rihanna part was very good on his last few lines; the falsetto section, not so much. Nicole Sherzinger had one of her lucid moments describing the best part of the arrangement--the "stereo effects." The group did create some of the digital manipulation on the track with their voices. If they focused on singing more than dancing as a joke, I'd probably like them.
If I hear Ben Folds say "who cares" about major technique issues in another a capella performance during a singing competition, I'll scream.
Next came Street Corner Symphony performing "Hey Soul Sister" by Train. I honestly feel no better about them than I did during the first performance. Here's my issue with the group: they do nothing new. I've heard all their tricks and style elements from better groups for years and years. It's dated, but they aren't even executing it well. They're just there. Technique wise, all of the singers in the group would get out the high notes they thought were so important for their arrangement every time they sang "Hey" if they didn't tilt their heads back like dogs begging for table scraps. It puts added strain on the vocal cords. You use the counter-intuitive approach of tucking your chin down to reach for a higher note; it forces your vocal cords to relax, adding more freedom of movement and better chance to hit the note without ruining your voice.
Eleventh Hour performed "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars. I don't know why, when they have a perfectly capable tenor in the group, they gave the lead to the same girl again. She was, again, forced to sing in the lowest part of her range and the whole songs suffered for it. Speaking of high school groups rushing (as the judges said to Men of Note again and again on the season premiere), Eleventh Hour's beat-boxer could not keep a steady beat on this song. It threw everyone else off, even in their choreography. The worst part was how unnecessary the beat-box was for the arrangement. There was enough bounce to the backing vocals that the song would have fared better in a more classic a capella model.
Finishing up the heat were Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town performing Duffy's hit "Mercy." This is the only group that left me confident for their performance based on the rehearsal footage. Jerry Lawson knows how to arrange and teach vocal music. What he did to "Mercy," taking a throwback song and reclaiming it as a 1960s R&B anthem ala "Respect," was amazing. It was a brilliant arrangement with horribly dated staging that works for this group. Unlike Street Corner Symphony, Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town pull off an older style of a capella performance because they execute everything perfectly and take some risks in their arrangements.
The four acts were brought onstage to learn their fates. The acts safe, in order, were: Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town, Street Corner Symphony, and On the Rocks. Eleventh Hour becomes the third school-sanctioned group to be eliminated from the show. Just discount all school-sanctioned groups in the future, as they most likely will not be allowed to sign a recording contract for an organization they don't own and, therefore, cannot win.
There was a brief intermission reintroducing the audience to season 1 winners Nota. They performed Latin-fusion renditions of pop songs that were hit or miss depending on how well the songs they covered lent themselves to Latin rhythms. They sang "I've Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas. The Latin bits were strong, as were the pop bits. It was the transition between the two they struggled with. They've improved dramatically from last year.
Opening the second heat were The Backbeats performing "Breakeven" by The Script. It's 2/3 of a lovely arrangement of the song. The verses and bridge were excellent; the chorus was the problem. The judges said it was a balance issue between the ensemble and the leads, but it was strictly an arrangement issue. The backing vocals should have been in a lower range to support the higher lead line rather than jumping up with the lead. However, everything was forgiven during their "breathing" section that left me in tears. I'm hoping the producers aren't gunning for this group, too, for being alumni of schools, but you never know what this show wants with the scripting and all.
Committed performed "Apologize" by One Republic. This group has shown the most growth of any group in the contest. This was miles away from what they did on the season premiere, and even that was one of the best performances of the night. This is what happens when trained singers have the right arrangement and performance ability. Shawn Stockman got it right with his comments--they are all "blowers." They can sing. They have the best trained voices in the contest with the broadest commercial appeal. The bell tones--vocal overtones produced when technique is just perfect--are awe-inspiring. I think we might have finally walked into a competition here.
Groove for Thought were saddled with Mike Posner's repetitive drivel "Cooler Than Me." Sadly, even well-trained music teachers couldn't make this song appealing. Their jazz harmonies were spot on, but the whole thing was flat (not pitch, impression) and lifeless because of the trite song they were saddled with. Ben Folds decides to lie again by saying, "There's nothing cooler than teaching." Sure, in comparison to this song, your high school History teacher was a rock star. But in the real world, the statement doesn't add up. Teaching is a respectable (but rarely respected) and thankless profession. It's service for the greater good, not that hot new pair of jeans everyone has to have.
The final performance of the night went to The Whiffenpoofs [of Yale]. They did a beautifully arranged, funnily staged rendition of "Haven't Met You Yet" by Michael Buble (like Men of Note, this performance has not been posted anywhere; this link is their concert staging which takes out the funny bits but does have Pikachu). They were thrown under the bus by the judges, criticized for doing the same things other groups were praised for: multiple leads, fun performance, and inventive arrangement. The judges can't have it both ways, especially when they claimed that the three male leads from The Whiffenpoofs [of Yale] were weak vocalists. It's all lies and they know it. Ben Folds couldn't even make eye contact with the group while they were performing because even he knew their imminent elimination was a joke.
The second heat were declared safe in this order: Committed, Groove for Thought, The Backbeats. Which means four of the five school-sanctioned a capella groups have been eliminated in a row. I hate to say I told you so, so I won't.
We are left with one jazz group, one gospel group, one collegiate group, one collegiate-styled group, one classic pop/R&B group, and one southern rock group. Who, besides On the Rocks, will go home in the next episode?