Wherein the last ensemble that could not legally sign a recording contract is eliminated, as I predicted. The show kicks off with a group sing of Joe Crocker's "With A Little Help From My Friends." It's low-key and artificially builds to a climax with melisma. Again.
The groups will perform two songs each: a Superstar Medley and a Judge's Choice. In order, they are: On the Rocks (college "YouTube Sensations"), Committed (gospel sextet), Street Corner Symphony (southern rockers who'd rather "uhrehearse" than practice), The Backbeats (aka The Ringers, a cherry-picked post-collegiate ensemble), and Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town (aka The Professionals, who can do no wrong and might be able to walk on water at this point).
First up are On the Rocks performing a medley of Elton John music comprised of "The Bitch is Back," "Bennie and the Jets," and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." The staging is far better than usual, but it's sloppy. At the end of the medley, they couldn't even walk on the same foot at the same time; the step was literally walking towards the front of the stage and they couldn't handle it. The transition from "Bitch" to "Bennie" was wonderful, but the transition from "Bennie" to "Don't" was ruined by an unnecessary run on the first three words of the new song.
Committed are up next with a medley of Usher music: "DJ Got Us Falling in Love," "You Got it Bad," and "Love in This Club." They go with their default slow gospel to contemporary opener. It was well executed, but held no surprise. The backing vocalists used an interesting effect for the synthesizer sounds in "DJ" and had some great breakdowns where the beatbox dropped out. The first transition was effective for the surprise element of switching instantly without seeming awkward (and a great change of leads and beatboxer), but the second transition suffered by comparison; it was literally the same trick and there was no surprise. Still, it was a solid performance with good, simple staging that works for this group.
Street Corner Symphony perform a medley of The Beatles: "Eleanor Rigby," "Help," and "Hey Jude." I keep saying this about the beginning of this group's performances, but "Eleanor Rigby" is the best they've sounded. They just aren't strong enough singers to sell a two minute performance. If they could consistently keep up the quality of the first forty seconds, they'd be a strong ensemble. They can't. They always fall apart in the end, this time worst that ever. They had no transitions between songs--only a moment of silence before the next number, and their lead up into the final chorus of "Hey Jude" was a disaster they never recovered from. Someone literally sang every note wrong for the last 30 seconds of the performance. This was please-have-mercy-and-send-them-home-bad.
The Backbeats are up next with a medley of Lady Gaga composed of "Poker Face," "Paparazzi," and "Just Dance." It's good. This is the first ensemble to actually take a risk with their arrangements tonight and it mostly pays off. The fast "Poker Face"--complete with ridiculous, overly dramatic choreography--is very effective. The group shows they understand what they're singing and adjust accordingly. The bass line is perfectly placed and just the right volume and the lead vocalist was the right choice for the song. The transition off of her lead to the slowed down groove of "Paparazzi" is a predictable technique (hold a post--sustained solo note--and transition around it) executed flawlessly thanks to the lady beatboxer (who consistently saves this group from tedium with her incredible skill level). The change of lead is, again, a very good decision. There is no transition between "Paparazzi" and "Just Dance," but once they find their groove (the staging is sloppy but at least they're all moving with the same foot and heading in the same direction without laughing like idiots) and the trio of lead vocalists kick in, it's a strong finish.
Last up are Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town with a medley of Otis Redding songs: "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," "Try a Little Tenderness," and "Respect." My review could be a smiley face and I'd be satisfied. This is the perfect medley for them. Everyone is put to good use, especially their bassist in the opening number. They choose thematic transitions, linking the content--rather than context--of the songs and it works. It's old-fashioned, but it works. When "Respect" kicks in, I threw up my pen and just watched. It will be a shame when this group doesn't win the audience vote for the grand prize because they're not contemporary enough.
One group is eliminated before Judge's Choice round. The safe groups, in order, are: Committed, The Backbeats, Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town, and Street Corner Symphony. That means the last group remaining that is controlled by an academic institution and would not be allowed to sign a record deal is eliminated right before the public vote. I bet the judges are wishing they booted Street Corner Symphony instead of any other group so they didn't have a chance of winning now.
First in round 2 are Committed singing "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green. The judges choose the song because Al Green transitioned from gospel to R&B and that's what this group will have to do. The harmonies are placed just a little bit off at the beginning; they aren't out of tune, just not singing with traditional bel canto placement as they've done in the past. It's also just a hair too slow for this sit and deliver performance style. The alternating leads are working well for this group, though the second singer with a falsetto solo is weak. He's too soft for what Committed is doing. The ending was just lovely without the beatbox.
Street Corner Symphony are asked to sing Creedence Clearwater Revivals "Down on the Corner" because the judges want them to win. The bass starts out too soft, and the beatbox is overwhelming in the arrangement. All I hear are the bad, empty, high-hat hits. The lead is going flat every few notes (and on the sustained notes, especially). Then they reach the breakdown. Click on the cued video below.
I give up on them. There is no hope if they don't actually take rehearsal as a serious commitment. They have great ideas and horrible execution because "good enough" is good enough to them. If they aspired for greatness, they could be a strong group; they'd rather party, so they're not. Rehearsal doesn't have to be this awful, stuffy, joyless experience (that's the worst environment for this kind of music), but you still need to commit to working. They won't. What a waste.
The Backbeats perform "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac. The judges believe the group sounds best on intimate, emotional music. They killed it. It is their strongest performance and barely used beatboxing. Unlike Street Corner Symphony, the hi-hat here is used for that little kick of rock in the arrangement without distracting from the lead. The one flaw is the lead's nerves, as her throat tightened up and she struggled to get her lowest note out the first few times in the verse. Once they hit the chorus, it's a pure vocal performance. Everyone is singing with gorgeous, glorious technique. It's brilliant.
Last up are Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town singing The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun." The judges love the group for sticking to their old-fashioned style so why change that now? It's a beautiful resetting into gospel. It's deceptively simple. When they undercut "Amazing Grace" at the chorus, I cried. The last two groups presented real a cappella music and I will be glad if either ensemble wins the show.
Only three groups can move onto the live finale. They are, in order: Committed, Street Corner Symphony, The Backbeats, and Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town. What? A twist to send the three groups better than the producer's choice to the finale? How unexpected.