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

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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?

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