The first time I heard that The Sing-Off was going to be limited to a one-night special this year, I went through some pretty serious turmoil. All five stages of grief passed through in a matter of minutes: Denial that the entirety of season 5 could potentially only include one Nick Lachey jewel tone button-down; Anger that NBC was doing this to us; Bargaining that we might somehow lure Ben Folds back in a judge’s chair with a Warby Parker gift basket of sorts; Depression that Home Free would be unceremoniously replaced as the reigning champs in just two short hours; and finally, Acceptance that while we would only be getting six a cappella groups this year, it was possible they’d be the best groups yet. I mean, not better than Pentatonix, but like, probably really good.
But then, I bucked up. We’re still in for a grand ol’ time, I just know it . Because by this point, the best little singing show that could has made a holiday tradition of avoiding cancellation by any air schedule necessary, and if they can handle the frequent changes, then so can we. No, I don’t want to consider a world where Nick Lachey can’t exchange music puns with the now departed Ben Folds (so help me Patrick Stump, if you don’t know what an appoggiatura is…). No, I don’t understand how they’ll roll out multiple rounds of competition in two hours. But what is a cappella if not a stripping away of the musical fat?Like Dreamgirls, The Sing-Off is back for One. Night. Only, and I have to assume only the best of the best are competing for the Epic Records/Sony Music recording contract and $50,000 prize. Tonight, we’re ditching the idea that a bunch of people who are related to one another or a group of Manhattan brunch pals could really compete with the real-life Fame or a decades-established bro-tastic collegiate crew. It’s a lean, mean group of six expected to meet all of our holiday a cappella needs this year, so let’s sufficiently pre-judgme them in preparation for The Sing-Off: A Special Holiday Event…
Self-Described: “We grew up in a cappella and formed on NBC’s The Sing-Off.”
First Glance: That’s right, The Exchange is a Sing-Off franken-group, in the great tradition former contestant mash-ups like season 3’s Delilah. But as opposed to throwing a few soloists, basses, and percussionists into an empty pool and just seeing what kind of magic happened, these guys took their craft seriously. They met on Season 3 as members of the Yellowjackets, Urban Method, and behind-the-scenes Sing-Off vocal producers, etc., and started touring the nation as a professional a cappella group. They’re kind of like your friend’s cute older brother x5, and most likely, a big ol’ alumni ringer.
Let the Music Speak: In addition to having already recorded a full-length album, these guys are stone cold, touring a cappella professionals.
Self-Described: “Hope. Light. Worth.”
First Glance: With a tagline like that, you better have something serious going on behind your nst-nst-nsts. And, uh, Timothy’s Gift totally does: They’re a non-profit organization (or at least the singing portion a non-profit organization) that’s focused on “bringing hope into America’s prison systems.” Their website is currently under construction, but from what I gather, they’re led by “Hope Curator,” Melissa Greene, in performing at prisons for inmates and staff.
Let the Music Speak: Look, they’ve already got the Sing-Off “casually coordinated” look down in their audition video!
Self-Described: “Combining the maturity of the a cappella tradition with the wild uncertainties of cutting-edge music technology.” Wildly uncertain a cappella!
First Glance: In The Sing-Off teaser, a.squared say they use technology to blend their voices, to which I internally screamed, “NOT ALLOWED, YOU MONSTERS!” But I’mma let them finish… a.squared is an a cappella group started at Yale who manipulate their voices electronically while performing live “by layering loops, punching in effects, and making five voices sound like forty.” While this is a very cool technique that’s gained a lot of popularity on YouTube and in a badass Chvches concert I went to last year, is it really a cappella? It is only voices, but I’m a little hesitant about the fairness of electronically manipulating five voices to sound like 40; but I’ll leave it to Shawn Stockman to decide tonight if a cappella is an art form with room for reinvention (although I really feel like it’s a job for Sara Bareilles… miss you, girl!)
Let the Music Speak: Okay, well it is definitely very cool…
Self-Described: “Influences: Pentatonix, The Filharmonic, Committed, Afro Blue, VoicePlay.” Tell me about it.
First Glance: SanFran6 is a classic Sing-Off tale (a tale as old as time, surely) of a group of singers who just happened to come together right before the Sing-Off auditions. But if you sound good together and know how to wear coordinating beanie/varsity jacket combos, who cares if you were in the same first grade class. I don’t know why every group’s name sounds like some sort of coding software this year, but I’m kind of into it.
Let the Music Speak: Vocals and statement hair, they’ve got in spades.
Self-Described: “There are not many bounds to the Melodores’ style.”
First Glance: If you’ve read my EW Sing-Off coverage before, you know that I have two weaknesses: Nich Lachey’s wardrobe and any variation of a be-blazered collegiate a cappella group. So sue me, the Vanderbilt Melodores, they’ve got it all: innocent stabs at sexy R&B, an unexpected beat-boxer, and that one guy who’s always wearing a Patagonia. One thing to be noted about the Melodores, though—they were just founded in 2009. Is this like when 15-year-olds started going on American Idol who had been watching it for literally their entire lives?
Let the Music Speak: It is, for real, all about that bass (and soloist). (And all of it.)
Self-Described: “In a world where anything is possible—except female groups lasting more than three years—Traces is an all-female quintet that has managed to survive, Yay!!!”
First Glance: You have that tagline and worry about crying your eyelashes off in an official NBC promo, and you have my heart. Traces is an all-female quintet of “strong, sassy, soulful sistas” who pretty strictly use “fav” instead of “favorite” on their website, and I am finding their more soulful, unpolished take on a cappella incredibly charming. Could an all-female group finally take it all?
Let the Music Speak: Yes. Ma’am.
Make sure to come back tonight to see the full run-down of The Sing-Off.