By Grady Smith
Updated December 16, 2010 at 11:14 AM EST
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People are too hard on Nicole Scherzinger. Sure, she sometimes engages in ill-advised extended metaphors about music videos and candy shops. But other times she perfectly articulates the way I’m feeling, such as in her quote in the headline. Why does this have to be a competition? Of course I understand why a group needs to get eliminated each week — that’s how competition shows work — but when every group is delivering such impressive performances every single week, NBC could just air a season of Sing-Off concert specials and I’d still tune in.

Seriously, everyone was on their game last night. The groups sounded wonderful, the judges continued to give refreshingly non-clichéd criticism, and Nick Lachey seemed like he was finally able to relax and just host. (He only asked the judges, “Anything to add?” ONCE!) Plus, the puns were more creative than ever! All in all, it was a complete pleasure to watch, and it makes me sad that there is just one episode left in the season. Good thing season 3 is looking very likely!

The groups were each asked to perform two songs: First, a superstar medley, then a “Judges’ Request,” a song that the judges felt would make each group shine the best. Well, shine they did! Opting for sincerity over kitsch, the contestants offered up some of their best performances of the whole season, and although two groups were supposed to go home at the end of the night, only one did. Here’s how the mayhem went down:

On The Rocks — Elton John (“The Bitch is Back,” “Benny and the Jets,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”)

These guys have never been afraid to embrace their campy side, so I was excited to see what they’d do with Elton John songs. Things were delightfully tacky in the beginning, and stunningly beautiful in the end. The middle section was where On The Rocks struggled, as Jonah’s voice cracked a few times. Ben told the group that after “Benny and the Jets,” they “landed the plane really nicely” for “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Don’t let the sun go down on PUNS! B+

Committed — Usher (“DJ’s Got Us Falling in Love,” “U Got It Bad,” “Love in This Club”)

Committed always sounds so good, but I wish they would live up to their name when it comes to performing. If you’re going to sing Usher songs, COMMIT to having swagger, COMMIT to dancing! These guys haven’t really given us a real slam dunk performance (and judging by their basketball skills, they haven’t made a real slam dunk, either) since the first episode. Still, I loved their funky “wow wow wow”s in the background of “Love in This Club,” even if the soloist was underwhelming. B+

Street Corner Symphony — The Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Help!” “Hey Jude”)

There was an exciting tension in the quiet beginning chords of “Eleanor Rigby,” which set up the performance for a massive build. “Help!” sounded pretty good and featured a solid new soloist, but without a loud bass sound, “Hey Jude” just never felt as anthemic as it should, which left the performance feeling sort of weak. Still, all the little homages to The Beatles — the left-handed bass, the John Lennon hat — were inspired. B

The Backbeats — Lady Gaga (“Poker Face,” “Paparazzi,” “Just Dance”)

I haven’t been the biggest fan of The Backbeats this season, but I’ve got to hand it to them — they came out swinging last night. Their arrangements were exciting, and their dancing was elaborate sharp. Perhaps they learned a thing or two from On The Rocks? I thought it was cool how the super-fast “Poker Face,” which featured a strong new soloist, transitioned into the super-slow “Paparazzi,” and how, in the end, all three Gaga tunes merged together. The Comebackbeats! A-

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town — Otis Redding (“Dock of the Bay,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Respect”)

What I wouldn’t give to have Jerry Lawson and his boys come to my barber shop and sing with an enthusiastic old dancing lady at their side! These classy gents have completely won me over this season. Sure, their arrangements aren’t always super intricate, but every note they sing is just dripping with soul! Jerry’s howl (which he’s been using more and more) was as exciting as ever, and I completely agree with Shawn comparing them to “a cool, tall glass of lemonade when the sun is out.” A-

In the first elimination ceremony of the night, the judges dropped On The Rocks, and although I wasn’t totally shocked, I was still pretty bummed to see these endlessly fun characters go. On the bright side, On The Rocks left the stage with a hilarious rendition of “The Final Countdown,” as well as the most amazing display of pun-manship ever seen on The Sing-Off: “Well, Nick, throughout this competition, we’ve all really grown from Boyz II Men, and we’ve shown the nation that we’re not just a bunch of Pussycats anymore. I’m just really proud that we haven’t Ben Folding under the pressure, and I just wish the judges would give us one more night, Una Noche.” PUNMSTR could barely contain himself!

Next came the “Judges’ Request” round, and I have to give our panel credit for choosing an interesting set. It was so nice to not have to sit through another rendition of “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” and “Hallelujah.” Here’s what we got instead:

Committed — “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green

“When I saw the stools, I knew it was going to be my kind of choreography,” quipped Ben, and in this case, I agreed! The simple performance featured some majorly beautiful un-major chords, and the slow groove worked perfectly for them. The way the camera slowly followed the seamlessly shifting solos made it all feel so intimate. The judges loved their smooth vibe. A

Street Corner Symphony — “Down on the Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Has Street Corner Symphony ever looked better than they did in their black and indigo ensembles than they did last night? Indeed, the soulful Southerners looked and sounded more professional than ever before during round 2. The background vocals modulated with real dynamism, Jeremy soared all over his range, and the funky falsetto breakdown energized everything. I chuckled when they inserted “Street Corner Symphony” into the lyrics, but I burst into a joyous laughter when they stomped their feet during their last few wailing chords. “Arena-pella” indeed! A+

The Backbeats — “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

This melancholy tune (The Backbeats’ specialty) was the definition of a slow build. After a remarkably sparse beginning that included Kinton’s “vocal cello,” and not much else, the number of voices singing slowly grew until the chorus, which crested with sound. Their show of restraint really was beautiful, but I wonder if it was perhaps too subdued to get people voting for them. Also, after a whole season of teary-eyed gazes at the camera, Courtney finally bit the bullet and actually cried. CONGRATS! A-

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town — “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals

“How did you turn that song into a gospel?” asked Shawn, dumbfounded, and I found myself wondering the very same thing. Their jazzy take on this creepy tune had me feeling like I was walking down the street in New Orleans at dawn, and I thought Ben’s reference to the Coen Brothers was inspired — this could be on one of their soundtracks. After reverent acclaim from all three judges, Jerry almost couldn’t bring himself to say how honored he was to be on The Sing-Off. A

During the second elimination ceremony, NO ONE got eliminated! Normally, this sort of reality-show gimmick feels like a cop-out, but in this case, I really didn’t mind. Every group legitimately brought it for their last performance. Now, I’m sure there will be people who claim that the judges “didn’t have the guts” to cut Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town, but I’ve never understood the hate — they sound incredible! Many people have argued that the elderly singers are “boring” or “not relevant,” but in a world where Susan Boyle can top the Billboard 200 for four weeks straight, I’m inclined to think that Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town have the most sales potential of anyone. If there was a group the judges were afraid to cut, I think it was more likely The Backbeats, as there would be no girls in the competition without them. But enough conspiracy theorizing — it’s time for…

PunWatch with Nick Lachey!

Shooting for stardom, with an Elton John medley…” (A brilliant “Rocket Man” reference!)

“Ben, did they take care of business?” (After Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town’s performance of “Respect”)

“One of you is in tune with the judges, the other is going home.” (During the elimination ceremony)

“Looking to pave the way to the championship…” (Introducing Street Corner Symphony singing “Down on the Corner”)

“After the break, The Backbeats try to turn their judges’ pick into a landslide victory.”

“Hoping to rise to the finals…” (Introducing Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town singing “House of the Rising Sun”)

Who are you pulling for in Monday’s finale? Do you think Committed has enough momentum from early in the season to win it all, or have Street Corner Symphony and The Backbeats grown enough to overtake them? Or will Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town take out all the younger competition? Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments!

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The Sing Off

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