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Image Credit: Trae Patton/NBCAfter three weeks, five episodes, 65 performances, and 957 puns, the joyous celebration of terrific, autotune-free vocals known as The Sing-Off came to a close last night, and a winning group was finally crowned. Who was it? [SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know who won, don’t read on!]

It was COURTNEY! Just kidding, it was Committed! Yes, the gospel sextet from Alabama earned the most viewer votes and clinched the victory over Nashville rockers Street Corner Symphony, who came in second place. What did Committed win? According to Nick Lachey, three very important things: “$100,000, the Sony Music recording contract, and this Sing-Off trophy!” But we didn’t get to see Committed receive the prestigious trophy right away. First, we had to wade through an hour and a half of tepid filler — repetitive montages, guest performances, and treacly charity visits — all the things The Sing-Off had so refreshingly neglected all season! Honestly, it made for a rather disappointing finale.

Part of me wants to let the show off the hook. After all, it’s a lighthearted program about a cappella that’s really more of an appreciation of singing than an intense competition. However, the entire first half of the finale completely undermined the competitive nature of The Sing-Off by refusing to focus on the actual contestants! It was infuriating! Our remaining vocal groups were relegated to be nothing more than stool-swaying backup singers for the likes of Boyz II Men, Sheryl Crow, Ben Folds (who I still love), Sara Bareilles, and Neil Diamond. The only guest performance that I actually found enjoyable was Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town’s duet with Nicole Scherzinger. Their soulful take on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” felt like a true artistic collaboration, rather than a celebrity spotlight-steal. If producers had wanted six performances during the first hour so badly, why not showcase the six previously eliminated vocal groups? I sure would have preferred one last chance to hear their blends instead of all that bland.

But before I get too critical, let me give some credit where credit is due: Nick Lachey did a great job last night. PUNMSTR looked positively giddy when he got to join the finalists on stage for Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means to Me,” and he sort of stole the whole performance! (But not because he dominated the arrangement.) His crisp vocals, beaming disposition, and sweater-wearing-team-player attitude were an absolute delight to see/hear, and throughout the night, he seemed more confident and at ease than he had all season. He even took the time to successfully mock Ben Folds. Speaking to a live audience definitely helped him out. Bravo, Nick!

Eventually, our four final groups got to perform individual “songs of hope,” and while the subsequent performances were mostly solid, their effect was marred by extended packages showing each of the groups doing acts of good will for the holidays. They’re helping kids play guitar! They’re decorating Christmas trees! They’re singing after school! These Idol-esque segments felt contrived and took away the attention from the singing, the very thing The Sing-Off had been so focused on all along! I hope these boring packages aren’t a sign of things to come if The Sing-Off gets a longer season next year. But let’s get down to the actual performances:

The Backbeats — “Firework” by Katy Perry

Wow, I wish we had heard Kinton solo earlier! His light, flexible voice glided perfectly atop this pop smash, and some sharp choreography accentuated the build to the chorus. Unfortunately, Joanna’s distinct alto stood out like a sore thumb, and though the Backbeats finished on a beautifully complex chord, they never really exploded with energy. Plus, I got sort of annoyed how much the camera kept focusing on Courtney. I have nothing against the girl, but WE GET IT. SHE BEATBOXES. THE JUDGES LOVE HER. AND SHE HAS SHORT HAIR. Courtney’s face kept popping up the whole show! B

Image Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Committed — “Hold My Hand” by Michael Jackson and Akon

Controversial song choice! The solos sounded slicker than ever, but the very watered-down arrangement left a lot to be desired. Things were mostly in tune, but the biggest flaw in the performance was that it was pretty boring. It was a wise move getting the audience to clap along near the end of the song. B-

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town — “Love Train” by The O’Jays

This was a standard Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town performance in every way, but it had a new cane thrown in for good measure. Jerry howled, the accompaniment bopped along tunefully, and then the whole group stepped up to the front of the stage — it’s their big choreography every week! Completely fun and completely inoffensive. B+

Street Corner Symphony — “Fix You” by Coldplay

This performance was leagues ahead of all the others. The dramatic back-lighting definitely helped make things feel epic, but the singing was truly exemplary. Jeremy’s falsetto gave me goosebumps in the beginning, and the imitation electric guitar was stunningly impressive. Then, everyone came out! Why? Who cares! There was a huge wall of sound coming straight at me, and I loved it. And then the camera showed Courtney for about five seconds! During Street Corner Symphony’s performance! WHAT IS GOING ON WITH HER? A

The first elimination of the night saw Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town and the Backbeats head home, but the two groups left the stage with smiles on their faces. Jerry Lawson seemed particularly excited — as he hobbled down the staircase, cane in hand, he looked at a woman in the crowd and shouted, “I don’t wanna go, but I gotta get out of here! You’re very beautiful!” It was strange and amusing. When the Backbeats were eliminated, Nick didn’t interview star singer Joanna, but instead COURTNEY about their experience. Somewhere, a producer was crying that she hadn’t won. (Still, it was nice to see Joanna take a back seat tonight, no?) Committed and Street Corner Symphony were left standing on the stage, and I felt pretty certain that Street Corner Symphony would take the win. They had been growing increasingly exciting and polished throughout the competition, whereas Committed seemed like they had peaked with their original performance of “This Love,” but had been rather boring ever since.

But we all know how things turned out. Committed won it all, thanked God, and ended the show with a not-quite-exhilarating performance of “We Are The Champions.” Though I was rooting for my Nashville boys the whole time, I really have no problem with Committed taking away the victory. They sound awesome — they just need a little showmanship. Now the “church boys,” as they were so often called, are off to make an album, but they claim that they’re hoping to tour with some of the groups on the show. If that happens, sign me up! Nick Lachey could be the opening act and warm up the crowd with some of his wordplay! On that note, it’s time for:

PunWatch with Nick Lachey!

“Committed has amazed Shawn with their immaculate sound. Now he’s about to join their heavenly harmonies with his own group.” (We’ve heard “heavenly” almost every episode, but I’m fairly certain that Nick just referenced the immaculate conception in an intro. WOW.)

“Let’s see how they spruced up the holidays for some pretty remarkable people.” (Introducing Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town with a Christmas tree pun!)

“When we come back, Street Corner Symphony fixes in on Coldplay” (Preparing for a performance of “Fix You”)

“Two groups are just heartbeats away from going home.” (During the elimination in which the Backbeats were eliminated)

And so ended a wonderful season of a wonderful show — a breath of fresh air in the rerun-laden December schedule. But now I want to hear what you think. Did the right group win? Was Street Corner Symphony robbed? Were you as frustrated by the over-produced finale as I was? Will you be watching The Sing-Off next season? So much to talk about! Sound off in the comments, and check out our interview with Committed below.

The Sing Off

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