Tyler Golden/NBC
December 12, 2013 at 07:03 AM EST

On Wednesday’s second episode of the two-week Sing-Off event, it was time to settle into the silliness with “Party Anthems.” Considering that almost every song performed on the premiere was also a party anthem, I think the theme is just to give some specificity to Nick Lachey’s punnery. Because if you gave him free reign, he could literally go on for the whole two weeks without stopping. I would never suggest irresponsible consumption, but taking a sip of something every time Nick turns a “party” phrase might be an interesting thing to do.

The group performance began with The Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started” because of course it did. There is more manic clapping and fist pumping than The Jersey Shore could have ever dreamed of producing. It. Is. Fantastic. Shawn Stockman spent much of the night talking about shoes, but also giving spot-on critiques; Ben Folds was as much of a music nerd as ever; and Jewel is proving to be both charming, perceptive and willing to give criticism, which pretty much makes her 1000% better than any other reality show judge on television. And it’s all here on The Sing-Off, a show that was supposed to be cancelled two years ago. Dreams really do come true, everyone!

Vocal Rush: “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C+C Music Factory

Blazer watch: Color blocking, cardigans and cable knit? These kids did their homework.

I’m immediately uncomfortable with the idea of these high schoolers making anybody sweat, but despite the sketchy title, it’s probably most thematic pick of the night. Shawn takes a moment to point out that these talent-monsters weren’t even born when this song came out and I take a moment to lay a towel on my pillow so I can cry myself to sleep tonight. Sarah kills the lead vocals and, as Ben says, you never notice this group is all girls and only two guys. Despite their groove wandering occasionally, they’re a front-runner.

Home Free: “Life Is A Highway” by Rascal Flatts

Blazer watch: Austin, who has truly the loveliest feathered hair, is wearing a very important fringed leather jacket.

Adam’s tasteful percussion and Tim’s mind-altering bass are standouts, but I might be most impressed by just how much Chris looks like a grown-up Squints from The Sandlot (compliment). Shawn says their performance is the perfect example of what a cappella should be: a strong start, interesting middle and beautiful end. With Austin’s star power, a unique sound and experience on their side, these boys just might have it.

VoicePlay: “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry

Blazer watch: The five funky white boys borrowed all of Nick Lachey’s shiniest suits from season 2.

I imagine that VoicePlay really was surprised to find themselves in the bottom two last week considering how technically strong their performance was (but that just speaks to the talent of the selected teams, I think). But they took it and came back a better group with more personality in their performance and tighter modulations. The arrangement was interesting, the vocals were strong, but I couldn’t help but notice most of the judges critiques were very factual; something about their professional polish just isn’t quite connecting.

Street Corner Renaissance: “Do You Love Me” by The Contours

Blazer watch: This pinnacle of blazer fashions (double-breasted), various head-wear and red alligator shoes.

Sonny has Kyana, the amazing female percussionist from Vocal Rush, teach him some beatboxing and I’m counting the days until he uses it in a performance. “Do You Love Me” is not that performance as it’s too full of “mashed potatoes,” “twists,” doos and wops to fit in even one more thing. Ben says he would never want to tell someone not to learn something new, but they excel so in their genre, why leave it?

Element: “Raise Your Glass” by P!NK

Blazer watch: Sparkles, but not enough.

P!NK is a tall order. She can keep her voice so full no matter how low, high, loud or softly she’s singing. To attempt that fullness, Element tries singing in unison for most of the first verse and it’s mostly a miss. Ben says the party didn’t start until the bridge and while that’s enough to make a good performance, bringing that variety of sound from the top would make it a great performance.

AcoUstiKats: “Hey Ya!” by OutKast

Blazer watch: The blue and pink motif with bow ties, suspenders and pink sneakers, to boot: just dandy.

I was glad to see another featured soloist (Jeremy Michael, who might be the prettiest boy to ever pretty on The Sing-Off *wink – ding!*), but agree with Shawn that Ron was carrying too much weight in the performance. As Ben notes, they really do an amazing job of having fun all over that damn stage while keeping their tempo strong. Even if the groove suffers a bit, it’s worth it for a rich performance.

Calle Sol: “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin

Blazer watch: Calle Sol clearly realized their premiere outfits wouldn’t cut it and stepped it up to Dancing with the Stars-level sparkle metallic fringe. Well done.

The group tried their best to fill out their sound this time by trading around the tempo more often, but the judges felt it should have been tighter. Jewel says their mid-range is lacking because they have two tenors singing bass and percussion. Ben says they do know how to bring the party but the critiques were so middling, Nick can hardly even bring himself to throw cheerfully to commercial.

Ten: “Hot in Herre” by Nelly

Blazer watch: These former backup singers all look like so much fun on their own (Emoni has the hair of my wildest dreams), it hardly matters what they wear. But the neon accents are appreciated.

I didn’t really connect with Ten in the premiere, but this was one of the best performances of the night. The arrangement was fierce, the beat changes were exciting and we saw two new talented featured soloists. Shawn says they’re hard on them because they know their potential is huge. “Hot in Here” was good, but they haven’t even tapped into what they can really do yet.

The Filharmonic: “This is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan

Blazer watch: All-white outfits catering to each of their individual styles with yellow high-tops? Boy band perfection.

Oh man, they weren’t kidding when they said they were inspired by the ’90s — and I love it! This group knows how to put on an effortless performance, mixing in dancing, featuring every member and just having a party — Drink! Responsibly! — on the stage. Ben said their slick mid-range is what makes them so strong and Shawn complemented their simple arrangement that captured the sound first and then went ambitious.

The judges choose Calle Sol and, more surprisingly, the AcoUstiKats as the bottom two to face off in the Ultimate Sing-Off. Other than Calle Sol, it was hard to pick the weakest performance tonight, but with the Princeton Footnotes’ exit on Monday night, it feels a little like the show has something to prove about not showing favoritism toward the collegiate groups. The two crews go head-to-head on Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” in a battle that doesn’t even get close to the intensity of Monday night’s “Bye Bye Bye.” But someone has to be stronger and the judges declare AcoUstiKats to live to sing another day (stay out of [my head], Nick Lachey!). Best of luck to you, Calle Sol!

Tidbits with Nick and Co.

– “Tonight is B.Y.O.Pitchpipe.” I’ll give you three guesses who said that.

– “How sexy does Jewel look tonight? I mean, my god.” Keep your pants on, Nick.

– While the ladies of Calle Sol try to teach the men of Home Free how to dance, Rob says, “My hips lie. They do not tell the truth,” and it might be the funniest thing a bearded man has said on television all year.

– Manjula from Element: “The difference between a ‘dung’ and a ‘dong’ is big.” Indeed.

– The AcoUstiKats’ intro package features Evan’s mom as “Mama Kat,” helping them learn dance moves. After their performance, Nick calls her out as an ACOUSTICOUGAR and he looks so proud of himself, he could burst. I don’t care if it took him four days or he thought it up on the spot, this is what I live for. (I’m lying, I hope it took four days).

– And, of course, this exchange after Ten sings “Hot in Herre” (so take off all your clothes):

Nick: I noticed your clothes are still on despite them repeatedly telling you to take them off.

Ben: Nick, you know I don’t even begin to defrock until it’s…98 degrees!

Nick: Then that explains the creepy fan mail we were getting all those years…

The next episode of ‘The Sing-Off’ airs Thursday, December 12th at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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