By Jodi Walker
December 20, 2013 at 02:43 PM EST
  • TV Show

I do enjoy these short episodes: just a quick hit of that hard a cappella stuff to get me to Friday. And it’s easy to be short and sweet when we’re down to just four groups in the semifinals. Hey, remember last week, when this show had just started? Me neither, that was 70,000 words ago!

Tonight we embark upon The Sing-Off’s penultimate episode and the judges are choosing the songs for The Filharmonic, Ten, Home Free, and Vocal Rush. I mention this so I’ll seem only slightly less creepy when I start gushing about the host. Three-two-one… YouguystonightisallaboutNickitssogreat. It’s fairly obvious I don’t think of Nick Lachey as a human. I think of him as a robot created in an NBC lab (the same lab that successfully rehabilitated Christina Aguilera’s personality on The Voice this year) specifically to deliver puns and tight suits from The Sing-Off stage to my “TV set” (his words, not mine). So when NickBot is let loose on the contestants with free reign over his thoughts and emotions, it’s both disconcerting and exhilarating. I think that might also be the plot of Almost Human.

Anyway, Nick is mentoring the four remaining teams and, as if he knows I’m slightly uncomfortable with him expressing himself musically, he’s finally, FINALLY wearing a jewel-tone dress shirt for the first time all season. Thank goodness for bright teal and thank goodness for Florence + the Machine, whose “Shake It Out” is tailor made for a soaring group performance. I think I might now officially be shipping Austin and Emoni after their duets. That’s just a lot of good hair and chemistry. On to the judges’ choices!

The Filharmonic: “Baby I Need Your Loving” by Four Tops

Blazer Watch: I could have told you things probably weren’t going work out for the boys tonight just by their wardrobe situation. The blazers in contrasting maroon textures and fabrics were fine. The clashing burgundy chinos, however, were regular cotton-twill harbingers of death.

How’d They Do? Charming and upbeat, definitely, but I found this more by-the-books performance from The Filharmonic the hardest to connect to yet. Shawn admired their slick chorography, but wanted a better arrangement. Jewel agreed that the performance never really climaxed, and she knows personally how frustrating that can be. Oh, Jewel, you minx!

Ten: “Proud Mary” from Ike and Tina Turner

Blazer Watch: “Ladies in black leather fringe and gentlemen in turtlenecks with blazers” describes both my future wedding party outfitting and Ten’s amazing 70s-inspired getups.

How’d They Do? I do love the built-in transitions in this song and Ten gives it every bit of energy they have. Shawn thinks even though Deedee killed the solo, they could have dug even deeper. Jewel agrees that the arrangement made the song interesting, but in the bigger picture, she’s not sure what to think of Ten as recording artists. Someone is about to be handed a record deal, and she needs a better picture of the kind of album they would want to cut.

Home Free: “Colder Weather” by Zac Brown Band

Blazer watch: I don’t usually allow for this, but Home Free’s performance tonight really isn’t about the blazers (although Austin’s Most Surprising Scarf in Sing-Off History does make a welcome reappearance). Their Lincoln Log bench game makes for some excellent ambiance though.

How’d They Do? I have to admit that Zac Brown Band ballads have some sort of direct key to my heart and tear ducts. I’m not even a country fanatic, but that longing angst… it gets me. Nick told the guys that eliciting an “undeniable reaction” was imperative to a ballad’s performance, but I’m interested to see if everyone else found the performance as perfectly raw and lovely as I did. Jewel says that “less is more, only when you have the talent,” and she and Ben agree that this risk was appreciated, but they want to see Home Free step out of their comfort zone even more.

Vocal Rush: “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” by Fall Out Boy

Blazer Watch: I’m not that hard to please in the Sing-Off wardrobe department. Just answer me this simple two-part question: Is someone wearing leather overalls and are at least three people wearing winged neon yellow eyeliner? Vocal Rush answers with a resounding “YES, and everything else is leather too!” Classic overachievers.

How’d They Do? Nick’s pre-performance advice to pound out a couple wall presses for nerves must have worked because Vocal Rush takes the stage with a high energy group performance led by a supremely confident lead from Sydney (and that Sarah gets me every time). Particularly critical tonight, even the judges can’t find much wrong with it. Jewel says they already have such a collective identity and sound like artists, while Shawn respects the way they perform with such reckless abandon. Ah, to be young again.

I’ll never stop mourning the Swan Songs, but The Ultimate Sing-Offs do make for some entertaining performances, especially when we’re left with such talent here at the end. The judges elect Ten and The Filharmonic to battle it out on The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and you could hardly pick two groups that know how to fill the stage more. Joe gives Deedee and Emoni (and fierce cameos from Elgin and Deonis) a run for their diva money on the lead, but while The Filharmonic were early favorites with a unique perspective, Ten has continued to grow, giving tighter and tighter performances every night.

Tidbits with Nick And Co.

– Here’s a fun game for those of legal drinking age with livers of steel: partake in an adult beverage every time someone mentions 98 Degrees and/or how attractive Nick Lachey is. Please don’t die.

– Rob from Home Free completely nails his big lead on “Colder Weather,” which is particularly appreciated during such a rough week for beards.

– I’m sorry, were those pyroblasts during the Vocal Rush’s performance? Do money and season 5 renewals grow on trees these days and someone forgot to inform me?

– These final three groups are all really good and really different, which promises for a great finale. If I were the kind of person who bet on a cappella singing reality shows, I might do so with the following rankings:

3. Ten

2. Vocal Rush

1. Home Free

What do you think? Has this always been Home Free’s to win? Could the kids from Oakland take it all the way? Have Ten come together as a group enough to steal this thing? We find out on Monday, December 23rd at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC.

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