But then "The Sing-Off" got uncool again, of course, as all Halloween pretenses were quickly cast aside like so much stale candy-corn, and the groups instead sang straightahead medleys along some sort of vague "greatest artists of all time" criteria--which apparently, according to this show, means anyone from Rihanna to Elvis to Britney. I was hoping for a "Thriller" performance, "The Time Warp," or maybe even some All Hallow's Eve-appropriate goth or death metal (Danzig would have ruled). But no such luck. Instead, I was tricked into, not treated to, some performances that were scary in their own way, for all the wrong reasons. But luckily, there were still a few numbers that gave me goosebumps and went bump in the night.
Urban Method - It was odd to me that on a semi-Halloween-themed episode, Urban Method failed to include "Disturbia" in their Rihanna medley. That would have added a bit of much-needed fierceness to this lackluster number. Urban Method have delivered some of my favorite "Sing-Off" performances of the past few weeks (their Bell Biv DeVoe cover was one of this season's hands-down highlights), but they really disappointed this week, with a very low-energy performance that focused too much on the almost entirely personality-free female group members and not enough on the real star of Urban Method, emcee Mike. (Suffice to say, if these were the only girls in the world, the world would be a very boring place.) Judge Sara Bareilles said, bizarrely, that she thought it was a smart choice to showcase the girls (wrong!), but admitted that the performance lagged in the beginning and there were some "confidence issues." Shawn Stockman also said, "It's really cool we got to highlight the girls" (wrong again), and that the "girls showed their potential" (nope), but agreed with Sara that they needed to work on their confidence. Ben Folds complained that the group came "unglued" during "Umbrella," and quite diplomatically told them, "I don't think you should have too much pressure on you to make everyone total stars." That was his nice way, I assume, of saying that it's time for Mike to rock the mic again.
Vocal Point - These fresh-faced Mormons attempted to get in touch with their inner "bad boys" during their Presley medley. And naturally, they epically failed. Instead, they managed to make even North Shore and the Cat's Pajamas seem edgy. Their "Jailhouse Rock" segment in particular should have landed them in the "Sing-Off" slammer, it was such a crime against coolness. They fared best when keeping it sweet and simple, during "Can't Help Falling In Love." But whenever they tried to rock out, it was so cringeworthy, I wanted to shoot out my TV screen, Elvis-style. (Interestingly, Ben most appreciated this performance when they came out "not even thinking about sounding like Elvis" and just gave an "honest, plaintive delivery.") "Elvis has left the building!" Vocal Point shouted at the end of their corny performance, and truer words had never been spoken in all three seasons of this show. Sara said she saw the group "in their element" (which wasn't untrue) and gushed, "You're so sincere; it's just really nice to see you mean every word you say." (Yes, I'll give Vocal Point this: They certainly weren't trying to be something they're not.) Shawn jokingly praised, "I laughed, I cried, I was forever changed after this performance," then more seriously said he appreciated the number's many mood changes and was "engulfed...it was really just entertaining." But I disagreed. I wouldn't have minded if Vocal Point had left the building--as in, gotten eliminated--after this.
Afro-Blue - This mashup of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately," "When I Think Of You," and "Miss You Much" perfectly played to Afro-Blue's jazzy, sassy, scatty strengths. This here was a performance that was fun, fresh, and even a tiny bit--dare I say it--funky. Shawn appreciated the girls' stylish tribute to Janet's many iconic hairstyles, the ambitious transitions, and how they "made it look so easy and effortless." Ben (or "Mr. Folds, if you're nasty") respected their evident love of Janet, liked the "radical arrangement," and enjoyed the clever scatting. Sara told them they had "personality for days" and were "so much fun to watch," but said they might be "too good at this" and "too ambitious." But I really enjoyed this performance, and I thought it was like a little a cappella rhythm nation up there on that stage.
Dartmouth Aires - Talk about ambitious! The Aires were VERY brave to do a medley of Queen's "Killer Queen," "Bohemian Rhapsody," and "Somebody To Love," since many a reality-TV contestant has been felled by a difficult Queen cover in the past. But the Aires killed it once again, with their typical panache and sense of playful silliness. (When THIS group is corny, they do it right and it always works.) The Aires queened and Queened it up magnificently, doing what they do without trying to mimic Freddie Mercury (which was wise, as that would have been impossible). I absolutely adored this, as did the studio audience (who gave them a standing ovation) and the judges. "I think that was my favorite performance of the entire competition. That was brilliant. You executed it flawlessly. I couldn't take my eyes off the stage!" raved Sara. "That was just amazing. I'm amazed at how you guys nailed it, all the leads. It was like I was watching a Broadway play. You guys really made it your own. It was awesome," agreed Shawn. Said Ben: "The most valuable player was each one of you--the whole group. That was a great arrangement. It was so dynamic, and so well-sung. I didn't think about Freddie for a second." That last Ben comment was especially high praise, indeed.
Pentatonix - Pentatonix have been my favorite group on the show since "Video Killed The Radio Star" turned them into a cappella stars a couple weeks ago. But this week, their medley of Britney Spears's "Oops, I Did It Again," "Toxic," and "Hold It Against Me" was not their finest moment. I think they could have brought a lot more humor and sass to "Toxic" in particular, and I think their one female singer, Kirsty, didn't quite bring it in her Britney role (although Shawn called her a "little kitten," and Sara was "stoked" that Kirsty took the lead, so I guess they liked her). However, the overall performance was still solid, the arrangements were creative, and the "Hold It Against Me" segment was when it all came together, with lots of cool dubstep-inspired beatboxing. So I ain't holding anything against them just yet. "You guys are techno/a cappella DJs to me. The mashup at the end was seamless, perfect, and sounded great," said Shawn. "For so few people, you have so many colors going on, such smart arranging. You don't miss a beat," said Ben. "You have a really, really high standard that you've set for yourself, and you won't settle for anything less. You packed a punch tonight," concurred Sara, who called the performance "spectacular" and "rad." Looks like Pentatonix did it again, after all.
Delilah - It seemed smart for this gifted all-girl group to take on songs by a strong woman (and strong singer) like Alicia Keys, but despite some sultry, simmering moments and undeniably solid vocals, overall this performance was sluggish and draggy. I got bored fast...and then I got bored slow, as the performance went on and on and on for what felt like 15 minutes. Maybe a woman's worth is not so much after all, on this show, if we're talking specifically about the women in Delilah. Anyway, the judges were much more appreciative than I was. "You were singing your hearts out. It was fantastic. I love that you chose Alicia Keys, that was perfect for you," raved Sara, though she said "A Woman's Worth" was a little "squirrely," whatever that means. Shawn called Delilah "sassy, humble, sexy, strong, and engaging." (He was four-fifths correct; I wouldn't call this "sassy" at all.) Ben loved the vocals and arrangement, and gave Hannah an "A+" while praising the other ladies as well; "I can't say enough good things, that was great!" he declared. But I think the judges said too many good things in this case. I was left feeling underwhelmed.
The Yellowjackets - I admit I have a very tender soft spot for Billy Joel, but I was disappointed with the YJs' choice of Billy hits for their medley: "River Of Dreams," "She's Always A Woman," and "Uptown Girl," all of which seemed a little too obvious. I figured nervier, new-wavier tunes like "Big Shot," "Pressure," and "Still Rock 'N' Roll To Me" would've been way cooler. But as it turns out, the YJs' selections translated well to a cappella, especially the doo-woppy "River Of Dreams" and "Uptown Girl," and the boys' vocals were silky-smooth and on point throughout. This was a really nice effort from a group I'd never really been all that excited about before. Ben appreciated their percussion, African influences, transitions, and how they "sang with loads of heart," but felt their individual personalities were not well-defined. Shawn, conversely, thought the YJs showed a new, previously unseen "sweet" side of themselves ("I dug it," he shrugged). "I heart the Yellowjackets!" proclaimed sweet Sara. "This was as well as I've heard you blend. I loved your lead vocalists!"
In the end, however, the Yellowjackets were eliminated, and while I would have preferred to see Vocal Point go home at this point, I was basically okay with the judges' decision; the 'Jackets were going to go sooner or later, anyway. But man, they sure went out with a bang, with an AWESOME swan-song performance of Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" that was almost as much of a hoot as the Dartmouth Aires' Queen medley. If only the Yellowjackets had delivered performances like this all season long, they could have been contenders. But sadly, they got knocked down before they could get up again.
So next week, the six surviving crews will take on...country songs. Ugh. I'm a little worried about that, as I have the feeling the whole episode could veer a little too close to "Hee-Haw" territory for my tastes. Perhaps that is when "The Sing-Off" will really get scary.
- Danny Elfman