The Sing-Off Season 4 Premiere Recap: For Whom the A Cappella Tolls

The Sing Off - Season 4 JewelEgg nog. Yankee Swap. Not dialing 911 when “out on the lawn there arises a clatter.”

Some traditions are perfectly tailored for the holiday season, and as The Sing-Off returned to NBC tonight for the first time since its inauspicious Fall 2011 outing, I was reminded that the jaunty a capella singing contest definitely belongs on the list of things that are best situated in that high-caloric-intake period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

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Ben Folds hung his big words by the chimney with care. Shawn Stockman was back, too, wearing a jacket that looked a little like a candy cane. And Jewel took over the final seat at the table from Sara Bareilles, not suffering — gladly or otherwise — foolish remarks from Nick Lachey about how it was nice to have an attractive person on the panel. “Well, your dimples are working hard for a living, too,” she grinned, with a possible subtext of “Let’s not reduce me to just my looks, OK, pretty boy?”

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Since I’m also on recapping duty for The Voice tonight, I’m gonna keep things short — offering my letter grades of every performance, and keeping my reviews to 10 words or less. (You can just call me Pithy Succinct-ski.) With that in mind…let’s hop to it!

Vocal Rush: Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River” — Grade: A+ | So! Much! Depth! of! Feeling! The steppin’ was tight, too.
Home Free: Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” — Grade: B- | A little more cheese than I like on my country.
Princeton Footnotes: Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” — Grade: B | Good, but Alex & Sierra made it more exciting on X Factor, TBH.
Calle Sol: Rihanna’s “Pon de Replay” — Grade: B+ | Judges sounded lukewarm, but the percussion breakdown & dancing were amazing.
Street Corner Renaissance: One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” — Grade: A- | Terrific reimagining of a current pop hit…lots of fun.

Put up for possible elimination (aka “Ultimate Sing-Off”) by the judges: Princeton Footnotes

TEN: Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good” — Grade: A- | The arrangement was a tad Peaches-centric, but so many powerhouses! Dayum!
Element: Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” — Grade: B- | The lead duo’s voices got chicken-broth thin in spots. Not bad though.
VoicePlay: Pitbull (featuring Xtina)’s “Feel This Moment” — Grade C+ | Arrangement started pretty dull; not sure if Honey’s tone is my cup of honey.
The Filharmonic: Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” — Grade: B+ | Cute one’s cute. Burly one’s voice is magic! Charisma: 10; Vocals: 7.
acoUstiKats: Robin Thicke (featuring Pharrell Williams)’ “Blurred Lines” – Grade: A- | I didn’t wanna love it, but great rhythm, dynamics and booty-shaking won me over.

Put up for possible elimination (aka “Ultimate Sing-Off”) by the judges: VoicePlay

Ultimate Sing-Off: I loved the playful physical taunts tossed back and forth between the acts, but while Princeton Footnotes started a little stronger, they didn’t really do much to keep the momentum going. VoicePlay took more chances with their arrangement and tempo changes, and rightly won over the judges.

Eliminated: Princeton Footnotes

(Ahhh…Mark Burnett knows how to keep the “feel bad” vibes to a minimum: Eliminate the kids with an Ivy League education on which to fall back. I kid! I kid! Sort of.)

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of The Sing-Off Season 4 premiere? Who’s your early fave? Take our poll below, then expand on your thoughts in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. wordsmith says:

    As a Princeton a cappella alum, I’m obviously sad to see the Feet go, but I get it. At this point, we’ve already seen so many other excellent all-male college groups on the show that they have an uphill battle to stand out.

    • Jessica says:

      It shouldn’t be that way. Footnotes were one of the groups that made all of us laugh and smile. Plus they definitely sounded better than at least 3 other groups. That one group with the 3 women dancers should have been bottom 2. Then they pick based on potential and not performance? That’s why they got canceled 2 years ago.

  2. karen o says:

    Epic first episode!

    Vocal Rush was amazing and could win. Acousikats are very tight. Ten has lots of potential. VoicePlay is well known outside the show and if they do better next week could be contenders. Home Free seem to be the show’s favorites but I think that arrangement was safe and a little boring. Calle Sol was underrated.

  3. spongebob says:

    Hehe it says in the poll “The Voice” instead of “The Sing Off”. My fave of the night are Street Corner Renaissance, Home Free & Acoustikats. :) The right group went home.

    • Trudy Anderson says:

      I am completely in agreement with your assessment of the judging. What a GREAT show, fabulous entertainment and such a wonderful demonstration of REAL talent. Nothing but smiles, dancing and singing in our house from 6-63 year olds! Thank you NBC

  4. So glad the Ivy leaguers are gone … usually they come off as so spoiled and ick as the weeks go on and they start to get interviewed more.

    For what it’s worth, their performance was pretty ho-hum, so it wasn’t a shocker … but I was still glad.

    There are some very good groups this year! Anyone turning in a ho-hum performance is likely to go.

    • Cordelia says:

      Must respectfully disagree – I thought the Dartmouth Aires came off as humble, hardworking and grateful for their opportunities. They commented on how much they learned from the show and how much they enjoyed getting to know the other groups. They were gracious in their second place finish. Toward the end when the show went live they were finishing up their term remotely, writing papers and studying for exams, after a long and tiring day of rehearsals.

      • Rusty says:

        I didn’t think the Aires came across as spoiled, but they didn’t really inspire me to get excited about them either. They were great at what they did, but kind of soulless and there was nothing really endearing about them. They kept saying in interviews that they wanted to to be the first male collegiate group to win. While the other groups talked of their passion for music, for one another, for making the audience happy, the Aires just kept repeating that they wanted to win basically because they wanted to win. Now there’s nothing wrong with ambition, but ambition alone doesn’t motivate me to get behind someone.

  5. Karen says:

    Not bad show, but not sure I can stomach Nick as the emcee. I agreed with the judges down the line (always a good sign). I will give it a try next week. I really liked the Filharmonics and Acoustikats

    • JW says:

      I’ve never been annoyed by Nick like so many other people seem to be. I assume he doesn’t write the cheesy things he has to say, and he always seems to be saying them with total awareness of how cheesy they are. He does the best he can with what he’s given. He usually participates at some point by singing with the contestants, and always appreciates a good 98 Degrees joke.

    • Cordelia says:

      Disagree! Nick is awesome – his punny comments are perfect for this show, whether he writes them or not. Looking forward to hearing him sing later in the show.

    • Montavilla says:

      Count me in as someone who enjoy Nick as the host. I don’t find him cheesier than other singing competition hosts. And I don’t have any history (pop culturally speaking) with him, so I have no reason to dislike him.

      What little I do know of him is that he is enthusiastic about *this* show and so am I. So, we have something in common and I think he’s terrific.

  6. LizzieB says:

    Soooo glad its back! This is show is so bomb. Yay nbc! Oh and i was jumping up and down like an idiot when they showed pentatonix in the audience. Jewel is amazeballs too! Even Ben was impressed. Perfect panel of judges is still perfect. SCR and vocal rush(amazing amazing kids) FTW!!

  7. Laura says:

    These judges are on point. Unlike the Xfactor they can remember tons of people’s names, or at least have much better documentation of them! No reality show judges should use the excuse of there are too many people to forget names again. And yes i’m thinking of you paulina rubio

    • Teeny Bikini says:

      “they can remember tons of people’s names” – I’m not gonna lie, I was totally impressed by that too. They really are the best judges on a singing show – for other reasons as well :)

  8. Sookie says:

    Has it really been since 2011? Well I am glad it came back. I have always loved the judging on this show. The judges are helpful and knowledgeable not snarky and self promoting. I am definitely amazed by the singing. Although I prefer the performances be more about harmonies and the whole group rather than 1 star and back up singers.

  9. Coryrox78 says:

    I didn’t really watch the show back in 2011, so I obviously missed out, but I’m glad I watched last night! So much fun, and the judges were spot on and obviously enjoying their job. Looking forward to next week!

    that sh*t gave me the will to live.

  11. There is just something far too fun and nerdy about A-Capella. Having on TV is a blessing.

  12. Anna says:

    So happy this show is back. I love how the judges make intelligent points and keep it all about the contestants, rather than about themselves, while not taking it TOO seriously.

    My favorites of the night were Vocal Rush and Street Corner Renaissance.

  13. Shaun says:

    Seemed like it was cancelled before,so it’s nice for it to be dragged back onto tv even in a shorter run.Seems like a strong season and was nice to see Pentatonix back.

  14. Bill Buckner says:

    “the percussion breakdown & dancing were amazing.”

    Seemed way too gimmicky to me. It’s an acapella competition, not a dance contest. I would have been happy if Calle Sol went home last night, but I wasn’t enthralled with the footnotes, either, so I’m not complaining. I’m just thrilled that this show is finally back on the air – no idea why it was ever cancelled.

    • I disagree, in acapella, presentation is just as important as the singing. Now if you move too much that it effects the singing, then that is a problem like in Calle Sol’s performance. But the step breakdown in Vocal Rush’s performance was the highlight of the whole night.

  15. Beth T says:

    I love this show and am so glad it is back! Hopefully the success of Pentatonix will keep this show on NBCs radar as a standard holiday/summer replacement fill- which seems to be a better fit than a fall series. (The fact they are telling folks how to apply for the next season is a good sign!) Aside from really awesome performances, the judging on The Sing-off cannot be beat. Real honest-to-goodness musical critiques* that showcase the intelligence of the judges as much as the talent of the performers.

    * Note “crtitiques” versus “criticisms”. The two are not synonymous and it is one of my biggest pet peeves when performers – thinking they are being gracious – thank judges for their “criticisms”. Instead to me it seems to condescending/sarcastic undertone. (“Oh thank you SO much for your negativity. I’ll SURE think about that” [not] ~eyeroll~.)

    • Teeny Bikini says:

      “The Sing-off cannot be beat. Real honest-to-goodness musical critiques* that showcase the intelligence of the judges as much as the talent of the performers.”

      This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This.

  16. schmed says:

    I have always loved the show, and am glad it’s back, but I’m on the fence about Jewel. As when she was a judge on that songwriting reality show (“Hit Record” or something like that?), she comes off a tad fake and condescending. I never felt (as I always did with Sara Bareilles) that she really enjoyed the music. But hey it’s the first show, and I’m sure she felt some pressure to establish her bona fides.

  17. Joe says:

    Vocal Rush will probably be the first high school group to make it past the first two shows – they sang with maturity far beyond their years.

    Home Free certainly performs like they do this for a living, which is good because they do. They are a much better get than last season’s insufferable “Cat’s Pajamas” who were also professionals, but in the sense that they perform in Branson, MO (it’s like Vegas, if it were run by Ned Flanders).

    Footnotes: a wild and crazy bunch of white guys from a prestigious college. Hmmmm, where have I seen this before??…. (hint: Yellow Jackets, Beelzebubs, On The Rocks, Whiffenpoofs, Dartmouth Aires, Vocal Point)

    Calle Sol: Looking past the fact that they claimed to represent all minorities everywhere as well as all of Latin America, they were stupid to pick a Rihanna song that basically has no melody to it, forcing them to make one up.

    Street Corner Renaissance: I didn’t even realize that they were performing the One Direction song till at the very end. Solid, but Shawn hugging each member afterwards was a bit much – the old guys of North Shore and Talk of the Town are hurt they never got hugs.

    Ten: Boy do they love Jesus and they were not kidding about having a gospel background.

    Element: Following Delilah – last season’s all-female supergroup – makes it totally not even fair for these girls.

    VoicePlay: Obviously going for the PTX award this year, there was something compelling about Honey’s distinctive vocals. The arrangement, as Ben said, could have benefitted from more focus.

    The Filharmonic: Whoa – the best energy of the night since Vocal Rush. These charming young filipino men are my early favorites to take the title.

    acoUstiKats: The spiritual brethren of the Dartmouth Aires from last season. Definitely entertaining and fun to watch and listen to. What they lack in vocal precision they more than make up for in enthusiasm.

    Ultimate Sing-Off: This was fascinating with them trading 8 bar phrases back and forth, much moreso than the tiring double performance of the same song we got last season. It made it pretty clear that VocalPlay had much more to offer going forward.

  18. WO says:

    There will only be one Pentatonix… and if they are the measuring stick, these acts have a loooooooooooooooong way to go. Need more creative arrangements, better vocals, less obscure songs (for some). And….. call me picky, but 10+ people are not an acapella group. They are a CHOIR!! Still… with only 5 members, Pentatonix would smoke any of them.

    • Agreed! Pentatonix just blew me away, and I’ve watched this show from the start. The fact that they have just 5 people and kill it is amazing. They just released a christmas cd and it’s amazing!

    • Newfan says:

      Ummm, have to disagree. Head-to-head competition…. Home Free WOULD give Pentatonix a hell of a challenge – and a fair one at that being 5-vs-5. I am by no means a country fan but they are crisp, focused, and have a clear understanding of the type of music they want to make. My first time seeing this show but right now, only 2 weeks into the season, you have a lot of teams that will be fighting for 2nd place. Home Free is clearly dominating.

  19. Tara says:

    re: the title of this article: a cappella is spelled with two p’s

  20. Jessica says:

    Footnotes were not one of the worst groups. And why pick the loser based upon potential and not how they perform? Doesn’t make any sense. We were all yelling at the TV!! “Not again!!” Doesn’t everyone remember when cat’s pajamas?!?! They did the same thing back then and then they do it again? Why???

  21. George says:

    Here we go again. I swore after the last season of The Sing Off I wouldn’t watch another after the travesty committed by Ben Folds & Sara Bareille’s group tampering episode with Afro Blu ….. After the 1st outing this season I see no clear favorite or leader. I see potential with Ten,Filharmonic,Vocal Rush, and VoicePlay. I’ll admit to being a bit of a purist when it comes to a cappella. I’m not enthused by these newer trends creeping into the genre….like beatboxing, or the dance routines. The Sing Off is and should NOT be a place to showcase Broadway style musical theater. It should put on display the best MUSICAL TALENT in the land competing to represent the best that the genre has to offer. For me what separates Great acappella from merely good acappella is the arranging and execution. there appears to be a paucity of imagination in the arranging arena on the Sing Off. Those who are arranging appear to be musically ‘lazy’….the last season, the two groups who showed the most talent in this area were Afro Blu & Groove For Thought..Not until toward the very end of last season did Pentatonix show the tight harmonic progression that actually WON them the competition,and frankly I think they went to Afro Blu, for the help. Anyway, I think that groups like Ten,Vocal Rush, and Voice Play could benefit from the arranging chops of people like Mervyn Warren, or Mark Kibble, or even Reginald Bowens , to help advance them along if they REALLY want to be competitive this season. Like I said ….no clear standouts so far, but a few with “potential”