Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sing-Off Croons the Christmas Spirit

The Sing-off, NBC's acapella singing competition, kicked off 3 weeks ago with 10 very different groups vying for the grand prize of $100,000 and a Sony recording contract. There were high school glee clubs, aging R&B legends, church choirs, and jazz vocal groups. All with very different styles and arrangements, relying only on the power of the human voice.

NBC aired the competition on Mondays and Wednesday's, quickly whittling down the groups from 10 to the final 4 who had a chance to take home the title this Monday night:

-Street Corner Symphony a group of laidback crooners, with a funky vibe, who as their name suggests would be right at home jamming on a street corner.

-Committed, a group of church-going choir boys from Alabama, with smooth urban harmonies tighter than a baby's behind.

- Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town, R&B crooners in their 60's and 70's, re-living the glory days of Mo-town.

-The Backbeats, an L.A. supergroup assembled from the bits and pieces of other successful groups to create an unstoppable force.

All 4 groups were stand-outs who were winners in their own right, but in the end Committed took the title.

What I really loved about The Sing-Off was that unlike other cutthroat singing competitions, it was a love fest from start to finish. There were no catty competitive elements or sniping judge remarks. Even when a performance was underwhelming, the judges were respectful and constructive. It was a celebration of music and talent. period.

Watching Jerry Lawson perform was particularly moving. After spending over 20 years fronting The Persuassions, Jerry fell on some hard times. But he's managed to turn his life around and once again finds himself on the big stage, doing what he loves best - growling, grooving and gyrating for the people. The man walks with a cane and has to sit down in between songs, but that never stops him from throwing it all down under the stage lights. Everybody - contestants, host and judges alike - was touched and amazed by Jerry.

The judges still had to make touch decisions, but they did it gracefully and the contestants took it that way. No groups had to suffer through a repeat performance of the song that got them voted off. No one was forced to watch a melodramatic video reel of their time on the show. Instead, they performed a rousing Swan Song; a number each group chose in advance as their final message. And everyone knocked it out of the park as they grooved to their farewell jam - exiting the stage with class and poise.

The judges were supposed to choose 3 out of 4 groups to advance to the final last week, but the competition was so stuff they surprised the singers by putting all 4 groups through. The celebration on stage was impressive; all groups screaming, jumping, crying, hugging, slapping hands and rushing together in one euphoric mob. I wasn't sure who they were more excited for, themselves or their competitors.

It sounds like a big cheese fest...and it is...but so what? It's the Christmas season, where we all at least pretend to be happier, more joyful, and more charitable than we are the rest of the year. And the Sing-Off perfectly embodies the holiday spirit.

Therry, a lead member of the the winning group Committed, summed it up perfectly as he expressed his thoughts on victory as all 10 acapella groups looked down from their box seats surrounding the stage. He joyfully exclaimed, "I love all the people in these boxes!"

So do I Therry! There are many people in many boxes who make up the magic of my life and this Christmas season I love them all!

Ben Folds is hands down the best judge I have ever watched in a singing competition. He is at times hilarious, at other times poignant, and always dead-on with his comments. But most importantly (as he himself would say) he's not afraid to get post-graduate in his critiques. He speaks in musical terminology, using technical terms and proudly displaying his knowledge. He addresses specific arrangement, note and harmony issues, which I freely admit go right over my head. You'd never catch him telling someone their performance was "pitchy dawg" or shrugging and saying "I don't know...something was missing".

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