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'The Sing-Off' recap: Embrace the cheese, please!

the-sing-offImage Credit: Harper Smith/NBCSit down, boys and girls. It’s time for a lesson from a cappella legend Jerry Lawson, who offered up the wisest words on last night’s episode of The Sing-Off: “We had fun, and that’s what it’s about. We’re supposed to have fun.“  THANK YOU, Jerry! There were times during last night’s episode when I wondered whether the contestants had all forgotten that THEY SING A CAPPELLA, the most inherently cheesy form of music known to mankind. Sure, it can be a powerful format, but I can’t really get behind Ben Folds’ request for the groups to prove their “artistry” while singing cover tunes on TV. Isn’t the downright goofiness of The Sing-Off part of its appeal? Some people may call it their secret shame, but I call it my very public love! Bring on the cheese!

Unfortunately, things took a while to get going last night. Nick Lachey wasn’t immediately punning(!), and the weirdly Backbeats-focused opener, “21 Guns” by Green Day, didn’t pack the gleeful punch of other episode intros. Fortunately, by the end of the night, the energy had picked back up, thanks in large part to the irresistible fun of On The Rocks, and I was left smiling. This time around, each vocal group was asked to sing two songs: First a rock song, and then a “guilty pleasure” tune. At the end of the night, the judges would send one group home. We’ve got quite a few performances to count down, so without further ado, let’s get to the grading!

The Backbeats – “You Give Love A Bad Name” by Bon Jovi
It was nice that the Backbeats finally gave us a soloist other than JoAnna, but if I’m being honest, I kind of missed her. The new soloist sounded fine, but I didn’t hear any real grit in her voice, and the accompaniment’s overwhelming amount of high harmonies made the song sound more annoying than angry. Nicole astutely pointed out that slowing down the tempo a bit would have added fullness to the arrangement. C+

Street Corner Symphony – “Creep” by Radiohead
See where artistry gets us, Ben? Sure, Jeremy sounded pretty great on the lead part, but there was no dancing, no pizazz! That being said, if you insist on stripping back a song, this is the way to do it. Just stand there and sing. The long accompanying tones weren’t my favorite, as the absence of syllables made things sort of boring. B

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town – “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones
Are you all falling for the charms of Jerry Lawson every week, like I am? When he said, “The judges’ words make me feel important. It makes me feel acknowledged,” I got a little teary. But the veteran soul singers aren’t just charity cases – they taught the youngsters a thing or two about how to give a fun performance last night. With tempo shifts, hip shakes, leather jackets, constant smiles, and one beautifully growled high note, Jerry and his crew earned praise from all the judges, especially Shawn, who was happy that they took an upbeat approach to the challenge. A-

On The Rocks – “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard
Wow. In my mind, these guys just get a cappella right. They sound terrific, they move all over the stage, and they don’t take themselves too seriously! I didn’t know what the judges were talking about when they said that Jonah hadn’t committed to the solo. Did they see him groping his chest? Did they see him rolling around on the floor? Did they see what Ben called “the posterior hump maneuver?” On The Rocks has put on a true show with every performance, and I love the commitment to their shtick. A

Groove for Thought – “Changes” by David Bowie
Amanda’s voice sounded buttery and smooth during the first half of this disappointingly safe arrangement, but when she fumbled her words near the end of the song, things started to fall apart. Following OTR’s very camp performance, this muted entry felt like a letdown. Shawn commented, “I was wondering if you could flip it and make some changes – no pun intended!” Yeah right, Shawn. B-

Committed – “Every Breath You Take” by The Police
I was disappointed that Committed chose an adult contemporary snoozer instead of a real rock n’ roll song, but their singing was great, as usual. The lack of choreography frustrated me, and I wish that Committed’s body language and facial expressions were as energetic as their vocals. “I hate to say it,” said Ben, “but you guys just don’t make very convincing thugs. The judges want to rock!” B

The Backbeats – “Love Shack” by The B-52’s
Looking more colorful than a rainbow sherbet explosion, the Backbeats took to the stage to prove that they could be goofy and high-energy, too! It was so nice to see them smile, but the arrangement felt too top and bottom heavy, and the wacked-out dancing made it seem like they were trying too hard. The judges never seem to find any fault with them, though. Side note: have we all noticed how often the camera focuses on Courtney, the constantly dewey-eyed beatboxer? B

Street Corner Symphony – “Come On, Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Though their performance was a little frenetic and featured some sloppy choreography (let’s not do a kickline ever again, guys), Street Corner Symphony continues to prove that they can blend their voices better than any other group in the competition. I just wish they came across as more rehearsed. Amazing song choice, though. B+

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town – “Easy” by The Commodores
It’s all in the eyes for Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town. They may not have the dancing dexterity of their younger competitors, but they can communicate all the flirtatious romance they want through their smiling faces. They connect to their songs in a way that only seasoned professionals can. On this tune, both Jerry Lawson and tenor Carlton sounded smooth and exciting, and it was sweet to see how flattered Carlton was to be compared to his idol, Eddie Kendricks. Nicole, in one of her many genuinely funny moments last night, gave a succinct review of the song: “Ladies, can I get a (sensually) mmmmmm?” A-

Groove for Thought – “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates
Everything about this performance was better than Groove for Thought’s first song. They looked cooler, they sounded cooler, and they performed like they were having way more fun. Peter’s solo sounded wonderful, as did Amanda’s inflected vocal flourishes, but it was the surprise beatbox/dancing section that really won me over. They were easily the most fun of any of the non-student groups. A-

On The Rocks – “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister
The drums and bass of driving 1980s pop/rock songs translate well to vocal arrangements, and the round block chords of “Kyrie,” sounded incredible. Now, if you’re savvy to the a cappella world, you know that On The Rocks pulled out all the standard stops to make this a perfect “serious” performance. They had three lead-part harmonizers standing in front of the group, a dramatic key change midway through the song, and even customary knee-bobs scattered throughout. The choreography added so much energy into the performance, and I was thrilled to see the judges embrace every second of the cheese – Shawn’s speech about sprouting wings and soaring through a canyon was hilarious. A-

Committed – “I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys
The gospel singers were wise to pick this crowd-pleasing BSB classic, and their harmonies and occasional dirty dancing were pretty enjoyable. Still, I think Committed was off this week in terms of energy – there was just not much whimsy in their performances. I guess it’s time to get lessons from Uncle Jerry! At the end of their performance, Nick Lachey had a refreshingly off-the-cuff line: “You had the wrong boy band – 98 Degrees! What do I gotta do?” B+

When it came time for the elimination, I felt pretty certain that the Backbeats would be the group headed home. For the first time in this season of The Sing Off, though, I didn’t agree with the judges’ choice for elimination, as they sent Groove for Thought out of the competition. Perhaps their decision was an effort to keep as many girls in the competition as possible, or maybe they just couldn’t bare to imagine opening number performances without JoAnna’s wail, but for whatever reason, the Backbeats stuck around. Groove for Thought, meanwhile, sang “That’s Life” as they left the stage, and it was pretty touching to see how genuinely sad all the other groups felt while watching them go.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…

PunWatch with Nick Lachey!

“Let’s see if that rocked the judges.” (After the Backbeats’ Bon Jovi performance)

“Shawn, are you satisfied?” (Following Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town’s performance of “Satisfaction”)

“Nicole, was it sweet?” (After On The Rocks’ performance of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”)

“Aiming to strike heavenly harmonies…” (Before On The Rocks’ performance of “Kyrie”)

“For one group, the music ends here.” (During the elimination ceremony)

What did you think about tonight’s episode of The Sing-Off? Do you agree that the festivities could have used an energy boost, or do you like the more subdued performances? And who are you hoping advances to the finals in this Wednesday’s episode?

Read more:
Shows we’re embarrassed to love: What’s your secret shame?
‘The Sing-Off’ recap: Sing on!

Originally posted December 14 2010 — 10:39 AM EST

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