Wednesday, December 08, 2010

My Guilty Pleasure Part I: Who else wouldn't love the Sing-Off?

First off: Random helium article on Homosexuality in Hollywood that provides an informative account of gays in Hollywood Please click on this, just so i can get some revenue from my article, I know, I'm shameless. Moving on.......

Second: This article has a lot more exposition than I planned it to therefore, skip to third paragraph (Assuming the next paragraph is paragraph 1) to get to the meat and bones of the article. Also paragraph 7 right after the embedded hulu video is killer.

I'm absolutely loving the Sing-Off. I always had a casual admiration of a capella music and at one point I felt compelled to audition for one such group in college on one year of high school choir experience because I thought it would make me socially set. I remember arriving on my campus freshman year of college and seeing this a capella group selling CDs. I wasn't aware of the relative ease of recording a CD at the time so I thought these guys were rock stars. Years later, I told this to a guy who was in the group and he confessed that he also was deluded into thinking he was a rock-star because he was in the group.

Since then, I've had a lot of a capella music on my youtube favorites list. Sometimes, I get into a group for the hell of it and just follow their videos seeing what directions they'll go next. I've temporarily become fans of the Harvard Veritones, Indiana Straight No Chaser (the current version), University of Michigan Friars (they're very funny), USC Reverse Osmosis, University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers, California Golden Overtones, UC Men's Octet and California State University of Northridge Acasola. I wonder if any of those groups will find this blogpost in a google search. I feel a little creepy following these groups since I don't go to those schools and have no ties to any of those group's members, but I thought I'd publicly declare my fandom for them because they must need all the publicity they can get and they post their stuff on youtube (even though there are 1,000s of youtube posts already posting covers of the same song) in hopes of attracting random fans like me.

Anyways, I've absolutely been loving the Sing-Off. Last year, there were 8 groups on the show, two of which blew me away: 1) Nota, a 6-man Puerto Rican group who infused Latin beats into pop songs and 2) Voices of Lee, a coed group of Jesus lovers from a college in Tennessee who blend like butter and play a lot of ping-pong. This year, I'd say at least eight of the ten groups on the show (and the other two, Jerry Lawson and Men of Note both have lots of redeeming qualities) genuinely impress me to the point where I think they had legitimate chances at winning last season. The learning curve for the a capella community with regard to this show has been ridiculously steep. As a result, this show has the exact opposite problem as last year. Rather than having to endure groups like Maxx Factor or BYU's Noteworthy which didn't do it for me so I could get to the good stuff, this year it's pretty much amazing performance after amazing performance and it's somewhat annoying that 40% of the acts are gone after Week One.

The group that finished second last year, the Tufts Beezlebubs, were by my recollection, nothing particularly special at all compared to the groups competing this year, or even most any a capella group you'll find on youtube. They sung fairly well and chose some original song selections but this year's collegiate groups all have deep rosters, are choosing interesting material and on top of that, they have massively exciting arrangements. The Beezlebubs looked adorably goofy on stage and didn't take themselves too seriously but they're no match in the guys-humiliating-themselves-for-points-with-the-judges department (GHTFPWJ for short) against this year's groups when you have The Yale Whiffenpoofs doing Mika's "Grace Kelly" in white tie and tails or University of Oregon's On the Rocks (a viral youtube hit from earlier in the year) doing a full-on rendition of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance."

Other than use this blog to discuss my feelings of blah towards the Beezlebubs, it's worth noting that I wasn't really a fan of the Whiffenpoofs until the second episode. I've never had so many stereotypes about what someone who attends an Ivy League School like Yale be confirmed so rapidly as with the 90-second introductory video to the Whiffenpoofs. Just check this out:

Almost every single building these guys are photographed in looks gothic, ornate and like something a public college could never afford without overcharging for admission. There's a guy remarking that he feels so inordinately powerful when putting on a tuxedo. Perhaps, his career path will suit him to be the villain in the Avengers? Let's see what else....they claim to have personally invented a capella (if Al Gore went to Yale, not Harvard, I could have put an appropriate joke in there), while University of Oregon's On the Rocks is playing football on the lawn in their expositional video and the Backbeats are going to the beach, the group from Yale is guessed it!......playing golf and toasting each other with champagne glasses in an expensive restaurant. Fortunately, Whiffenpoofs are actually entertaining and inventive with their singing which took the bad feelings away.

This year's group also has the Men of Note and Eleventh Hour which are high school groups. The latter was ridiculously talented for a group of high-schoolers and, just as the judges said, kind of a real-life "Glee" in that they consist of a mixture of geeks, homecoming queens, jocks and the like and come together to create beautiful music. Of course, high school stereotypes are exxagerated but the expositional video sold me that something awesome was in the works. I also appreciated that Men of Note flat-out admitted that one of their primary uses for their talent is wooing girls in malls. I've long suspected that all-male a capella groups employ some superweapon to create a massive force of female attraction that can't be reckoned with. I went to an all-male a capella concert in college and the amount of screaming girls was just plain unfair to someone on campus who isn't vocally gifted enough to make such a group.

Other great groups along the line of NOTA (small bands of professionals) include Streetcorner Symphony from Nashville Tennessee and a septet of music teachers from Seattle who form the jazz-influenced Groove for Thought. In the first three songs, they're sticking with the same soloists and I'd prefer more rotation, but they are both rediculously good. It's interesting to note how suceptible I am (and many other viewers likely are) on being sold on a brand: I genuinely like SCS more because among other things, they authentically look like guys who came from a Nashville streetcorner.

One other group of note: The Backbeats. Last year, I was fascinated by the SoCal Vocals because I'd heard somewhere on the interwebs that they were the best in the world or something, and I got the sense that they had potential to be much more than what I was seeing on the screen. I searched them on youtube, and holy crap! Those guys are good. It's odd because they were pigeonholed in a certain way, but looking at their videos of Somebody to Love and Feeling Good, they are way more than that. The problem was that there are something like 15+ members in the group and when you reduce it to eight contestants, a lot of the magic was lost. In the interest of honesty (I'm not sure if the rules are that you can't go twice), I hope it's being disclosed sufficiently that this is pretty much the same group as last year: It's still various members of the larger SoCal Vocal a capella group willing to balance the show with school work along with whatever alumni are available. Only this time there are a few extra people thrown in. Just because they changed their names doesn't mean it's not SoCal Vocals Part II. Still, there's only one overlapping member from last year to this year, and the SoCal Vocals are so good that all the leftover members who Kenton didn't invite for whatever reason to be on the Sing-Off were able to produce a ridiculously awesome video. I imagine it's sufficiently auto-tuned but those guys sound very strong and they're the freaking B-team:

The Voices of Lee equivalent is Committed and they are probably the best group in the show. Not only are they amazing with their bell tones (whatever that means), but the way the judges are so utterly speechless at the performances that they turn into incoherent babbling messes is just something you have to see for yourselves. Speaking of incoherent babbling messes, that would be Nicole Scherzinger all the time and I'm surprised she isn't getting more press for making Paula Abdul look like a Rhodes Scholar. Even if the show itself isn't creating watercooler talk, clips of Scherzinger should be making the rounds on Best Week Ever, The Soup and late night TV, I would have imagined. I am wholly convinced that Scherzinger is a far more talented individual with her dancing, songwriting and singing than I am at practically anything, but you gotta admit, there is some basis in truth here.

As for the other judges, Ben Folds is such a cool nerd and he's so freaking knowledgable, I love him. I've also seen him in concert and he's one of the best acts I've seen. As a piano player, he's also an inspiration. Shaun Stockman is also an excellent judge and I will fight any other blogger to the death who says he is unqualified. I'm referring to a popular blog for the a capella community that wrote in a blog post last December (I am not making this up) suggesting replacing Stockman this season with James van der Beek or Peter Gallagher because they had been in a capella groups before. If that's what the a capella blog community is coming up, I should be the premiere a capella beat writer on the internet and this is just my first a capella-related post.

Also, by the way, this is a reality show competition and I don't often write about a capella. I did write one other thing on reality TV once. Great article that you should click on.

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