Saturday, November 19, 2011

How I've come to hate the Dartmouth Aires and other Sing-Off Thoughts

My apologies for not writing about the Sing-Off as I did last year in such winning fashion (also here: This season, I've been finding myself experiencing a feeling I normally don't have towards TV characters and that is borderline hatred.

Normally, I don't hate a TV character because it's pointless to hate a fictional character. In this case, my anger is directed towards real life people and that's also ironic, because they're a group of 16 guys who I've never met and I probably wouldn't mind so much if I did ever meet them.

When I initially saw this group of people on TV, I didn't have a problem with them at all. I didn't particularly like their song choice, but I didn't think they deserved to be axed. In the first week, they were in the same bracket as a group of Liberian refugees who were there for the sob story factor and sounded like the choir in the opening few measures of the Lion King's Circle of Life (I don't mean that as a compliment).

But the thing is that the caliber of talent on the show this season is amazing. If need be, I could make a good case for about seven of these groups to win the entire show because they are legitimately the best at what they do without those cases being mutually exclusive. In no particular order:
1. BYU Vocal Point (finished 5th)-Vocal Point deserves to win because they were arguably the best group at clearing the hurdles created by the wide range of genres. They also have the sharpest, most finely tuned arrangements out of any group and no one can touch them in terms of choreography. The reasoning from Shaun Stockman for their dismissal this past week was that they didn't have a star personality. I call BS on that. Aside from the edgy rock-tailored voices of McKay Crockett and Ross Welch, I thought Jake Hunsaker had the best voice on the show.

And keep in mind, I'm defending them to the death without being sure if I even like them as people**. It's not the Mormon thing, but they seem either whipped by their girlfriends and wives or strangely overeager to ensure us of their heterosexuality. In the worst incident of this, their introductory video* has one guy stating out of nowhere (I am not making this up) "Yeah, we really like girls, kissing girls also." Then he demonstrates his girl-kissing prowess by leaning down to a girl on the quad and kissing her (I hope that was his girlfriend and it's not a standing mandate at BYU that all girls must be on the ready in case Ben wants to kiss them).

2. North Shore (finished tied for 9th): Aside from being true masters at what they do from the standpoint of time spent on their craft, they are vitally important because they represent what is a lost art and despite the opinion of the judges who felt they looked dated on the "Power of Love," they succesfully take their old-school sensibility on pop songs. Not to mention, "Talk of the Town" coasted to the finals last year without putting an ounce of effort into modifying their style to accommodate different genres. "North Shore" was full of personality, humility, and appeared to be much more hard-working.

3. Delilah (finished 6th): A case can be made that Delilah is the best all-female a capella group ever assembled. Aside from the fact that this legitimate blogger thinks so, it makes sense considering you had judges scour the country for the best a capella groups in the country and this all-star super group is comprised of the best females from those groups. So if that's not good enough, than the judges might as well ban women from singing together and institute Sharia law. I mean, honestly, what more did these girls have to do? Yes, a couple of their performances had some problems, but if I'm arguing whether they had the potential to win the entire show and not shame the Sing-Off brand, then yes. You can also make a case for them to win based on the sheer number of home-run tear-inducing performances.

4. Afro-Blue (still in the final 4): In terms of musicianship, they are a step above the rest. Their music is indisputably solid, enjoyable and produced those "musical orgasms" (Nicole's term not mine) that Committed evoked out of Shawn last year. They have a deep bench, amazing vocalists (Christine Dashielle and Danielle Withers), and a priceless sound.

5. Urban Method (still in the final 4): Despite being pigeonholed as "the group with the rapper," Urban Method is strong enough as a group, that the judges deservedly have been hailing them all competition. They have a deep bench of great soloists, an excellent amount of cohesiveness for a group that just got together, and a very well-produced sound. They also are edgy and might be able to sell more records among non-a-capella fans better than anyone else.

6. Pentatonix (still in the final 4): They will likely win it all, so I shouldn't need too big of an argument here. They are highly innovative, fresh, and they produce an incredible amount of sound for just five people.

7. Sonos (finished tied for 11th with Kinfolk 9): Urban Method blogged that they listen to their record all the time and Scott Hoying of front-runner Pentatonix says "they're who we want to be." So if the point of this competition is making a record and building a following, what does it say about your group that one of the groups is already buying your CD and the winning group wants to emulate you? Hell, I even bought music from the Sonos on itunes*** and those are among my most played songs. The Sonos are otherworldly and are right up there with Pentatonix and Afro-Blue in terms of creativity when it comes to approaching songs. They only had five people but so do the Pentatonix and I'm sure they're talented enough to have worked out those harmony quirks if given the chance. The judges acted as if succeeding as a five-person a capella group was impossible.

The Dartmouth Aires, on the other hand, are entirely unremarkable to me (although I will concede their Queen performance was phenomenal). I've come to accept, however, that I'm in a small minority. My experience scouring the blogosphere and conversing with others on message boards indicates that people seem to very much like this group for legitimate reasons.

Now, I acknowledge that I have a more limited ability to analyze choral music and express that analysis than 90% of the people I discuss the show with, I could still argue that the Dartmouth Aires don't have what it takes to win it. To me, they're indistinguishable from the hundreds of 15-memberish all-male collegiate a capella groups from the country that rarely have any geographical reach beyond their campus and the schools where they tour. If I went to Boston University or Harvard or Brown, why would I consider buying a Dartmouth CD when I could get a similar sounding a capella CD from a group on my campus?

In order to make the case that they're champions, you'd have to make a convincing case that they're so much better than that humongous mass of a capella groups, that they could significantly sell records. Anyone have any idea how much Aires sell right now?

In the meantime, the Dartmouth Aires are eliminating groups who legitimately could win the competition. On top of that, the Dartmouth Aires are also eliminating groups who I happen to like better.

So while I didn't originally have anything personal against the Aires, it's gotten to become so. Case in point: One of the Aires has a very interesting wavy hair style (I believe his name is Clark). I used to think "hmmm, that's an interesting hair style." Now whenever I see Clark's hair, I think "that's a very stupid hairstyle." His hair style hasn't changed at all, but that's the inexplicable effect the Aires are having on me.

It's partially because I watch the show week after week and seeing this injustice committed over and over builds up that resentment. It's also partially because I feel like everyone I talk to about the show is ignoring the mediocrity of the Aires when they have debates over whether Delilah or Afro-Blue or Urban Method should have been eliminated in a certain week****. For me, everyone else in the top 7 or 8 are so amazing that if the Aires were out of the competition, it would be nothing but a win-win-win-win-win-win situation.

More importantly, it's because the show is doing a good job of building emotional attachment between me and the different groups. For example, the similarly-structured Yellow Jackets of the University of Rochester might also have some of the same weaknesses as the Aires*****. However, they had an eagerness and likability that won me over. So it would only be natural that if every group had an emotional connection to me that grew week after week, then eventually I'd feel strongly in the opposite direction towards the one group that I originally was apathetic to.

So, my apologies to the Dartmouth Aires and Clark's wavy haircut (which I still want to believe is a good haircut) for the inexplicable hatred I've come to feel. I'm not a hater of any of you and think you're perfectly pleasant people. It's just that reality TV has made me that way.

*As I wrote about the Whiffenpoofs a year ago, sometimes those intro videos can rub me the wrong way. I had a similar problem with the Del Tones of the University of Delaware. They were self-admittedly the fourth best a capella group at the University of Delaware and felt that they should be among the top 16 groups in the nation? Also, members suffering from home sickness when they first get to college and being concerned about making friends (yeah, that's pretty much everybody in the first two weeks of college) is really not much of an emotional hook

If you enjoyed this write-up, check out my internet column.

**But in all seriousness, I've grown to like BYU vocal point over the weeks. Too bad, you had to go

***Want to enable me to buy more itunes music or itunes epsiodes so I can continue to blog about the groups of the Sing-Off so entertainingly? Be sure to donate on the top right of the page. If you are a member of a group on the Sing-Off and write your name in the column, I will immediately start blogging about your group in a very positive fashion

****Note to judges and Sing-Off producers: Other than going back in time and eliminating the Aires during the top40/1960's week, you could improve the Sing-Off substantially by cutting the series short a couple weeks and having the audience vote on a final five.

*****Although unlike Ben, I could close my eyes and tell Aaron Sperber, Jamal Moore, and Danny Rubenstein apart. One of their strengths is having diverse and unique soloists

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