After almost a full 2 years away from television, my favourite show is back.  Indeed, I was thrilled this past spring when I heard that The Sing-Off would be making its triumphant return for a seven-episode holiday run in December.  Thus, it was with great anticipation that the kids and I watched the entire show (Gail was out) on the eastern feed nonetheless.

Here are some of my observations based on the first show of the season:

Jewel Joins the Judges

Jewel did well in her judging debut on the show; she was sweet, fun, and articulate.  She seemed to develop an instant chemistry with Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman.  I find this judging panel the most likable among the mainstream talent show competitions.  They don’t take themselves too seriously and they do a decent job of providing both affirmations and constructive criticism.  I enjoyed Sara Bareilles when she was on the show as she was quite balanced in her opinions as well.  I couldn’t stand Nicole Scherzinger at times as I thought she was way too positive and afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings.

However, one challenging thing about the judges is that their comments make the results quite predictable.  For instance, given their feedback, there was no surprise that The Princeton Footnotes and VoicePlay would be in the bottom two.  This predictability may change as the season rolls on and the competition gets tougher.  At least I hope so.

Judges Ben Folds, Jewel, and Shawn Stockman

Judges Ben Folds, Jewel, and Shawn Stockman

The Mark Burnett Influence

Mark Burnett (producer of The Voice and Survivor among others) came on board for this season and you can already see his influence.  The Sing-Off has introduced the “Ultimate Sing-Off” in which the “bottom two” groups perform the same song in the same vein as a rap battle.  I’ve heard varying accounts as to how long the two groups get to prepare this song but in the end it didn’t matter to me.  The two groups performed a spirited an entertaining version on ‘N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye”.

The Ultimate Sing-Off Battle

The Ultimate Sing-Off Battle

Nick Lachey is Still Punny

One of the show’s hallmarks is host Nick Lachey and his arsenal of puns.  They usually revolve around the names of the groups and the names of the songs.  Some of them are quite comical while others are cringe-inducing.  I’d dare you to take a drink every time Nick makes a pun but you’d likely be tipsy 15 minutes in.

Nick Lachey punny as ever

Nick Lachey punny as ever

You Remind Me

Having watched every episode of all three previous seasons, I have a pretty good memory of the 34 groups that have performed.  With only so many genres and styles, it’s natural to compare this year’s groups with groups from previous seasons.  In making these comparisons, I’m not necessarily equating the proficiency or skill of the groups.  Rather, these were just some of my first impressions.

  • acoUstiKats:  This all-male college group from the University of Kentucky reminds me of many of the other all-male college groups from seasons past including The Beelzebubs of Tuft University (Season 1), On the Rocks of the University of Oregon (Season 2), and the YellowJackets of the University of Rochester (Season 3).
  • Calle Sol:  Hailing from Puerto Rico, I’m sure that this group would love to follow in the footsteps of another Puerto Rican group:  Season 1 champions Nota.
  • Element:  This all-female group reminds me a lot of the lovely and talented ladies of Delilah (Season 2).
  • The Filharmonic:  This sextet of Filipino singers will likely be among the crowd favourites because of their uniqueness (to the show at least).  I actually see similarities to Season 2 champions Committed.
  • Home Free:  Another all-male group that sings country music.  As soon as I saw them and heard them, I thought of Street Corner Symphony (Season 2).
  • The Princeton Footnotes:  This Ivy League a cappella group hopes to do even better than previous Ivy League groups The Whiffenpoofs of Yale University (Season 2) and the Dartmouth Aires of Dartmouth College (Season 3).
  • Street Corner Renaissance:  The oldest group and throwback to the doo-wop era is similar to Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town (Season 2) and North Shore (Season 3).
  • Ten:  When I first saw and heard them, they reminded me of Urban Method (Season 3).  Then, as I heard them talk about their Gospel roots, I thought of Afro Blue (Season 3).
  • Vocal Rush:  The Sing-Off has brought in high-school groups over the past two seasons including Eleventh Hour (Season 2) and Soul’d Out (Season 3).
  • VoicePlay:  Five guys and one gal with a very modern look and sound made me think of Season 3 champions Pentatonix.
Home Free

Home Free

And the Winner Is…

In looking at the past three champions (Nota from Season 1, Committed from Season 2, and Pentatonix from Season 3) and the runner-ups, a few things jump out at me:

  • The number of group members is small.  Nota has 6 singers, as does Committed.  Pentatonix has 5 singers.
  • The number of females is small.  Nota and Committed are all-male groups whereas Pentatonix has 4 males and 1 female.
  • College/University groups will make it to the end but won’t win.  The Beelzebubs and Voices of Lee finished second and third respectively in Season 1, The Backbeats came in third in Season 2, and the Dartmouth Aires finished in second in Season 3.

All of the above makes sense given the grand prize of $100,000 and a recording contract with Sony.  While Nota and Committed achieved limited commercial success, Pentatonix has done extremely well in terms of sales, tours, and appearances.  College and University groups are simply much harder to market.

Given all of that and the performances from opening night, I could see a final three of Home Free, acoUstiKats, and VoicePlay (despite being in the bottom two).  I am partial to the Filharmonic (for obvious reasons) and I think that Street Corner Renaissance will be the sentimental favourite but I just don’t see them making it all the way to the end.

If pressed to make a prediction today, I’ll go with the good old country boys Home Free.


I’m looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.  The Sing-Off will air on December 11, 12, 16, 18, 19, and 23 (finale).  May the best a cappella group win!