NBC's "The Sing-Off"

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 15 2009 12:50 PM

NBC's "The Sing-Off"

In its premiere episode last night, NBC's new competition series, The Sing-Off , provided a public service that the world did not yet know it needed namely, a sure-fire way to test whether you do, indeed, like a cappella, despite your better judgment. In the opening number, all eight vocal ensembles participating in the four-night event joined in a rendition of the Queen/David Bowie jam "Under Pressure." If you don't find yourself grinning like a fool by the end of this number, then congratulations: You, like my boyfriend (who spent last night barricaded in the dining room with his noise-canceling headphones), are immune to a cappella. 

Advertisement

Sadly, none of the following performances quite lived up to that first one. Despite the range of groups on display a quartet of sassy suburban moms, an R & B group from hardscrabble Omaha, a zany guys' group from Tufts nearly all sounded too thin, too bright, and too boppy. Most also had noticeable pitch issues, which I hope will smooth out once everyone stops being so nervous.

My favorite group so far is Noteworthy, from BYU. They sounded like a hot mess on Aretha Franklin's "Think" like many all-women's groups, they can sound screechy and piercing when they go full-blast but I liked their moxie. They know how to convey a sense that they take themselves seriously while embracing the essentially campy nature of the genre.

We will not harp on the inadequacies of host Nick Lachey or judge Nicole Scherzinger or their shared, grating habit of insisting how cool a cappella is. ("When you hear that barbershop style you think, 'That's dope!' ") Instead, let's celebrate the presence of the dashing Shawn Stockman, from Boyz II Men , and of Ben Folds , who, despite his uncanny resemblance to Austin Powers, provided the evening's most useful, insightful musical critiques.

The little scenes where we get to visit the groups' campuses and hometowns also provided some lovely grace notes. All the groups seem very close-knit, and none of the camaraderie seems forced. A cappella is first and foremost about fellowship , and I thought those interludes captured that quite well.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?