The Sing- Off – Season Premiere NBC December 9, 2013 09:00 p.m.
By Valerie Milano
Culver City, CA (Hollywood Today) 12/18/13 - In 2012 after three seasons, The Sing-Off was not renewed and presumed dead. However, with staggering success of The Voice ringing in their ears, the brass at NBC granted a stay of execution and renewed the show for a fourth season. The show’s season premiere was rolled out December 9, 2013. The Sing-Off has the feel of a new show trying to make good.
Any review of The Sing-Off must acknowledge the 8000 pound elephant in the room that is their premiere lead-in, The Voice. The Voice has advanced beyond mere mega-hit to cultural phenomena. Its judges have become supermarket tabloid fodder and one in particular has been anointed “sexiest man alive”. Tough act to follow.
So how does The Sing-Off stand apart? Well…..it doesn’t, other than being a less glitzy down-market version of their obvious role-model. However, it does have the saving grace of its core concept. Which is more about the voice than…..well, The Voice. All acts on The Sing Off are a cappella. No instruments. Just pure vocal talent uncut and without smoke machines, firebombs and celebrity coaching.
One can almost hear the brainstorming session in the penthouse offices of NBC, “I got it, a cross between The Voice and Disney’s Up With People…. only with an edge.” Well there’s not much edge to The Sing-Off; a show that likes its acts and judges wholesome and G-rated. Nothing wrong with good clean family entertainment. However, on the season premiere when the show chose to profile country act Home Free in a cornfield frolicking with a real live cow, my schlock-o-meter pinned in the red zone.
On the whole, The Sing Off template is pretty much the same as The Voice; battle rounds, up close and personal profiles of the artists, and playful putdowns between the judges. Shawn Stockman brings the requisite R&B cred (ala’ Ceelo), and new addition Jewel occupies the blond bombshell chair in an obvious attempt to inject some of the saa-nap and crackle that Christina Aguilara brings to The Voice. Absent is the aw-shucks country corn of a Blake Shelton. Although, Jewel does her best to pick up the slack, dropping the occasional “y’all” bomb when needed.
We have Nick Lachey as host. A musical star in his own right and a square-jawed, hunkier version of Ryan Seacrest. He exudes an easy confidence that blends well with the overall chemistry of the show.
The real revelation in the show is judge Ben Folds. Better known as a piano man in the mold of Billy Joel and Bruce Hornsby, his observations are always witty, considered and smooth. However, it’s a sad commentary on American culture that host Nick Lachey feels the need to repeatedly reduce Folds’ keen intelligence to caricature with recurrent snarky banter about his advanced vocabulary and his eyewear. Yeah Nick, we get it, Folds is intelligent and wears glasses. Let’s not beat it into the ground.
Where The Voice seems to draw its audience from I-phone addicts of all demos, The Sing-Off seems skewed more towards the diverse teen and young adult crowd.
Having The Voice as a lead-in to the season premiere seems like a no-brainer. However, it was hard for this viewer already ear-fatigued by the bombast of The Voice to hang around for two hours of more of the same. Hopefully, The Sing-Off will be able to emerge from the shadow of The Voice and find its own identity.
HT attended a Press Junket for NBC’s “The Sing-Off” August 7, 2013. In attendance was Executive Producer Mark Burnett, Host Nick Lachey, and Celebrity judges, Ben Folds, Jewel and Shawn Stockman
Jewel commented on her feelings about The Sing-Off and it’s format of featuring only a cappella singing groups, JEWEL: “I think what made me a fan of the show before I came here is that there is a high level of artistry and you’re watching something that a lot of people don’t know about. It’s pretty easy to get there and hear one singer sing and kind of gauge for yourself what’s going on, but when there’s a whole group, it’s so hard for your ear — even as a trained musician — to really get in there and see what’s happening and who’s singing bass and what bass-line are they playing and who’s beat-boxing. It’s really kind of extraordinary and, you know, I was really honored to come on as a judge because these two guys have done such a wonderful job of helping America understand what they’re listening to and that’s what try to do as a judge, too. “
Celebrity Judge Shawn Stockman gave his perspective on the positive tone of the judging on show, SHAWN STOCKMAN: “…..our style of judging, it displays an ability to still give critiques and helpful criticism to the artist without necessarily butchering them, and that seems to be the shtick a lot of times. It’s a feel-good show, and it’s not about necessarily doubting someone or anything like that because to be honest, all of the groups are great.”
Ben Folds stressed the important role The Sing-Off in preserving the art form of a cappella music, BEN FOLDS: “Well, I don’t think you can really stop a cappella music. It’s very, very important. And having it represented on a major network like this is pretty radical, and it’s also very necessary because people can’t afford musical instruments all the time. And this the oldest form of music, just to stand and sing like that. It’s actually the coolest form of music you can imagine. It requires no stunts, it doesn’t require a track behind you. You just to have talent and sing, and it’s people working together.”
When asked about the chemistry between the shows judges, newcomer Jewel displayed some of the wit and sass producers hope viewers will tune in to see more of, JEWEL: “The chemistry is whatever I tell them the chemistry is going to be, okay? I’m a female. No. It’s been great. These guys are great. They set such a high bar. The show — their judging has so much credibility and so much heart.”
Jewel was also gracious in speaking about her stint as mentor on The Voice and American Idol and had some interesting perspectives on how the competition show genre might affect the record industry, JEWEL: “I was honored to be, you know, mentoring on The Voice and American Idol. I think that these shows really are bringing up the talent level and I think reminding the record industry that people do care about talent.” Jewel further commented, “I mean, we got away from that for a while. There were some people that could sing and a lot of people that were manufactured in the studios and record labels were just — they were cheating, they were getting by and artists were cheating. And so in a weird way, I think these shows have really helped keep record labels honest, I think it’s helped keep artists honest. I think it’s given a way for people who have no idea how to get discovered a platform, and it’s a real platform. It’s not nepotism, it’s not who you know, it’s not schmoozing. It’s based on getting out there and delivering.”