Ranking the performances from week eight and nine.
1) Let’s Get It On – Pentatonix
Pentatonix has gotten this reputation for being these really talented robots – they always have a trick up their sleeve, some vocal moment that will shock you into mouth-agape stupor or blissful cheering. They ride the remix, the breakdown, the unexpected pause… so what a blessing it is to have this performance now and be able to say, “This is good for any song, even without any club remix tricks… This is good for any time period, not just 2011… This is good for any performance, not just an acapella performance… This is a great performance!”
From that make-love-now clarion call at the beginning of the song – “Wah, Wah, Wah, Wahhhh!” – this cover didn’t try to do anything that wouldn’t have been in Marvin Gaye’s playbook back in the ‘70s. But it did everything in that playbook perfectly. Once again the most astounding thing about this group is not the remix tendency or even Scott’s incredible lead vocals. It’s that you would never believe this group had just five members if it wasn’t right in front of your eyes. Plug in you headphones and listen to the audio – you hear a chamber choir!
2) Born To Be Wild – Pentatonix
The gun trick has been done before, yes. Pause. Chik-chik. “Guns!” But it gets me every time, and Pentatonix utilizes it, and every other trick it pulls here, with such gusto, and such attitude. Yeah, they feel like they’re from the future, which could create a certain sheen, a distance – like lamination – over their songs, but it never feels that way does it. They dig right to the heart of the song, and reinvent it from the inside out. This cover had the attitude of the time it came from inexplicably enough, and it managed that without ever feeling like dinner theatre. It was straight-up raw emotion, something which Pentatonix brings week after week to every genre like it’s, you know, no big deal.
3) Here We Go Again – Urban Method
To be clear, Urban Method took a huge risk with this. If you think, “Whatever, it’s just a trashy ‘80s song, the judges wouldn’t have cared as long as it was good…” recall that Pentatonix only negative critiques of the competition came on a trashy Ke$ha song where they just changed up the first verse by adding a melody where there wasn’t one. So, this was not a sure shot, especially considering Urban Method took an entire song here, threw it out and basically started from scratch. Heck they wrote a rap. They could have gotten crucified by the judges!
But, aha… What they came up with was a soulful and depressing blues track where an anthem of ridiculous ego and excess once stood. Urban Method found something, and it was right of Ben to point out that he liked what Urban Method found better than what Whitesnake created.
4) Every Little Thing – Vocal Point (Eliminated)
This was Vocal Point’s most ambitious arrangement since “The Way You Look Tonight.” For me, it started rough, but rarely has a group won me over more effectively as a song went on. This song built perfectly, and, by the time the remix kicked in, I was ready to give Vocal Point full kudos for this. That would have been if these white kids had simply stood still the whole time. But they moved! My, did they move! This was a wonderful, inventive and enthusiastic performance that should have (but didn’t) kept Vocal Point in the competition.
5) Stuck Like Glue – Pentatonix
One thing Pentatonix had not been yet was adorable. For such a small group, these five kids can put so much intensity on the stage. “Chill” is not how you would describe them. But if this group is usually a hit of some hard stuff at the club, this was a nice apple cider or eggnog – it was smooth, simple and delightful. And it was fun. There are two clear vocal mistakes during this performance that hold this one back for me (honestly it was the first time I’d heard this group be out-of-tune even a little) but I can’t take away what was a fun, innocent performance of a song I love from this incredible group.
6) It’s Your Thing – Urban Method
Two chords. One paragraph of lyrics. So what do you do?
Well, because there was so much room to do whatever, Urban Method got to show off a strength they haven’t shown since “Dance to the Music” – real-sounding instruments. Urban Method prides themselves on sounding like a producer’s sound panel, but what impresses me more is the relish these session musicians get from being… session musicians. Lay down an instrumental for these cats, and you get a fun, brisk performance which makes me wonder why they want so badly to be known for their bleeps and bloops.
7) Midnight Train to Georgia – Dartmouth Aires
For once the guys in the Aires just stood still and got out of Michael’s way. The result? My favorite Aires performance besides the brilliant Queen medley, which leveraged the theatrical tendency of this group so well. I didn’t hear the pitch issues the judge’s pointed out. I just heard Michael’s splendid vocal. I’ve done a complete 180 on him. I now crave his voice. It’s like sandpaper yes, but it is such a controlled and wonderful instrument – Michael uses its roughness for good and not evil. All the Aires had to do was go “Woo Woo!” and get out of the way… and for once, they did.
8) Need You Now – Afro Blue
This performance could have been better, especially considering this is a group that gave us genre redefining interpretations of pop songs earlier in this competition. Afro-Blue has entered a legendary funk (and not the funky kind), but this raw, emotional performance did enough to bring the Blue high enough in the judge’s graces even when it seemed they had already blown their chances. They now find themselves in the final four, where they really shouldn’t be. They essentially need to pretend this pleasant take on “Need You Now” was their last performance and build on that, or they’re doomed.
9) Dream On – Delilah (Eliminated)
There’s something to be said for a magic moment. Michael’s solo during “Somebody to Love” had everyone who watches the Sing-Off in rapture. That was a moment. We’re suckers for a moment.
Amy reaching that “moment” we all wait for in “Dream On” – the Steven Tyler octave – was indeed filled with a certain mystique that you just can’t explain with the equation “pretty girl + musical shrieking + fan,” because something about what Amy did here transcends all that was put into it. What came out doesn’t weigh the same. Something special was added in.
That being said… Delilah’s magic moment came about the same time as Michael’s incredible kneel-back on “Somebody to Love.” What the Aires did that week was keep the momentum going by releasing some of that pressure and then building it again so that, in fact, the best moment is that moment where Michael waits tossing that famous run and then coos it out just a bit slower then you’d expect. It airmails chills right to you doorstep every time, no question. Delilah missed that boat. They should have had a better, or at least an equal, second moment. Instead they basically tap-danced and riffed until the cane pulled them off the stage. Bad form.
10) Life Is a Highway – Vocal Point (Eliminated)
This is the first performance I don’t have much to say about. It’s just good, right? It is a bit fast, yes, and Pentatonix totally stole their car-starting thunder by doing a motorcycle to open the show, but this never gets in the way of a nice, clean interpretation of a corny but popular Rascal Flatts song we all know from that movie with the talking cars that wasn’t as good as all the other Pixar movies. A solid B+ based on the killer key change alone.
11) Knocks You Down – Urban Method
This was an ambitious performance for Urban Method, who I feel finally turned in a convincing contemporary performance that convinced me they can at least keep pace with Pentatonix. The Method had some neat tricks here (the flat-line and a nice ride to the top on one chorus, for instance) and the rap breaks actually impressed me quite a bit. Am I looking at a deserving runner-up here? Will I be forced to admit that rapapella is a thing? Because I won’t do it.
12) OMG – Pentatonix
The more I listen to this performance, the more it grows on me, but my first reaction still stands. This is by far the weakest performance by Pentatonix on this show. That is a very high “low,” I’ll grant you, but I was actually really turned off by this performance. The chords sounded too compressed at times, the tempo shifted too much for my liking, and Scott, who I was starting to expect was immortal, definitely went flat a few times. I know I’ll listen to this thirty times by tomorrow and I’ll love it, but let the record show that other groups did much better than the Texans during the contemporary R&B round, which is a round they should have owned!
13) Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy) – Dartmouth Aires
Ah, the Aires back in old Airey form. Jumping, smiling and joking. At least it was somewhat called for this time. No it’s not the gallivanting that got me. It was the doubled solo. I know it’s in the original, but the lower part felt unnecessary here, and no one could keep up with Michael. So instead of letting Michael let loose, we got a breathy baritone part that brought the arrangement down in my opinion.
14) If I Die Young – Delilah (Eliminated)
I’m not a perfect pitch guy or anything, but I’m pretty good at hearing wrong pitches. When I hear wrong ones, I have a pretty visceral reaction. So, considering I hear pitch pretty darn well, I fail to see where this was an elimination-garnering performance. I found it in tune and pleasant, even a little moving. The judges pointed out major pitch problems on the harmonies, but I did not hear them. I think Delilah could have strived for a higher bar here, but I can’t fault them for the bar they chose – they sang it well.
15) We’re Not Gonna Take It – Dartmouth Aires
The Aires aren’t as good when they think it’s a joke. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a lot of fun but it was never a joke. You could tell that was because a lot of these kids grew up worshipping Queen. Quiet Riot on the other hand… Honestly, Urban Method paid Whitesnake a much bigger compliment by throwing out their arrangement completely and doing something for themselves, and they did themselves a much bigger favor. This parody performance was middling at best, and the choir moment felt unnecessary rather then inspired.
16) Ignition – Dartmouth Aires
This performance just confused me, as did new soloist Xavier. Some good moments. Some moments that I was indifferent to. The whole kooky thing was back and it kind of turned me off. I think there was a better song out there for these guys.
17) You Really Got Me – Vocal Point (Eliminated)
The judges saw this as cute. Where they saw cute, I saw cloying. See, to sing this right, you kind of have to sing it bad, and Vocal Point got that. But they didn’t do that in a way that made me happy. It left me cold.
18) We Belong Together – Afro Blue
Too slow. That’s the big problem here. It felt sleepy, like Afro Blue was up to its old tricks, but they were afraid to do it up to speed. I think it was an intentionally subdued performance, but we instead got a whole of exposed lattice-work where we wanted a finished work.
19) Before He Cheats – Urban Method
Alright, so I get the whole female empowerment thing going on in Urban Method. They’ve found themselves, it’s nice, yay… And I’ve really started to enjoy them some of the time. But this was just shrieky 70% of the time. And uninspired the other 30%. Am I the only one who thought this? If so, I will shut up and move this into the top ten.
20) Ain’t To Proud To Beg – Vocal Point (Eliminated)
This was by no means a bad performance. It was also by no means a good performance. Ben’s second solo didn’t get him any further with the judges than his first, and a second visit to the bottom two for this group proved fatal unfortunately.
21) Best of My Love – Afro Blue
So it wasn’t just me right? This was a mess, yeah? I thought so.
22) American Girl – Afro Blue
Song choice is a huge part of staying alive in this competition. Let’s just agree that this was the worst possible choice for this group. The group never liked the song and so they layered a bunch of cheesecake, the National Anthem and their kitchen sink on it to compensate. And it’s still stuck in my head. It hurts.