NBC's The Sing-Off: Time Better Spent Watching Paint Dry

By , Contributor

It's not that I don't love and appreciate the human voice, the talents of those who use it well, or the challenge of keeping in tune as the guy next to you sings something completely different.

Indeed I am a member of my church choir in which I am an alto. Sopranos have an easy life in that they almost always get to sing the melody, they are often the featured solo singer, their voices are admired and appreciated beyond those of us in the lower musical scale who add depth and vibrance to any choral arrangement. But am I bitter?

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I offer my alto experience only that yon reader might know that I have some knowledge of voice harmony and consider myself, indeed, a lover of the human voice, the harmony, the variations, the beauty of a talent that cannot be bought but can only a blessing from birth. NBC’s The Sing-Off should, just throwing it out there, be of at least some interest to my wise self. Not to mention I cover competitive reality TV shows for the swanky across the fruited plains and if a singing series featuring just, um, VOICES, doesn’t appeal to me, then who?

It’s not that the choral voices as presented are a pain to the ears. The a capella choral groups presented were talented in the genre but let’s be real here — this kind of music is not the stuff of riveting intrigue.

Consider the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Here’s a chorus that is magnificent, a collection of human voices that reach to the heavens with the depth and breadth of their human voices. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, ladies and gems, is always accompanied by an orchestra and they are conducted by a leader who guides them through the crescendos and cautions them to slow down as the music requires.

The choral groups as presented on The Sing-Off are just... well, hey, listening to one such group might perk the ears. It’s different and unique and we will smile. Asking a TV audience to sit and listen to eight such groups within a two-hour period is a bit much.

They all sound the same after the first, maybe stretching it to the second, group sings. Further, emphasis is not necessarily on the harmony of the voices but also on the way the voices sound like instruments. Thus you get "oomphs" and "bwops" and drum voices and cymbal voices and to me it's distracting.

This competitive series is not only boring in terms of the talent competing; goodness, the host and the judges are equally boring and in the case of the host, maybe wrong in the information dispensed.

nick-lachey.jpgNick Lachey is the show’s host and all I know about him is that his brother once competed on Dancing With the Stars. He’s handsome enough, I suppose, but a host’s job is to deliver information and Lachey is bad at this task for two reasons.

First, during the crucial period when the contenders stand and await announcement of elimination, Lachey repeated the judge’s words of critique for the groups awaiting their fate. I mean, come on, we already heard the words of the judges but worse, Lachey spoke his dramatic moment in a monotone that showed no build-up at a time when a dramatic build-up is most required.

Also, it could be that the NBC web site is wrong, but I quote from that site:

"The Sing-Off" features 16 of the country's best a cappella groups performing popular songs like you've never heard them before. There's no lip-synching, backup bands or safety net. They'll be singing for America's vote, with the winner walking away with the ultimate prize - a Sony Music recording contract and $100,000.

On this week's episode, Lachey said that the prize was $200,000. Either the host is wrong or the web site is wrong and I’d suggest that a twofold error is not a small mistake. In either case, it's a lackadaisical way to conduct a competitive reality TV show, host or web site.

And if the singing and the host haven’t put you to sleep, the judges will have you snoring in no time.

The judges include singers Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman, and Sara Bareilles. I don’t know who any of these people are and investigation of NBC’s own web site informs me that Stockman is a member of the singing group Boyz II Men. Okay, that’s nice. Ben Folds and Sara Bareilles are also singers, but that’s all I know.

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Their critiques of the performances are monotone and vague, to the effect that “something’s missing.” The judges teach the audience nothing of what is expected from the contenders and how the performers failed.

My favorite group of the night was a group that called themselves The Dartmouth Aires and they had some affiliation with Dartmouth College. I liked their quirky attire and their song, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” lent itself quite well to this music genre.

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I was awakened from my slumber for a bit when a group close to my stomping grounds right here in Delaware, a group with the University of Delaware calling themselves the Deltones, stepped up to the competition.

There you have it, with my experience as alto and no stranger to vocal harmony, my love of the human voice and competitive reality TV shows, and even with a home team to root for, I was so bored it took me three tries to get through an episode of this series.

The Sing-Off airs on Mondays on NBC at 8p/7c and I urge readers to check it out despite my lack of enthusiasm. If nothing else, it’s better than sleeping pills.

Below a short video of a song compiled of several of the groups as an insight into the world of a capella choral singing. The song is “This Magic Moment” and it’ll have feet tapping.


If you've got an insight to share, email me: pat.fish@themortonreport.com.

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Pat Fish has been a blogger for almost ten years. She has been published numerous times in the Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort book series and wrote for Blogcritics. She has written a few books and vows to write till death does part her from the keyboard. Pat loves to write about current…

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