The Sing-Off Recap: Aggressive Irritation

Photo: Greg Gayne/NBC
The Sing-Off
Episode Title
My Generation
Editor’s Rating

Hey, did you want to see a pretty young white woman in a glittering minidress tell you through a beaming pageant smile that she hopes she dies before she gets old? Well, tonight’s The Sing-Off has you covered. The theme of this episode is “My Generation,” (which means chart toppers that span the decades [which means nothing]), so we start off with a great big group rendition of the classic Who song (which makes me want to die before I get old [which I’m already a couple of decades too late for, so instead I’ll just drink my weight in bourbon and hope for the best]).

Tonight, Ben Folds is the guest mentor, as the groups struggle to fit their unique, sassy brands into songs that … are not unpopular? (What does this theme even mean?) The kinda effeminate big dude in Vocal Rush says, “Ben Folds is gonna … help us out and give us … his … opinion … on what we should do to help us out … and so … thank goodness,” and it’s as succinct and accurate a description of the judges’ jobs as I’ve heard so far. As Shawn did in the last episode, Ben mingles, gives vague advice, and barely scratches the surface of what he can bring to the process. The judges-as-team-leader trope has been beaten into the ground by now, but these judges — who, uniquely in a crowded field, actually know what they’re talking about — need to be given specific tasks. Don't give me a Ben Folds, a Jewel, and a Shawn Stockman, and then sit them behind a table. Tables are for Paula Abduls. Get these people involved!

Home Free: “Ring of Fire,” by Johnny Cash.
It’s been a while since a country vocal group has had a moment. (Rascal Flatts don’t count, because I don’t like them.) Home Free reminds me of the Oak Ridge Boys and Alabama, who had real hit songs in the late seventies and early eighties, economically uncertain and culturally undefinable times just like our own. It could happen again, is what I’m saying, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be these fellows. The lead guy is so sassily pretty he might as well be on the cover of this month’s Cosmopolitan, and the rest of them look like servers at places you’d see on Bar Rescue. They will go far. And at the end of their performance, the bass guy hits a note that I actually feel in my actual taint. Do with this information what you will.

Nick Lachey is a very good host, and I wish he’d insist on ad-libbing more, because he’s actually at his best with no script. This is a show in desperate need of personality, and as is too often the case on a network, they teleprompter it right out of him. Loose Nick Lachey is charming as can be; Scripted Nick Lachey is locked into a cadence that I can only write out thusly: “Doop! Doop, doop, doop-de-doop? Doop-de-doop, doop, doop. Doop: doop-de-DOOP!” There is a head movement that goes with it, but I’ll just have to show you the next time we see each other. Overall, I will say what I said when I heard he was dating Jessica Simpson: “Nick Lachey can do much better.”

VoicePlay: “Don’t Speak,” by No Doubt
VoicePlay are the aggressively irritating theme-park a cappella group from Florida, and a cappella is one of three fields in which “aggressive irritation” is a job skill (the other two being improv comedy and investment banking). Ben tells them to interpret the song, and we see rehearsal footage where lead singer Honey is beaming, so these kids are also aggressively not listening. “Don’t Speak” is not a happy song, but they all have checkerboard or herringbone on their clothes, so there’s that. There is a nice big note from the David Yarritu–esque bald guy, but overall it’s pretty bland. I will say this again: A show like this, when you are trying to hear harmonies and focus on group dynamics, needs a lower ceiling. Also, I am distracted by the big guy in the group, who has a pierced tongue, which makes me have to picture him saying, “It totally enhances oral sex,” which every pierced-tongue person eventually says.

Real talk: Is this Malcolm McDowell–James Earl Jones Sprint campaign making you want everyone to die before they get old? Madison Avenue, listen up: I would pay a hefty early-termination fee to switch to a service provider who could promise me I’d never have to hear an elderly person say “totes adorbs.”

Element: “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
I have already told you that Element is the Barden Belles of The Sing-Off, and I can’t really add much to that, so now I’m just reminding you. In his mentor segment, Ben tells the singers with similar ranges to get out of the way of the lead singer, which is interesting advice, because all of the singers have similar ranges. Element is composed of 10 people with the exact same voice. (Or 30. I have hit pause on a crane shot, and they are so mega-bland I honestly don’t know how many of them I’m looking at.) Again, they are wearing fancy-escort minidresses. An angry song doesn’t suit them, especially when they have to say, in the Fox News punditiest, most clipped way possible: “And there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it.” It’s like that Flavorwire collection of white women singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” but it’s all happening at once.

Vocal Rush: “Holding Out for a Hero,” by Bonnie Tyler
Yes, when I think of timeless songs I will sing with my grandchildren, I think of the sixth single from the soundtrack to Footloose. The kids in Vocal Rush are a little baffled by what we are led to believe is their own song choice; says one, “The problem is we weren’t born in the eighties.” Well, I was, and even then it was a wack song sung by a woman who looked like a night manager at Supercuts. Good luck, kids. During the performance, I am distracted by one of the girls who is wearing a braid of her own hair as a headband, and I think: This is The Sing-Off; they can’t use headbands. And then I’m like: Wait, no, it’s instruments they can’t use, and then I look over and my dog is watching me with a look of genuine concern. The kids do use elements of step performing, which is great, because nobody’s really done that tonight. They also make great use of their CRAZY effeminate lead rapper guy; in the world of Le1f and Zebra Katz, a crazy effeminate lead rapper guy is suddenly a major asset, especially a fucking tiger like theirs.

The Ultimate Sing-Off comes down to Element and Vocal Rush, which is the only surprise of the show, because VoicePlay and their mall-ass ska uniform should really be in there. It’s a mostly female sing-off, and, as usual, the whole thing comes off so canned that you can’t invest any emotion into it. Could they maybe only light one side of the stage at a time, and then only the group on the lit side of the stage could sing, so that there was some element of surprise and we could maybe pretend this whole thing hasn’t been rehearsed a million times? No. This is NBC and they’ve spent too much money so they must steam out any potential wrinkle and they’d rather have you bored than startled because if they bore you then at least you’ll be too tired to change the channel and Element gets eliminated like you knew they would and we’re all one hour closer to our graves and we may not have gotten old before we died but Goddamn if we don’t feel like it. See you Wednesday!