NBC’s increasingly watchable a cappella competition The Sing-Off ends its second beat-box-bedecked season tonight with a roster of appropriately non-cutting-edge guests (Sheryl Crow, Neil Diamond, Sara Bareilles, and Boyz II Men will all perform). But the real focus will be on the roster of groups narrowed down to tonight’s final four and the judges’ commentary. Thanks to Ben Folds, Nicole Scherzinger, and Shawn Stockman, we’ve been able to count on a few consistent things from week to week (something we can’t claim in this season of Glee): Folds will say something complex and intelligent about music; Scherzinger will use multiple accents and say something dreamy and confusing; and Stockman will impress us with a combination of charm and insight, and will probably name-drop a couple of times. But not to be out-judged, we decided to weigh in with our favorites and least favorites from the closing season before the victors are announced.
BEST PERFORMANCE: On the Rocks, “Kyrie”
In a crowded field, their “guilty pleasure” pick was the song that literally gave us chills. Even the judges admitted that the combination of lead Peter Hollens’s dead-on vocals (it felt like Mr. Mister was right there!) and the group’s suddenly present artistry in the background voicing added up to a chill-inducing performance. Or, as Shawn poetically put it, “I felt like I sprouted wings and flew over the Grand Canyon and just looked at deer … and trees … and birds and … other birds.”
Runners-up: Street Corner Symphony’s smooth tempo-navigating “Come On Eileen;” the Backbeats Über-fun take on “Love Shack.”
WORST PERFORMANCE: The Whiffenpoofs, “Haven’t Met You Yet”
We really, really wanted to love them, especially after their first episode take on Mika’s “Grace Kelly” implied that — commercial appeal be damned — they’d be embracing their nerdy kookiness. But when they were told to try one of “today’s hits,” the results were, in a word, unfortunate. With their artificially loose ties, they resonated that awful awkwardness that results when classical singers try to go pop but can’t let go of the classical style. They were justifiably sent home for this one.
Runners-up: Men of Note’s weirdly off-tempo and off-key “For the Longest Time”; Kendall’s frightening growling during Eleventh Hour’s “Baby”
MOST MUSICALLY ON-POINT COMMENTARY: Ben Folds “The blend was beautiful, the arrangement was gorgeous, the percolation as part of the groove, it’s very inventive. Jeremy, it was a beautiful vocal, and I’m looking forward to hearing you sing a little lower in your register. You’re the kind of singer who could sing a sad song and really make it feel right, and you’ll do that in your lower register, in my opinion.” — to Street Corner Symphony after they sang “Hey, Soul Sister”
CRAZIEST REMARK: Nicole Scherzinger: “I felt like I was in a music video, and it was in slow motion, ya follow me? And I was in a candy shop, and I was piggin’ on my favorite candies. I feel like I was in heaven, it was that tasty. Do I sound crazy? I feel like you all just taste the music, and I taste it with you.” —to Committed after their performance of “Let’s Stay Together”
MOST GLEE-LIKE NUMBER: All the groups performing Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”
Every show opened with a packed group number, but this one felt particularly McKinley High–esque. Arms pumping triumphantly to the sky! Lots of emoting and “whoa-ohhhh”-ing! We give the arrangers props for making this sexy arena rocker genuinely touching.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Street Corner Symphony
The boys from Nashville have proven again and again that size doesn’t matter; their precise unisons and ability to listen to each other consistently make them sound much larger than a group of six guys. We’ve been impressed by their comfort in a range of repertoire, easily cruising between Radiohead, Train, Tears for Fears, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Plus, lead singer Jeremy has the kind of “the music industry threw me out with the trash but I got up again” sob story that gets you from the first episode. That could, oddly, work against these guys: Jeremy is very much the lead singer in a group that doesn’t have other standout vocalists who stick in our memory.
WHO WILL WIN: Committed
These churchgoing good guys are basically Boyz II Men Redux, which means Stockman’s final vote will go to them, and likely Scherzinger’s as well (she once told the boys they took her to “a whole different kind of church,” which made little sense but was likely some sort of orgasm reference in Scherzinger-ese). Though Nashville resident Folds is likely to go with Street Corner Symphony, the fan voters will likely fall for Committed’s winning combination of qualities: They’re adorable and well-mannered, lock into a consistent genre (which doesn’t always make for the most interesting performances, but is good for that album the winner gets to make), and, oh yeah, extremely musically talented, consistently injecting well-executed embellishments into iconic songs. Standout performances: their intricate arrangement of “Apologize,” which transcended the snoozer original with palpable soul, and their loose, fun Usher medley.