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December 8, 2009

Groups compete on NBC's 'The Sing-Off'

Chicago Daily Herald (IL):

Those who couldn't hit a note, even if it were painted on the side of a building and were using a battering ram, are lip-syncers. Those who can sing as long as the music accompanies them are chorus members. But those whose voices alone are instruments are true singers. An idea of how painful seemingly decent singers can sound without music is demonstrated in the audition episodes of "American Idol."

Now NBC presents those pure of voice in "The Sing-Off," a four-night special beginning 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14. Nick Lachey hosts the two-hour shows featuring the eight best a cappella groups NBC found from more than 1,000 submissions, according to executive producer Joel Gallen. Judges, including Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men and Ben Folds, will advise the groups.

On the first night, the judges will eliminate one group, and on the second and third nights, they'll reject two each. Once the competition is down to three groups, viewers have the chance to vote, and the winning group receives an Epic Records/Sony Music recording contract and $100,000. The finale will air Monday, Dec. 21.

"None of them do this as a full-time gig," Gallen says. "All have jobs. They are going into the competition with this as more than a hobby but not a profession."

One needs an amazing voice to make it a profession, as Stockman well knows. "You have to be on key; you have to sound good," he says. "The trick is there is no instrument help, no backdrop. It's just you and your voice. You have to paint a picture or draw a story that normally music could help you. A cappella is a very hard art form. It's normally more than one person, and you have to stay on key. And you have to make whatever picture you are trying to draw, do all of that with your voice and still be entertaining. "It's not as popular as it should be," he continues. "It takes actual skill, no lip-syncing. It's the real deal. Either you can do it or you can't."

People, especially the judges trained to listen, will know instantly if the group can or can't sing. Stockman says he will know within "the first couple of notes. This is not rocket science here. This is music." Stockman and Folds, in separate interviews, say they want to help aspiring singers but have no intention of encouraging those who can't sing.

The genres for the groups of four to 12 adults will vary. Opening songs will be whatever they like best, but then each episode will have a challenge. Some a cappella groups, say barbershop quartets, often skew toward older tunes, but one of the challenges will have them singing hits from the last couple of years, Gallen says. "We'll also give them a guilty pleasure," he says. The groups could do a song from their iPods, and Gallen says that could include anything. There will also be a superstar medley.

Gallen hopes this four-night special will grow into a series. A producer for MTV's "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew," Gallen says that show "is very much an inspiration for this show. They are a group of dancers who have to move as a unit and move our audience to inspire them and make them want to come back for more. It's an entertainment show unlike any other show they have seen. The world of singing has been dominated by one show ('American Idol'). I am not saying we will make a dent in that show. We are only doing four episodes. If we do well, then eight. If the show got picked up, hundreds and hundreds of a cappella groups will be knocking our door down."

Though much of the world has an opinion on the acerbically honest Simon Cowell, Folds says, "I have never seen this Simon guy everyone talks about. I am just interested in helping." As a judge, Stockman says, he is "going to bring sincerity and honesty, but I am not the type of person in the habit of ripping people (apart). I will tell you what it is because I am going to be honest. A cappella and music is my life. I dedicated my life to this business, and I want people to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are."

The groups have been rehearsing all week and apparently are being kept apart and haven't seen each others performances. Petra Haden has been working with the groups and Sonos was spotted on the set.

Posted by acapnews at December 8, 2009 11:38 PM

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