Although “The Sing-Off” judges are usually spot-on in their critiques each week, occasionally a group slips through the cracks. Though “The Sing-Off” doesn’t have quite the devoted fan base of talent competitions like “The X Factor” or “American Idol,” there was a mini-controversy last week (Nov. 21) when Howard University jazz ensemble Afro Blue got the boot in favor of eventual runners-up, the Dartmouth Aires. (For the record, Pentatonix took home the title.)
We at Zap2it were avid Afro Blue supporters, and couldn’t resist bringing up their elimination when speaking with the “Sing-Off” judges backstage after the Season 3 finale. Both Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman admitted that it was the hardest elimination to take, since both were huge fans of the group.
Folds tells us, “I didn’t feel good about that. I put on my blog, full disclosure, that was my favorite group. And they were the kind of group that was the reason that I was here,” he says. “But I watched their best moment, and I watched Dartmouth’s best moment — they were against each other — and that was tough. Dartmouth drove it home, Afro Blue had a different thing. Maybe on a different day I would’ve chosen the other one. I really don’t know.”
Ultimately, though, Stockman feels that the judges made the best decision they could at the time.
“The truth is I love Afro Blue. I think they’re an amazing group,” he says. “I think they have a great future ahead of them, but again, this is about a competition. We throw curve balls at groups to take them out of their comfort zone for a reason, and Afro Blue collectively just didn’t, in comparison, raise up to the challenge like these other groups did. That’s all it was. It had nothing to do with them being bad; it had nothing to do with them being horrible or I thought they sucked or anything like that. “
He continued: “To be very honest, we’re the only singing competition that starts off with great singers. You’ve got other vocal competitions where you’ve gotta hear a bunch of crap. [Here,] you start off the season with amazing vocals. So I don’t discredit any of those groups that are on stage, especially Afro Blue. In comparison, they just didn’t show enough layers when all these other groups took on the songs and went for it. That was it.”
Sarah Bareilles didn’t address Afro Blue directly, but admitted that she does second-guess her decisions sometimes.
“It’s tough. What people hear at home in front of their television is not the same experience we have in the room,” she tells Zap2it. “So we have to trust our instincts. We’re looking ahead to who’s going to make a record, and we did the best we could. There are decisions that I look back on and I’m like ‘God, did we do the right thing?’ All of our decisions were made with the best intentions and total integrity, so I really feel like we did what we could.”
Folds echoed that sentiment, saying, “The broadcast doesn’t feel like it does at home. When you have like 20 dudes up there singing the end of a Queen song and a guy going [sings bombastically] ‘ahhhhh,’ that’s certainly moving. I took my ass-kicking this week for Afro Blue being off and I deserved it because I love those guys. We’re going to work together plenty. We’re good buds.”
Still, he’s pleased with how long Afro Blue did manage to stay on the show, considering that commercially, jazz is a much less popular genre of music than any of the other groups’ styles. “When I buy a record, I would buy the Afro Blue record, but they’ll never get played on the radio. But the other thing is … I still am challenging someone to Tweet me the answer: Find another primetime show that has showcased a jazz group ten weeks in a row like that. That’s what I say to myself to make myself feel better, but you can tell I’m bummed. I’m bummed too.”