After an extended season last year, NBC’s a cappella singing competition “The Sing-Off,” with host Nick Lachey, returns to its roots, airing a limited run during the holiday season, with the two-hour finale to crown the winning vocal group airing two days before Christmas.
Judge Ben Folds of the band Ben Folds Five offers his own take on the meaning of “a cappella” — vocal music without instrumental accompaniment — at a press event for the show, telling Zap2it, “Everybody is going to think I sit around with an online dictionary all day, but have you actually looked up ‘a cappella’? Do you know what the first definition for it generally is? ‘In the manner of God.’ It’s not ‘without instruments.’ That’s the second one. I just think that’s interesting.”
“Wow,” says fellow judge Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men. “That’s how people communicated originally before there were any types of instruments. It was the voice. There are certain innate things in all of us as human beings that just stir our souls and touch us.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than hearing a choral group or just a group of people singing their hearts out. It just does something for you.”
Launching Monday, Dec. 9, “The Sing-Off” — which adds new executive producer Mark Burnett and new judge Jewel to the mix — features vocal groups of varying sizes and musical genres competing for $100,000 and a recording contract. Last season’s winner, Pentatonix, has kept the momentum going, with its new album, “PTX Vol. II” debuting in mid-November at No. 10 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart.
As for the current state of a cappella music, Stockman says, “So a cappella right now is, I believe, a culture that, even though it’s one of the oldest ones, it’s now getting its just dues…
“It also shows that, in the midst of a bunch of pop and over-processed music, that people want to hear purity. People still want to hear songs coming from an artist that is sincere in a real way, and this show displays that.”
Coming from his experience in competitive reality shows (“Survivor”) and in specifically a singing competition show (“The Voice”), Burnett has thrown a new wrinkle into “The Sing-Off.”
“What really came through for me during my first season of doing the show,” he says, “was the artistry of these groups. Unbelievable, their voices, but at the end, there’s a new part to the show now that, at the end of every show, the two groups that perform less well that night get to sing off against each other.
“If you think about it, they have got about 15 minutes to get it together to do this vocal battle between these two a cappella groups. [When I saw one], it looked like they had rehearsed for a week.”
Jewel is just happy that this unadorned form of vocal expression has survived.
“It was a dying art form before this show came along,” she says. “You don’t understand what it does, and how big it is in the youth movement, and how many people are doing this on campuses around the world.”
The Alaskan-born singer also sees “The Sing-Off” as a way to pay forward a gift she was given.
“We get to help other people learn how to do what we do,” Jewel says, “and try to create some sense of community and give back and mentor them, not because we’re looking down on them, but because I was mentored. I was able to be helped by people that I looked to and admired, and I needed it, and it’s important.”