On tonight's episode six teams competed for five remaining slots. In case you went to school in the U.S., ranked 25th out of 34 participating countries in Math scores, that meant one team would be kicked off the show. But not leaving us tonight is the best judging panel ever: Ben Folds, Nicole Sherzinger and Shawn Stockman. They should be forced to judge every other singing competition show out there. They are knowledgeable, articulate and (with the glaring obsession of their mad love for the "isn't it cute what they can do at their age?" Jerry Lawson group) fair.
The show opened with all the groups singing together and though they chose a powerful, rousing song -- Green Day's 21 Guns -- it came off more anemic than anthemic. Then former boy band hearthrob and ex Mr. Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey, introduced the theme for tonight's competition. Each group would get two songs, one "epic rock" and one a "guilty pleasure."
The LA-based, self-described supergroup The Backbeats opened with Bon Jovi's You Give Love a Bad Name. Now, I have been complaining repeatedly about the lead singer who acts as if every note is a life-or-death proposition, so I was glad to see someone else step up to take the helm. That was until I realized that she was going to make the other singer look good by comparison. The vocals were thin and weak and lacked the intensity of the original. Then it occurred to me that she was also the lead in 21 Guns. Rock is not your forte, dear.
My favorite Street Corner Symphony was up next. There are only six guys, but when they split the $100,000 prize they'll be happy there weren't more guys in the group. They chose Radiohead's Creep, a daring choice. Thom Yorke is a little i idol and genius and this is such an iconic song, you can only be compared to the original. So when Jeremy Lister ended up killing the song (in a very good way) it was even more amazing. His vocals were insane, sick, ridiculous. He took a huge chance and it paid off big time. And he was backed up by an amazing band that you forgot for a while were just a bunch of guys using only their voices.
Other highlights from the rock round were the thorn in my side, Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town. I don't like that they are competing as amateurs as if they don't already have a bunch of songs out there -- I just put a link to one of their MP3 downloads in the preceding sentence. They are ringers and Jerry in particular has been doing exactly this kind of music longer than I've been alive -- and that's a really long time, I hate to admit. Having said all that, I loved their performance of Satisfaction. It was fun, entertaining, cute and silly. They went for it and put a smile on all but the most cynical person's faces.
Another fun performance came, unsurprisingly, from the college boys of On the Rocks. Their take on Pour Some Sugar on Me was far more amusing than it was musically successful, but it sure got the audience going. Fun choreography.
Painfully bad was Groove for Thought's butchering of one of my favorite David Bowie songs, Changes. Do not try and put a jazzy spin on a great rock song. In fact, here's a newsflash -- jazz is dead. At least on the charts and on the radio. But I'm sure in some smoky room filled with beret wearing people who can't seem to straighten out their necks, jazz is still popular. But not for the rest of us with ears. So please, stop. Here's the original, to cleanse my ears from the abomination they just witnessed:
My other favorite group, Committed, did not embrace the rock genre and had their weakest performance to date. The committed a cardinal sin -- taking on the Police. You don't cover Every Breath You Take and you certainly don't approach the song like it is anything but the insidious, spooky, creepy song it is. The guy is a stalker, there's nothing bouncy or fun in those lyrics. They turned it into a cha-cha. Just...no. I'd like to just forget that it ever happened and go back to my happy place were these sweet-faced gospel singers can do no wrong.
The next round of songs lived up to the title guilty pleasures because, with rare exceptions, they were all better, dare I say more pleasurable, performances than the first round. The Backbeats came out in sherbet colored outfits and nailed the silly fun of the B-52's signature Love Shack. They were campy and over the top and yet still musically on point. Complete with "tin roof...rusted" exuberance, it was their best performance by a mile.
Street Corner Symphony did Come On Eileen originally made famous by Dexy's Midnight Runners -- and no I knew who sang the original without being told because KROQ played that song 450,000 times one summer. I wish they had gone for the rolled-up overalls to complete the homage, but sartorial choices aside, it was a good performance. I wasn't as blown away as the judges, but they did show their vocal flexibility and variety.
Groove for Thought sang and turned a song I didn't like -- You Make My Dreams Come True by Hall and Oates -- even more painful to listen to. But that quickly faded to memory as the Oregon boys On the Rocks put on their best vocal performance to date with what was supposed to be the silly, guilty pleasure song Kyrie. Instead, they brought out a new lead singer who elevated this cheesy song and made you forget all about the redundantly named Mr. Mister and the original embarrassingly-bloated version. This was a standout performance and did what the judges asked them to do -- move them from entertainers to artists.
Also rebounding was Committed. They took on the Backstreet Boys' I Want it That Way and this time they brought the beautiful harmonies and the rich variety of voices that makes them the group with the most depth. They were a bit sloppy in places and they need a little direction to keep them from straying too far from the melody, but the have the most pure voices in the competition.
The jazzy group was dismissed, as was only right and proper, and we are left with five strong groups. I will note, however, that the guy who sang their swan song was the best singer in the bunch and had he been given a lead perhaps I wouldn't have been sticking pins in their voodoo dolls. No, as long as they went jazzy, I was going to go stabby.
Handicapping the rest, I still put Street Corner Symphony in the lead -- they have the best combination of strong voices, great blending of sounds, and traditional a cappella tools of any of the remaining groups. The Backbeats are the most vulnerable as they have only shined with a heavy dose of kitsch -- when they sing straight, they're just not strong enough. And we know that the fix is in forJerry Lawson and the oldsters, although the why is beyond me. Perhaps the powers that be think the way to combat illegal downloading of music is to only sign artists whose fans lack computers?? But with a fan base that is too old to remember the name of the group by the time they pass by the WalMart greeter on the way to the CD section, I don't think it's a wise business decision.