When I saw the commercials for The Sing Off on NBC, I immediately thought that it was the reality TV version of Glee. It might be, but it's still pretty fun. Eight groups from around the country (including one from Baltimore) will face off across four nights for viewer votes trying to win a $100,000 prize.

The show opens with an a capella rendition of Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure," including reminders before and after from host Nick Lachey that the performance is done completely without instruments. In case you were watching and weren't aware of what a capella means.


Tonight, each of the groups will sing a "signature song."

The first group we meet is Nota, six guys from Puerto Rico.  Their signature song is Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours." It becomes their signature song about two-thirds of the way through when they speed it up, sing a verse in Spanish and add a sambaish beat. Judge Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls says she felt like she was at home in Hawaii, and then went on a trip to Puerto Rico. Ben Folds says the arrangement was key because it's a laid-back song, but then they ramped it up. He also liked the tasteful use of mouth-drumming. Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men says, "Wow!" He says the Spanish remix "was off the hook" and that they brought the song to life.

Voices of Lee from Lee University in Tennessee. The group of 10 is all about inspirational music, especially Christian music.  Their song for the night is "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield. Shawn says they have a tight harmony structure, so they have to always be exactly on key, which can be tough when you are moving, too. Overall, though, he loved the performance and the energy. Ben says it was nice and uplifting. The only thing he didn't love was that it took awhile to get to the point where they could hear the lead voice. But he still liked it. Nicole ... well, Nicole is totally the Paula here. I'll just leave it at that.

Nick reminds us -- again -- that there won't be instruments! No guitars! No drums! I think the writers should have come up with some other topics for his banter because this is getting super old.

Face is an "all-vocal" rock band from Colorado. Their song is "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi.  Ben says they kept the rock alive. He doesn't think, though, that the chorus hit like it should, maybe because there wasn't enough "support up top." But he loved the energy. Nicole thinks it's, like, soooooo coooool that you can rock out "with just voices." Hey, did you know there weren't instruments in a capella? Shawn says he's never banged his head to an a capella song before, but he did today. He points to guy who did the percussive sounds and asks what he has in his stomach to make that sound.

The girls of Noteworthy are from Brigham Young University. They sing a variety of repertoire, but they avoid innuendo and swearing. They call their style "uplifting power pop," and their song is "Think." Yes, Aretha. My husband, who has a lot more musical background than me, isn't even paying that close of attention to the performance, but he says, out of nowhere, "That girl doesn't have the voice to pull of this song. This is a big song." I say that she thinks she does. Him: "Yes, she's singing very confidently, but that doesn't mean she's pulling it off." Shawn Stockman asks they crowd what they think (heh) about nine white girls from Provo singing Aretha. He tells them they just need to keep an eye out on it getting too high and "tinny." Ben says female groups have to be careful with the arrangements and adding some dynamics. They had a lot of "the top dynamic," but it just kept going up and up. "Other than that, maybe a little more cussing would have been good," he closes. Heh. (How about a little "Rocking the Suburbs"?) Nicole loves their style and staging and everything, but she's proud they could hold all the elements together.

Weirdly, the judges cut a group from the first four. (I thought the viewers were picking?) Nota, Noteworthy and Voices of Lee are safe, and Face is cut. Yes, Face, the group the audience actually related to (if pictures of audience and what I am reading on Twitter is any indication). Now we have to bid a sad adieu to Face after meeting them like seven minutes ago. This is weird, right?

Tufts University's Beelzebubs have been around since 1962. Their song tonight is "Magical Mystery Tour." These kids clearly practice a lot; they had so much fun. Ben says it was fun and they all have a ton of charisma. He says it was a smart choice, though it was pitchiest when it was the most entertaining, "like, 'ahhhh .... LOOK OVER THERE!'" Hee! Shawn says it felt like a Broadway play (he means that in a good way, not like Simon Cowell would mean it). Nicole says they have shown that a capella is anything but boring and not cool. She says they were a human band.

The Baltimore group is four soccer moms who sing barbershop quartet style songs. They're called Maxx Factor. They're inspired by the group Something Extra, which featured the father of one of the women, Valerie. Their song is "Dancin' Queen." They are good, but I think they suffer coming after the modern-feeling Beelzebubs, who were such crowd-pleasers. I can't fault their performance a bit, though. Shawn: "WOOOOOOOW! Wow! The sass, the style, the flair, the harmony. ... I love it." He says sometimes Leslie's lead voice got overwhelmed a little bit, but overall, they are off the hook. Nicole says she loves their style, and the barbershop style makes you say, "That's dope." She says they are sassy classy. Ben says everyone loved it and he did, too. He says the barbershop style gets rid of the tinny problem.

The Socals are USC alumni who have reunited to try to win one more competition. One sad moment is when they share their moment of drama that they've faced in their lives (I've pretty much glossed over these in my recap), and theirs is that one girl has GERD. Yes, acid reflux. Sometimes it hurts when she sings. Well, I have GERD, too, and sometimes it hurts when I blog. But I pretty much keep it to myself and take some Zantac. (Of course, who would she know that the other folks' stories would involve wives in comas and recently-passed away fathers, but still.) Anyway, they sing Queen's "Somebody to Love." And they are fab. Ben says they are killing it. Shawn totally dug it. They had some key issues, but they brought it back together fast. Nicole was impressed by how well they worked the stage and fixed their key problems.

Solo is a group from North Omaha, Nebraska, and they say they have a dream to escape from there. They sing "Watcha Say?" Shawn says they should feel proud that they are up here on a national stage being seen by millions of people. He loved the spirit, style and flavor, but he says they need to keep an eye on keeping their harmonies tight. Nicole says they feel like a special group to her, but she thinks some of the harmonies went "a little South," but they are already winners just for being here. Ben says they part they are getting right is not teachable, especially the beatboxers. He says they made a risky choice because that song is so "tuned" in production that viewers aren't used to hearing actual human voices performing it.

It's time for another cut. The Beelzebubs are safe (duh), as are the Socals and Baltimore's Maxx Factor. So Solo joins Face as the other group cut tonight.


Solo sings "I Will Survive" as their "swan song," and one of the girls is so upset that it takes them a while to start.


Tomorrow, each of the six groups has to sing a hit from the past two years, as well as a guilty pleasure song. We get a preview.

Did you watch? What did you think about it?