(This article was published in the Life section of The Oklahoman Monday, Sept. 26, 2011.)
“The Sing-Off” has returned for its third season with an expanded number of a cappella groups ranging in size and age competing for the grand prize of a Sony Music recording contract and $200,000.
At the beginning of this season, 16 groups instead of 10 were vying for the grand prize.
The groups have been critiqued along the way by celebrity judges Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman and Sara Bareilles, with the winner ultimately being chosen by viewers and revealed in a live finale.
“The Sing-Off,” hosted by Nick Lachey, airs at 7 p.m. Mondays on NBC.
Another change this season is new judge Bareilles. Bareilles replaced Nicole Scherzinger, who has joined Fox’s “The X Factor.”
Bareilles and fellow judge Folds participated in an NBC conference call recently to discuss the show.
Here are a few of the topics they covered:
Q: When it was first brought up to you that you could be part of “The Sing-Off,” what did you like about the premise of this show?
BAREILLES: For me, the decision was a totally easy one. I have an a cappella background, and I was also a fan of the show, as well as performed on the finale of Season 2.
So, when my management brought this up to me that this was even a possibility … it was kind of a no-brainer for me.
It’s a really special show with a lot of heart, and I love the other judges, and so it seemed like a really good thing to be a part of.
FOLDS: I’ll tell you the truth. When they first asked me, I think I told my manager no. But it hadn’t run yet, so I didn’t know much about the show. I just thought, “Well, I don’t know if I want to be a judge.”
But what convinced me to do it was that it was a cappella and … that it was unique and could be very musical. And I just worked with some a cappella groups.
I’ve never been in an a cappella group myself, but, yeah, I thought, well, this is something I regularly do anyway. I listen to music and I have an opinion about it and I know the inside of music, so I can talk about it a little bit.
It turned out to be a really good decision. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Q: Sara, how have you found connecting with the judges? They’ve already been together some time. Have you found your footing with them and connected with them?
BAREILLES: I can’t say enough good things about Ben and Shawn. They are both, I mean, at the heart of all things, they’re both really kind people and have made it really, really comfortable for me to join up with them in the panel of judges.
We had kind of a natural chemistry that started just from Day 1. Ben and I have known each other for a while now and have become friends. But I really met Shawn on the set of the show, and we had a really natural chemistry, the three of us.
Q: How difficult is it as a judge to compare apples to oranges when you have such a huge range of talent?
FOLDS: It is more of a range this year than the last two years, and that does make it hard, because if you have an amazing, you know, German polka group and they’re up against, like an amazing industrial noise group, … I think you should take personal preferences aside … and just really try to hone in on what they’re attempting to do, how effective it is to the people that would like what it is that they do and, you know, could this make a record.
I don’t like all records but, you know, a record is a record.
And, so, I think it is really hard because you try not to make it personal. You try to make it about how they’re working together, how well they’re doing and how effective it might be for their audience, and leave the preference to the apple or the orange out of it.
BAREILLES: I think it is hard to do, and I didn’t have anything to compare it to in terms of previous seasons of contestants.
But I think it does help clarify things, and you do keep in the back of your mind this is a competition for who’s going to be able to make a great record and hopefully connect to a mass audience and has a lot of depth and complexity to what they’re capable of.
And it makes it a little easier when you see groups that do it really, really well because you kind of know what’s possible. But I agree with Ben. I think the most important thing is to sort of keep your personal preference out of it.
It may not be the record you would run out and — like I would run out and buy — but, you know, if the group has got it, it’s easy to see.
– Melissa Hayer
Folds comes to OKC
Ben Folds is scheduled to play with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker. The concert promises a mix of pop, folk, indie rock and orchestral music. Tickets, starting at $35, can be purchased by calling 842-5387.