I'm soooo late with my homework. I'm sorry. Big week for me. My retrospective 3-disc set was released, and I had a lot of press to do for that. I was in the studio with my friend Mike Posner making some music and also doing pre-production on my friend and fellow judge Sara's record. Oh, and I was inducted into my home state, North Carolina's hall of fame to boot. This week, as was noted by a few TV critics, found the judges more critical. I'll keep saying it - we're here to help. These groups put it out there with no safety net - it's risky TV. They deserve to feel at home and not attacked. But they also deserve to be told when it's not working as well. It takes a few episodes to get to know their quirks and for them to get to know the judges and their surroundings. Putting them on the defensive quickly doesn't seem like a good way to gain their trust so they can actually take criticism in. If someone's out to get you for a good TV moment, you're not going to listen - you're going to put your armor on and deflect. I think we're getting somewhere and these groups, I hope, know that we have their backs. So sorry every time one has to go. Sonos, we have a lot of respect for you guys and girls and hope that this show was extra exposure and one more step towards the success you deserve. I'll be out to see your gig next time I'm near!
"Edge Of Glory" by Lady Gaga
"Solid" was the word that came out of each of the judges, and I think that's fair.
Cortney was solid despite the flu she was battling. Sure, at the end of the day, we performers have to give our best performance at the scheduled time, rain or shine, but it's worth noting that she was a total pro. I'm inclined to note weaker starts or weaker endings for obvious reasons. The time was a little off at the start. First performance and first group nerves probably.
What I'm looking for in this group is just heart and solid performance. They're one of the few groups with absolutely no novelty aspect, and I see that as valuable. I can't see them being big innovators, but they represent a big part of the population that's into a cappella music for all the right reasons - community, music, expression. In that way, they're very pure and own a spot on the show. Problem is, they're going to have a hard time standing out in a crowd. I like them a lot and will probably go to bat for them a few times because once they're gone, there's nobody else on the show representing what they're all about. They've really gotta pedal and quick.
"Your Love Is My Drug" by Ke$ha
Those who know me well accept that I'm a BIG KE$HA FAN! She's unique and talented, and I believe she'll be around for a while. I'm also a big Pentatonix fan at this point, and I believe they'll be around for a while. However, the choice to improve upon the song with a melody worked against the song and left it flat. I love that they went for it - it just goes to show that Ke$ha knows when to make it melodic and when not to, and these kids have a bit to learn about songwriting. I don't take too many points off for that because (dammit!) they're going for it. The bass and drums of Pentatonix are crazy good. They just need to get that tempo roped in. They're still rushing. Mitch has a beautiful voice that needs to be placed in the arrangement for full effect as he seemed slightly miscast in his lead this time - needed more bite. Scott is a powerhouse! Good work guys - excited to see this evolve.
"Rocketeer" by Far East Movement
What great singers! And Rachael sang her butt off despite being another singer on the show hit with the flu this week. She turned her new temporary gravel tone into a plus. What a pro. On the broadcast, the overall blend sounds better than it did live, but you can still hear the tone bunching up in the mids because, as I've said, they're trained as soloists and they're a bit focused to get that super spiritual blend yet. Much better though! Much, much better! It's a race against the clock for them because there are too many other groups for whom blend is not an issue.
"Lazy Song" by Bruno Mars
Anytime someone grooves without drums, they've reminded us where groove really comes from. The space in their groove is something that takes years to cultivate. Maturity doesn't always mean getting old. In this case, they're owning the song like a younger group might not be able to. Their maturity also allows them to put the message of the song into perspective and make it universal. It's a performance like this that can drive the content home better than the original might. Nothing against the original. It's brilliant but it has to be competitive to live in radio world. These guys are just singing the song with not a worry in the world about charting. I know I said I couldn't find anything wrong with their performance. Of course we could find SOMETHING. But there was nothing to pick at because it worked. Period. Absolutely. Nice job!
"Animal" by Neon Trees
Great tenor blend going on in the backgrounds. So smooth. They're generous performers. There are minor pitch issues but understand that EVERY a cappella group has those. There's no such thing as a perfectly nailed interval in all vocal music. What does that mean? Even tempered perfect, pitch center perfect, a perfect third but a not perfect sixth? When do the pitches get in the way? They get in the way when you feel there's something wrong. I'm not feeling a problem, and so I don't want to dedicate my heart and soul to being pitch police and miss the performance. Can a group of this ilk make records that people will buy and enjoy? Or are they going to be another campus sensation with bucket loads of energy who keep us entertained just for the moment they're performing? That depends on how wisely they place their talent and their abundant energy.
"Viva la Vida" by Coldplay
Song received. That's important. They're doing a lot with very little, but simply put, they just didn't have a bass, except for a very impressive Kathy moment! They did this with a drummer and the top three strings of a guitar. They're clever kids! It could and mostly did work I suppose; but it's just the hard way to do it, and I'm not sure they got the effect they might have been shooting for. Yes, they're great singers, and I think they're a damn good band. It kinda feels awful having to lecture 'em about any of it. They're pros, and they're doing this without half the band they normally have at their disposal (in the form of pedals which are creative tools and not a crutch). I also feel they have art in their bones, and I want to give them a boost for that.
"Piece of My Heart" by Janis Joplin
They held the groove back on this one! Much better when it's not trying to rush the whole time! The artistry of this group is emerging. It's what we look for on this show! Mitch and Kirstie are blending beautifully in this piece. Avi and Kevin are holding it down. Scott is starting to come into focus for me as I get to know his style. A fast grower this group is! (Sometimes you just gotta talk like Yoda.)
"You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes
Again, pretty solid. With an emphasis on pretty. Good solid lead. Feel good arrangement and presentation. A few distractions in the form of tiny pitch and time train wrecks but they hung on to the point. Hanging on is what we need to see from this group - they could come in handy for some earnest unpretentious tear jerkers down the road if they can just hurry up and get one click more solid.
"Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers
So many people are stopping me in public to tell me how much they love North Shore. That's such a great sign. There's a real place for classic a cappella, doo-wop singing especially when done so well. It's just part of the fabric in our culture. There's not much wrong with this performance. I heard a few unglued melodies popping out when they hit this minor chord each time. That may have been more about the blend than the pitch, but it hit me in the room. Overall, it was excellent like we've come to expect from these guys. A few more notes, though: They're more interesting when singing modern songs in my opinion. This wasn't their greatest moment because it was predictable and put the focus on the lead. As great as Guy is, I can't help recalling the Righteous Brothers' lead on this song, and it's downright self-lacerating and emotionally wrought. It's painful in the best possible sense. Guy's intensity was good for a performance, but I just can't get the original's "gonna kill myself in three minutes and eight seconds" vibe out of my memory. This is a crack in the shield in my opinion. They've gotta know when they're performing and when they're living it. With Bruno Mars, North Shore made history, with this one, they just acted it out.
"Hold On, I'm Coming" by Sam & Dave
Shawn said it best when he mentioned taking it to church. The over-the-top-ness about the ending showed part of what we've been missing. These people were having fun with the gospel bit at the end, but they also seemed to mean it. Their pro armor melted away for a second and probably got to the heart of how they will learn to blend and be cohesive. Sometimes when you feel you're going "too far," its actually just right. Soooo many times have I come off a stage thinking I had exaggerated a performance to find that it was just a bit tame. I keep saying I'm a Ruby fan. I'm also becoming a Rachael fan and should give her a shout too!
"I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5
Man, see - these guys are really good but I wasn't moved and neither were Sara or Shawn. It moved my brain but not the rest. They keep hitting the wall. I wish they could perform with their normal tools because I think that is essentially the problem. The added issue here was that they really reworked the song, and we all felt the interpretation didn't play to the strength of the song or their group. Completely worth our time and completely valid and interesting stuff for TV. Much respect to them and I apologize for being blunt about it, but sometimes you just have to think in black and white terms. My opinion was that it didn't work. As much as we really do want you back next week, we felt you'd hit your limit in this television season. Please keep doing this!
"Pinball Wizard" by The Who
Ah! They're finding a real voice here. Not just in Michael but in that their theatrical side is coming to the front. This takes it away from the frat party and puts it on Broadway. Now we're getting somewhere. These guys are all heart and there's a lot of brain going on. Musically they're pretty damn on. The pitch issues are fleeting (ding dings! as Shawn so eloquently put it) and sitting well behind the point of the song and performance. I'm having higher hopes for these boys! Michael is unique. He's part soul, part musical theatre and part gospel. Timeless.