To some, Afro-Blue might speak - if you're a fan of more complex harmonies, as I am. Fans of a group with a theatrical flair may like Dartmouth, and so on.
If you want a good show, generous and tight harmonies and faithful delivery of classics, then Vocal Point was your group. I'm with anyone who's suggested they were one of the tightest, most entertaining groups on the show. They were also consistent and absolute class. They're brimming over with talent and joy. Why oh why did they have to go home? Another three judges might have seen it differently, but we three were unanimous about this.
There were a few reasons. One was that a distinct singer (or two) hadn't presented themselves, in our opinion. We felt that McCay, Keith and Jake were diverse and able front men, but that they often seemed to play characters and that if we had to really pick their voices out blindfolded, we wouldn't be able to. Michael, of Dartmouth, for instance, would be impossible to miss. Scott, of Pentatonix, Myke of Urban Method and so on. As a group, Vocal Point was fantastic; but we were waiting for them to grow into something more identifiable very quickly, and maybe that will happen post Sing-Off. We also felt that their song choices and their approach were often safe and unchallenging. If you compare the risks some of the other groups have taken, both successful and not, this becomes more obvious.
We had to recall that the group Cat's Pajamas went off the show immediately for not being "artists." They were as tight as Vocal Point but seemed very set in their entertainment vs. artistic ways. Understand that being a show band and making people happy in a live venue nightly performing other people's music is quite a gift too and not such a bad gig. I place no judgment value on being original or not. I'm simply operating from the subjective position of deciding who might make a record. That's an opinion.
It has been argued, for instance, that Afro-Blue is not marketable because they're jazzy. I disagree with that and so do my judge friends. How many Take 6 records, Manhattan Transfer records were sold? Lots. It's true that there aren't many slots for that special accessible jazz group, so their chances are slimmer than if they were in another genre; but it's possible for them to be THE ONE. That said, Afro-Blue has had some serious focus problems and has performed beneath the consistency of Vocal Point. So there are many ways of looking at it, but when all fails, I ask myself who I'd have on my label and temper that with how they fare in the competition. Afro-Blue is a group I feel I could sell, and they have had some "free passes" as they've been hit and miss in their attempt to simplify their arrangements and approach.
Urban Method is another group that has been up and down. They were nearly gone at one point this season, and they know it. Still they showed a lot of backbone in that they came back by taking bigger risks, not being safe. When it paid off, it showed us that if they were recording artists they would scrap and morph. They have a distinct voice, as I've said, and they're technically very sound.
Dartmouth Aires have Michael, but as we saw earlier with Kinfolk 9 who had one of the best singers the show has ever seen, a lead singer alone can't pull the group through. Dartmouth put on a great show each time while exploding from the stage with energy and creativity. They have a niche in their Broadway approach, which suggests they understand a market outside of pop music, which would aid in selling records. So they have a lead; they have a niche and they have ideas. They are technically challenged to stay in tune and to keep their low end in check.
Pentatonix. In my opinion, they started off underwhelming. That was mostly due to rushing and not quite allowing the lead singer to be the lead in their arrangements. In other words, sometimes when Scott was lead, between the lyrics, he'd fill in background harmonies. I felt that hurt their delivery, but they've solved both those issues and continue to take wild risks, which generally work. They also rarely show their fatigue. Some of the groups come out looking pretty rough from lack of sleep, while these guys seem to thrive on it. That's a good sign. The main way I can imagine them suffering is if they take their dip now. Five people singing a little off or arranged poorly can suck big time, so they just can't slip with this kind of competition. It's just that they haven't sucked yet.
So that's my rundown without addressing the specifics on the songs and performances from last week. We love Vocal Point. We hope they take a lot away from this experience, and I'd recommend they really stretch some musically and artistically. The safe route is one reason they stayed so long, but in the end, we all felt they played it a bit too safe and didn't quite find their voice. They are a fantastic a cappella group - nearly as good as you get. I'm in awe and very grateful to have gotten to see them up close! Rock on boys - can't wait to see you again.