Even if the Howard University ensemble hadn’t made a point of saying so, Afro-Blue’s performance last night of Whitney Houston‘s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was clearly the product of Sing-Off judge Ben Folds‘ critique two weeks ago. “Don’t overthink the arrangement,” he told them after an elaborate casting of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
And for “Guilty Pleasure Week,” Afro-Blue did not. “I Wanna Dance” had a rather straightforward arrangement that hewed as closely to the hit version as any ten-piece jazz a capella ensemble could. It was by and large free of embellishment, made great use of the men’s beatboxing abilities, and had harmonies that were just a shade jazzier and more complex than the other nine contestants’. The most elaborate setpiece was the bridge, during which the beatboxing rhythms switched into samba groove and Eliza Berkon, to this point a backup voice, momentarily took the spotlight. (Through most of the tune, Danielle Withers sang lead.)
It was a smart take, as Shawn Stockman pointed out; Sara Bareilles also enjoyed their choreography, which features a Soul Train style dance line. Folds was somewhat more critical, telling them to enunciate more, but finished with, “You guys are so amazing I can’t believe I’m lecturing you.”
But the judgment was apparently enough to put Afro-Blue in the Bottom Two this week, at least in their five-group bracket of the episode. (In fairness, all of the groups in the other bracket were inferior to any of the ones in Afro-Blue’s.) But they were saved once again, and the University of Delaware’s Deltones were sent packing.
Low finish notwithstanding, I’m still betting on Afro-Blue to go all the way to the final. As my wife observed last night, “Afro-Blue is absolutely the most polished of these groups. It’s not even a contest.” Additionally, they’ve got the leanest vocals, avoiding the flashy around-the-note ornamentation that characterizes most reality-show singing. Anyone want to give me odds* that they and Urban Method (who also killed it last night with a razor-sharp version of Bell Biv Devoe‘s “Poison”) are the final two?
*Offer does not extend to members of Afro-Blue.