December 10, 2009

Sing to your heart’s content

Posted in Between Us column, Television at 1:51 am by dinaheng

We all love to sing. We do it from the moment we’re born, bursting forth with the cry that announces to the world that we have arrived. Whether we exercise our voice in music class, church choirs, or in the privacy of our shower, there’s something about singing that feeds the soul.

Judging by the success of “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent” and other amateur competitions, a lot of us would love to become overnight singing sensations, or at least make it to the finals for a few minutes in the spotlight.

The latest TV competition to feature both great and perhaps less-than-great musical performances will be NBC’s a capella singing competition, “The Sing-Off,” which airs December 14, 15, and 16 at 8 p.m. Eastern, ending with a live finale on Monday, Dec. 21 at the same time.

Singing a capella, if you’re not familiar with the term, means singing without accompaniment. The contestants — groups of four to 10 members — must impress the judges with their wind pipes and personality without benefit of keyboard or background instruments.

Open auditions were held in four cities over the summer, drawing huge crowds of singers, of all age groups, eager to showcase their talent for a shot at an Epic Records/Sony Entertainment recording contract.

“We saw everything from collegiate a capella groups to R&B, new Boyz to Men groups to Sweet Adelines,” says Michelle McNulty, casting director for “The Sing-Off.” “It’s really amazing what people can do with their voices. Being a vocal band is a special skill.”

What did it take to make the cut, from a casting standpoint?

“Voice and how well they harmonize is important,” McNulty says, “but so is that stage presence, being able to get the audience on their feet. We want the best groups on the show, not the good, bad, and ugly. I didn’t see tons and tons of bad singing because you  have to work with your group to get a good sound.”

McNulty and Petra Haden, a singer and recording artist who served as vocal coach and arranger for the reality show, listened to hundreds of singers in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, giving feedback and advice to promising performers, whether or not they moved on to the next stage of the contest.

McNulty says everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, but not everyone has that IT factor that makes heads turn the moment you walk into a room. Her advice for aspiring contestants?

“Leave the nerves at the door,” she says. “Have fun with your performance. Live, and love what you’re doing. Connect with your audience.”

The contestants who make it to the finals of “The Sing-Off” will be singing for viewers’ votes, and the winners will be given an Epic/Sony recording contract. As for the rest of us, well, we’ll be singing to our heart’s content, too… even if it’s just in our imagination.

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