NBC's a cappella singing competition show - now at the midpoint of its short second season - features judges Ben Folds (Ben Folds Five), Shawn Stockman (Boys II Men) and Nicole Scherzinger (Pussycat Dolls), who have culled the herd to six finalists: On the Rocks, Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town, The Backbeats, Groove for Thought, Street Corner Symphony and Committed. Viewers will vote for the winner, to be crowned next Monday.


"The Sing-Off" is one of the major shocks of the fall season in that a lot of people are actually watching something on NBC. Nearly 8 million a cappellanistas tuned in Wednesday. Absent musical instrument accompaniment, a cappella is an old musical art form that places an absolutely ruthless premium on vocal harmonies.

This isn't "American Idol," where occasional "pitchiness" is tolerated. If one singer bleats out an A sharp minor that was supposed to be an E flat major, the entire group comes tumbling down like a tower of Jenga blocks. Because this is an all-for-one, one-for-all musical act, these groups are tight and have to be. As a result, the six finalists are very good - which largely makes for good TV. (Jerry Lawson? He was a founding member of The Persuasions, one of the most prominent a cappella groups, so he's arguably on the great side of the scale.)

But as competitions go, "The Sing-Off" tends to be a little flat. Even though top-flight musicians like Folds and Stockman are excellent judges of musical character, all three tend to throw up their collective hands and say, "Well, that was awesome."

In fact, some of the earlier groups weren't, but they are now gone. Of the remaining, quality reigns (Groove for Thought and Committed are probably the best). Unless viewers are tone-deaf, Committed wins.

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This is a good time to check out "The Sing-Off," if you haven't already. Only two nights to go.