Arts Desk

The Sing-Off: Afro-Blue Eliminated

Afro-Blue

YOU'VE GOT
TO BE
KIDDING
ME.

That sentence takes up an entire page of this writer's notes for last night's episode of The Sing-Off. I wrote it just as the judges' decisions were announced: Urban Method and Pentatonix had been kicked upstairs to the finals, while Afro-Blue and Dartmouth Aires were asked to revisit the song they felt had been their most impactful during the season.

Seriously? Had these guys not heard the immaculate, beautiful rendition of "A Change Is Gonna Come" that had left me in tears and in chills? They must have—they chose the song. Shawn Stockman told them it was their best performance. Sara Bareilles had gotten visibly choked up and said, "My God! That vocal! Oh my God!" Ben Folds had said, "That? That was a record. I'd buy that!" It was a summation of not only their style, but the lessons they'd painstakingly learned through the course of the show.

Had the judges not been dazzled by the stunning ambition and success of their "master mix" of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" and Nikki Minaj's "Fly," the only one to attempt to do both pieces simultaneously instead of back-and-forth, and the only one that insolubly fused the lyrical messages of the two songs? Hadn't they been blown away by Christie Dashiell and Trenton Cokley's absurdly imaginative co-lead, and shocked by Mariah Maxwell's rap? Did Bareilles not praise the group for their "heart, humility, and so much courage"?

What the hell was this?

And as it turned out, the whole "the judges aren't sure, please sing one more song" bit was a red herring. Announcing their choices, Bareilles said she'd chosen Dartmouth Aires because they'd consistently reached her emotionally. Stockman chose Afro-Blue because he heard commercial potential in them. Folds said Dartmouth Aires had connected with their material all throughout. Not one of these explanations hinged on hearing "American Boy" again.

This writer's note on hearing Folds announce for Dartmouth Aires:

UN
FUCK
ING
BE

LIEV
ABLE
!!!!!

That one took up two pages.

And yet, Afro-Blue themselves made clear that they were not shocked and disgusted. Members of the group took to social media to insist that the experience was an honor and a pleasure, and to thank everyone who supported them. Some even pushed back against angry criticisms of the judges. Brian Vickers, for one, would not let this writer assert that Afro-Blue had been robbed. (Hey, I never claimed to be impartial.) Danielle Withers, meanwhile, directed irked viewers to a blog entry written by Folds on The Sing-Off's website. Folds admits that Afro-Blue was his personal favorite of the season; points out that a jazz group would rarely have made it onto such a show in the first place, let alone make the final four; and even offers both a mea culpa of sorts and a benediction:

I think the judges unwittingly asked them to dumb things down, and as a result, Afro-Blue became unfocused in the middle of the season and didn't always scan on TV quite as well as some of the others. But we knew what they were capable of and tried our best to navigate the integrity of the show, the entertainment value and our personal artistic tastes.

...

I hope that jazz educators and students can glean some inspiration from the brave men and women of Afro-Blue! They continue as a group within Howard University while the current members who were represented on the show will also move forward. Keep your eye on them as a group and individually. Like much of The Sing-Off talent, you won't have heard the last from them!

That's undoubtedly true. We have witnessed the artistic breakthrough of an extraordinary vocal ensemble who was well known in town, and may now be able to move to a larger stage. Within their ranks have come at least three with real star potential (Dashiell, Withers, and Reginald Bowens, for whom I hope a career as "human upright bass" becomes a viable path), and surely more to come. These are college kids—and already as accomplished as some of our most respected jazz veterans.

Hence, this writer hereby dials back the disgust at Afro-Blue's elimination and shifts toward congratulations and pride for the group, what they've done, and what they will certainly do in the future. Good on you, Afro-Blue. We're honored to have you among us.

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  • virgil

    It's ironic too that sarah, sara, or whatever her name is said, "I think we confused you". Well yeah!!!! And last nights final decision just made the kicker.

    To me the last two episodes had some 'funny' (as in something's going on here besides judges voting on good talent) results.

    That's really sad. Thought I find it very much like today's political world in the USA. The impression is you have more than two choices to vote into (let's say) the oval office, but not really. It's just an illusion.

    The fact is that the producers know that Dartmouth Aires (though great broadway talent), will not win this show. They chose Urban Method because there's a rapper and they want to give the young croud a choice, and Pentatonix pretty much took over the show at "...Radio Star".

    Urban Method was the true contestanting group against Pentatonix, because they were true accapella sound...and my votes were going to go to Pentatonix.

  • Afro-Blue fan

    What irked me to no end was that it was Ben Folds who first complained about Afro-Blue arrangements "going over our heads" (a criticism I completely disagree with), so when the Blue adjusted, reworked, and came out with 3 stellar songs out of the last 4 performances, Folds then turns around and says he's going with the "most consistent group" throughout the season...despite having essentially no genuine critique of the Aires even though those guys, fun as they are, gave the same performance over and over and over.

    No recognition for Afro-Blue tearing down and rebuilding themselves within the context of 3 shows? No recognition of arc and potential and momentum? (Good on ya, Shawn, for your honesty on the commercial potential.)

    I'll be watching for an Afro-Blue album. Heck, I already have everything they sang on the show, but it's not enough...

  • virgil

    A couple corrections...I didn't mean Urban Method in the last paragraph...I meant Afro Blue. I seem to trip between those two names...and I don't know why.

    I also want to say sorry for the few errors in my post. I rushed through the post.

  • Patrice

    Afro blue is a force to be reckon with! However their style was lost on a show like "The Sing Off", while they could live up to the standards of an accapella group the style of music they preform would be better suited for instrument based industry!

  • Nancy

    Virgil,
    Please explain what you mean by something going on besides the judges voting. Please don't tell me that you are inferring racial issues. I never cared for Afro-Blue on the show. The group that should have been booted was Urban Method. That loud mouth lead singer screams to an annoying level especially when she did the Aerosmith song. OMG!! I put it on mute and wished the fan would blow her off the stage.

    P.S. Just a quick footnote. Please no overwhelming negative responses. I just ignore them anyway.

  • virgil

    Hi Nancy:

    I did not mean anything racial. I don't think race had anything to do with it.

    I meant more that it seems producers want to cater to what brings in money (obviously...no one is in it for charity), and when I witness results that don't make sense, it makes me wonder who is really making the calls in sending someone home...and why? It makes me think it came down to politics and persuading the results.

    Everything today comes down to statistics. In the media realm, who is watching what is analyzed. Who likes what is analyzed. Then shows are produced around that.

    I hope this isn't 'overwhlmingly negative'. All I'm saying is I don't trust the media for persuading the final outcome. Sad isn't it.

  • DinoDen

    what a sick display of obsurdity.

    Here are the facts. Urban Method's lead singer is a rapper who covers other people's raps? What do we call that in regards to recording? Karaoke = no commercial appeal.

    The dartmouth aires are good, BUT there is ONE lead singer and 30 other guys in the background = lame!

    Pentatonix is good. No doubt. They have an awesome lead singer and percussionist.

    HOWEVER, WHO, among the groups have delivered multiple performances, utilizing every singer in the group, effectively bringing the audiences and juges to tears?

    Afro Blue!

    Ben Folds , as I stated before, has a Jazz self esteem issue. Perhaps, during a jam session he was turned away for all he ever stated was "youre using jazz for the good side" .

    I do wish Afro Blue would have not listened to them.

    But, yes, Kudos to Afro Blue; true winners.

  • kightwite

    Yes DinoDen...going back to the corrected post that the true competitors to Pentatonix was Afro Blue. The results have now just been shored up.

  • Music Lover

    I loved this show since season 1! But I can safely say i was beyond disappointed with the elimination of Afro Blue last night! I wanna send a response to Ben Folds and Sara, because as they so eloquently stated they confused the crap outa the group!!!! One hand you say they make their arrangements too complex and next say its not good...and then have the nerve to say oh you loved them blah blah!!! Thats dishonest! If your gona offer a critique atleast be real!

    only reason am still watching is cause of pentatonix( who along with afro blue were my favourites and in my mind only true contenders). Urban method stopped appealing to me when they kept rapping at every dangone song!!! while i can appreciate them tryna bring a new flavour to accapella, too much emphasis has been brought on Mike and Katie and this is how groups start to break up! Media and execs start to make "certain members" feel their the only stars when this is a collaborative effect. I always felt that while Urban method are entertaining, their delivery was never as "polished" as Pentatonix or Afro Blue.

    Darmouth Aires, while highly entertaining and theatrical have had to many pitch issues and i feel are more suited for broadway type productions as oppose to actually recording an album! Pentatonix and Afro Blue are definitely ear candy and even without a video can enjoy their singing while with Darmouth one needs to see them perform to fully appreciate them.

    if Pentatonix wasnt still on the show,i'd stop watching cause thats how pissed i am..anyways i hope viewers vote for Pentatonix,i live in canada so wont be able(although will see if i can vote online) but i'd hate to see them lose because they are truly a talented bunch of kids! Avi is a beast on the bass, Kevin is ....i cant even describe, Scott is a soul singer(check his youtube page), Mitch is definitely a sweet singer and him and the girl(cant remember her name) have one of the best harmonies i have heard in a while...

    thats my 10cents lol

  • DinoDen

    @ Nancy,

    Despite being a supposed esteemed composer and pianist Ben Folds stated that a simple composition of "I heard it Through the Grape Vine" went "over his head". He did not elaborate.

    Upon meeting Afro Blue, a group of well groomed music students, he made fun of the name because it had the word "afro" in it. Which added to several awkward moments of the judges interactions with Afro Blue on the show. - how tacky

    Also lets not forget that Sarah stated they were "attractive" as if she was suprised and like attractive people had not been on the show before.-bizarre

    Top that off with, speaking of Virgil's statistics, Afro Blues iTunes sells; there is really no way that anyone could say they were unmarketable and after a standing Ovation its even more peculiar for them to be sent home.

    You can take those observations and draw your own conclusions...

  • virgil

    Point taken Dino. All the more confusing to me.

  • Calvin

    How do you explain choosing karaoke(Urban Method) over true talent(Afro Blue)? How do you explain choosing a mechanical, one-dimensional group (Darmouth Aires)over a sweet harmonizing dynamically gifted group like Afro Blue. I guess Ben and Sarah were intimidated by people who are actually great singers.

  • Ken

    I am an old white guy from Minnesota. I am very disappointed that Afro Blue did not make the final four. I think the Pentatonix have the tightest sound of any of the groups in the competition and will (they better) win it. Urban Method and Dartmouth Aires were not nearly as good as Afro Blue. The Aires are one dimensional, a great lead singer who knows one style and a bunch of other guys falling on the floor. Urban Method is just another rap group. Yawn. Not even close. I think the judges tipped their hat to Urban Method (the rap group) as the music of the future (God help us all) and saw jazz as being passe'. They were crafty in having the final decision be between Dartmouth and Afro Blue to disguise that real dichotomy.

  • Kaddie

    Thank you for commentary. I'm not a huge fan of the Aires - they're a little too 'Up With People' for my taste but they have been consistent and they are good singers and they never forgot that musicality is a big part of what's needed to sell lots of records. As a result, they've never been in the bottom 2. Plus they're the only team this season other than Pentatonix to have had one of their singles in the Top 10 of iTunes best sellers list.

    As good as AFB's, "American Boy" and "A Change Is Gonna Come" are, those songs have not seemed to appeal to the masses and they have never cracked iTunes Top Ten best seller list - they've never even come close.

    AFB has great, tremendous potential but they frequently squandered it with arrangements that put them in the bottom 2 twice (American girl was a disaster). There's NO WAY that they judges could keep them yet again and throw out a team that had never been in the bottom. That would have been less credible, IMO.

  • Taylor

    Kaddie.....Just say no to drugs!!

  • Ye

    Honestly, it really wouldn't surprise me if part of the reason they were sent home was racially motivated. An ALL Black group just won last season... wouldn't surprise me at all.

    I love the concept of this show but I've always hated the "soft & nice" approach to the judges' critiques, & the overall reward an entire group receives based on the talent of ONE person, ie: Urban Method & Dartmouth Aires. I don't respect ANY reality tv based talent competition and BS like this is exactly why. I don't care who wins at this point. Whatever the reason, This is my first and last season watching this series because they've displayed to me that this is clearly NOT about talent.

  • Ye

    @DinoDen

    that's exactly what I'm talking about! it's just way too convenient, honestly.

    In general, who's least talented?
    1. A decent rapper who can somewhat hold a note, a SCREAMING lead female vocalist and background singers who usually sound mediocre at best.
    2. A group who really only has 1 lead singer, insuffient bass & shaky rhythm section.
    3. A group where more than HALF of the members have sang lead at least once. A group containing two of the entire shows most powerfully graceful female vocalists. THE best bass on the show, period. Technically challenging, entertaining, AND always show that they incorporate judge critique into their very next performance...

    Least talented, you ask? Clearly option number 3...

  • JDoony

    afro blue was TERRIBLE!!! I will grant they had lovely singing voices, but otherwise.... what?? If you compare their sound to today's popular music, you get ZERO compatibility... NONE!! So I don't blame them... Sucks, because they were very talented, but it just didn't match up with the sound most people like right now... And the worst part is, they never even tried!! It was like, "This is us, we do jazz and we will NOT change that no matter what!!" And I think that hurt them in the long run, because you've got an awesome group like the Pentatonix who can bring it no matter what the genre. So please, don't hate on my comments, I truly did appreciate the talent of Afro Blue. But I think it was there unwillingness to try to expand themselves to be more fluid with their style and sound that doomed them in the end...? Thoughts?

  • JDoony

    Ok.............. I know I know I KNOW!!! I said at the start of my post that they are "TERRIBLE"... Obviously, I don't feel that way. But it did irk me that they were so set in their jazzy ways that they wouldn't even TRY to expand beyond themselves and see what they could do. Sure you are a talented group of vocalists, we freakin get it already!! But this show is all about seeing how you can handle a diversity of musical genres, and unfortunately, Afro Blue could not seem to accept the fact that they couldn't cling to their particular style for EVERY SINGLE SONG!! Tell me I'm wrong

  • JDoony

    And so maybe what the judges were alluding to by saying they were "going over their heads" was simply that in trying to make each song a jazz song, no matter the genre, they lost sight of what the show was all about. And I think that is why it was so hard for the judges to finally boot them. Because you, I, and all of America who watched knew beyond doubt that they are a phenomenal group, but they were the only group that never seemed comfortable fitting a slot that wasn't their particular calling card... Anyhow, I am done. Hope someone sees this and can relate. Peace!!

  • DinoDen

    sorry one more thing.

    the statrment , "its not what people want to here" is obviously false by the amount of public outlash, so much so, that Ben Folds had to take to his blog to basically apologise.

    I believe they underestimated the viewers. it takes a certain kind of person to even sit through an acapella show you realize.

    last thing: no one told urban method to stop rapping. no one told Dartmouth to lay off the theatrics. So why, WHY, are you telling a jazz band to lose the signature sound.

    and honestly know one would have known it was jazz had Ben Folds not continually repeated it. Its acapella! you either dont know what to expect, or expect to hear harmonies , chords, and improvised scat dooba bu doos!

  • DinoDen

    please disregard typos. droid *sigh

  • virgil

    In response to anyone who thinks Afro Blue was terrible, I can only remember that Afro Blue was told to change. I believe this is in line with what Dino is saying.

    I think Afro Blue stepped out of their great (true a-c...yes jazzy) sound to try and find what the judges wanted, (the judges supposed to be finding what Sony wants), and for that could not be their best (i.e. sounded terrible to some). 'Tis true, the National Anthem didn't need to be in a song.

    That said, I don't think they sound TERRIBLE. I do believe it was Ben who said they have the magic of putting in the 25 part harmony. Sounds equivilant to 5 people being a strong sound (ref to Pentatnix). If I've misassigned the 25 part referenc...my apologizies.

    Perhaps what happened was the judges realized voting got messed up a time or two back, and they had to make some terrible judging choices to follow.

    I'm glad Shawn stood by AB regardless. It makes me like him all the more. Unfortunately, Sara's (newbe) reputation is tarnished and IMHO she might want to start looking for another job. I feel sad for Ben. He knew better.

    I tried to say at the very start was that the judgeing in the last couple weeks was not about being good sound.

  • Ye

    honestly, @JDoony I wanted to stop reading your first post, and any subsequent ones, once you began to praise pop music of today. Many music lovers, those with the enough age and/or sense to know & love some of the more original music from the 60s - 80s, know that today is not a shining example of pop music at its best. The fact that you're not one of them lends to your disregard for Afro Blue's capability.

    ... I can't believe you're also claiming they never tried anything different. If anything they were one of the ONLY groups to try to heed the words of the judges. And I agree with the notion that it's probably what did them in, which was already addressed by another poster earlier. In general, you just seem pretty misguided with your references.

  • Pastor Joel A. Bowman

    The Sing-Off judges (especially Ben Folds) were DEAD WRONG about Afro-Blue. I have sung various forms of a cappella and choral music over the course of almost 30 years, and have competed internationally. Further, I have done arranging for smaller a cappella ensembles. Having said that, I am so appalled by the results of tonight's adjudication, I doubt seriously if I will waist 2 hours of my precious time watching the final episode. Nor will I vote. How could anyone with good musical sense choose the Dartmouth Aires over Afro-Blue? While one could argue that the Aires were more energetic and theatrical, I wasn't watching the show for "energy" or "theatrics." I can go to Disney World or Cedar Point if that's the thing that floats my boat. However, I was watching to hear "the best" in a capplla musicianship. The false premise that Afro-Blue's performance over the course of the competition was "inconsistent" is based on what I believe to be an obvious bias against the vocal jazz idiom on the Sing-Off. We saw that last year with Grove for Thought. Even though, I felt Committed was the right choice to win, I also felt Groove for Thought should have placed higher. Shawn Stockman, with whom I generally agree, was off base in some of his adjudications of Afro-Blue. Even in some of their least effective performances, they were better than most. I will concede, in terms of the total package, the Pentatonix will win, because they are "more marketable" in the "cotton candy" music industry (let's hope the Sing-Off power structure does not overproduce their album like they did with Committed). But, in the final analysis, Afro-Blue will have the enduring respect of the true a cappella experts . . . not the fake one's on the panel. I welcome anyone's challenge of this post.

  • ajax

    Urban Method is as FAKE as FAKE can be (Use 3 pages)!!! No talent what-so-ever. Katie just Screams and SCREAMS. Blah! Hated Them! Why oh why are they still in this competition???
    No, I will not be voting or watching - ever again. Sing-Off, aka Rip-Off, You Suck!

  • Nick

    I almost fell on the floor when Afro Blue was let go over the Dartmouth Errors (oops, "Aires"). What the F! One of the biggest mistakes in judgment I've ever seen from professional judges. EVER SINGLE PERFORMANCE from Afro Blue was spot-on. The Dartmouth group has absolutely NO commercial marketability except for the one lead singer. Who would buy and album like that?! Beyond commercial factors, this is a contest about SKILL - but apparently along the way the judges forgot that...this show is wacked. Not watching anymore of this BS - sponsors take note

  • Kita

    I was so disappointed when Afro-Blue was eliminated, I was brought to tears. The first rendition of Fly/I Believe I Can Fly was really great! I thought they did the best with melding the two songs into one; however, A Change Is Gonna Come was the most phenomenal song of that episode; heck, it was the best song of the competition to me! Now, granted Pentatonix did Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" justice in a previous episode, but Afro-Blue's A Change Is Gonna Come was the absolute best song of the competition. I was disheartened by the "fake" sing off because, from the comments of the judges, neither group's song "most impactful song" weighed in on any of the judges' decisions. Maybe I'm confused, but I thought the competition was based on the performance of the episode, not whether or not the group was consistent throughout the competition. If that is the case, the Darthmouth Aires should have been eliminated weeks ago with the pitch issues; Urban Method should have been eliminated weeks ago as well because Katie has none nothing but scream below the pitch for weeks on end. I was blown away by Afro-Blue's arrangements; I Need You Know, Killing Me Softly, American Boy, Fly/I Believe I Can Fly and A Change Is Gonna Come will always be favorites of mine. I was also touched by how Pentatonix appeared genuinely grieved with the elimination. I recorded the episode and noticed how Pentatonix appeared to be rooting for Afro-Blue as they sang and then sat there motionless when they announced the Darthmouth Aires were in the final. Kirstie shed tears, Avi was just beside himself and the other 3 (Mitch, Scott and Kevin) were just stilled in disbelief. After it's all said and done, I truly believe Afro-Blue will be on the map somewhere, someday. They are a talented group of individuals; what is meant to be will be!!!

  • Valyn

    I never believed that an individuals votes were counted on these reality shows. "Fixed" is what I call it. Afro-Blue went home because they were too good. This competition was set up for Pentatonix to win, although I do think they're great. Pentatonix against Afro-Blue is a no brainer! Dart Aires is a HUGE JOKE, and Urban Method and their dreary performances slipped through the cracks. How? I just don't know!

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