NBC’s “The Sing-Off” was ahead of its time: the a cappella singing competition finished its third season almost a year before “Pitch Perfect” took the world by storm. Luckily, although it was effectively canceled (and didn’t air at all in 2012), the network was inspired by pop culture’s newfound interest in a cappella singing and decided to bring the show back — under the guidance of reality TV mastermind Mark Burnett — for a Season 4, premiering Monday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Original host Nick Lachey is back, along with original judges Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) and Ben Folds, and this year they’re welcoming Jewel into to the judging fold. Here are five things you can expect from the resurrected singing competition:
1. An actual sing-off. Thanks to Burnett’s suggestion, the bottom two groups will battle against each other, “Pitch Perfect” style, to fight for the remaining spot on the show. “At the end of every show, the two groups that perform less well that night get to sing off against each other,” Burnett says. “If you think about it, they have got about 15 minutes to get it together to do this vocal battle.” Adds Stockman, “It really gives the two groups who maybe didn’t perform their best earlier in the show and are putting them in a position where their backs are against the wall, it gives them a chance at redemption there in the final hour when everything is on the line.”
2. A condensed format. While the first two seasons of the show each aired for a few weeks in December, Season 3 lost a little steam when NBC decided to stretch it out to a full season. But Season 4 is back to a shorter holiday schedule. “This does feel to me, with my experience, a perfect condensed format [for the holidays],” Burnett says. “You know, I think, in general, the country is in that kind of loving mood. This is that kind of loving, uplifting show, and what a great time of year, when everyone is looking at goodwill to other people. This show is about that.”
3. A new judge with her own musical pedigree. A cappella singing is harder for the non-musical ear to understand than the straight-up belting you’ll hear on other competition shows, so having educated musicians as judges is important. “I think what made me a fan of the show before I came here is that there is a high level of artistry and you’re watching something that a lot of people don’t know about,” says Jewel. “I was really honored to come on as a judge because these two guys have done such a wonderful job of helping America understand what they’re listening to and that’s what I try to do as a judge too.”
4. Positivity. Singing a cappella is a pure form of entertainment, which makes it easier for people of all different types to enjoy. Says Folds, “It requires no stunts; it doesn’t require a track behind you. You just have to have talent and sing, and it’s people working together. You don’t turn on the TV very often and see people actually working together, and it’s bummed us all out. … [With 'The Sing-Off' you see] life is positive. I’m moved every single time I see the show.”
5. Nothing is “pitchy.” No offense to any other singing shows, but the judges’ critiques on “The Sing-Off” are specific and accurate — no made-up terms allowed. “I’m sorry, ‘pitchy’ is actually — it’s a word, but it means dark black. It means as black as you can get,” says Folds. So you won’t hear the “p” word this season, but you will hear accurate, intelligent critiques. “I always had a lot of positive feedback for talking about music,” says Folds. “It was really heartening to know that if someone doesn’t know a whole lot about the technical end of music, then they’re actually very interested in [finding out the musical terms].” Says Jewel, “Audiences are sophisticated. You know, I don’t think there’s any need to talk down to audiences. They know what they’re hearing. They may not always know the term for what they’re hearing, but they hear it. And I think what Ben and Shawn do so great is helping them give a word to [what they've heard].”
A new season of “The Sing-Off” premieres Monday, Dec. 9 at 9/8c on NBC.