Pre-Noncation 2013: The Sing-Off

It’s that time of year again, my friends!  The folks are off on another road trippin’ adventure, this time South toward San Diego and its environs, while I hold down the fort.  This year’s twist is that rather than merely house-sitting, I actually live here again.  Blerg.

But are we going to let that ruin our Noncation?  No way!  We are going to have a perfectly average time just like last year.

Noncation officially starts today, but the night before Noncation (i.e. last night) deserves its own post because Mom, Joe and I went to a taping of



The Sing-Off is a competition show for a cappella singing groups.  Each week there is a theme of either a song style or a song type, and one group is eliminated by the three judges.  I love it because no one’s a jerk, there’s no backstage drama, and the singing is awesome.  And it’s a cappella!  Who doesn’t love a cappella?  Like the movie Pitch Perfect but with less insanity.

Here is one of the first opening numbers from last season.  It’s not one of the best, but I want you to see the lighted tunnel that the Dartmouth Aires comes through, at about 1:48:

When we got to the sound stage we walked through that tunnel onto the set.  That was my fan girl moment, when I realized this was THE tunnel and I could see the Sing-Off stage at the other end.  I played it cool but I fought back excited tears.

We weren’t at the end of the line, but we’re old and slow so people passed us when we walked from the holding queue to the stage.  As we were being seated, I noticed with a twinge of panic that these were not chairs, but bleacher-style benches.  OMG, we can’t sit that long on glorified stairs!   But those people who walked around us did us a favor.  The audience wranglers cut the line right in front of us, and we and everyone behind us were moved to a section with real chairs.  Score!

When the show airs it’ll go like this:  a big group number with all the contestants; one performance from each group, including a short intro and ending critiques from the three judges;  the announcement of the two bottom groups; a sing-off between those two groups (one song that they sing together throw-down style); and the elimination of one group.  And of course the host’s banter in between.  Very simple show.  Filming it, not so much.

Taping was scheduled from 7:00 pm-10:30 pm.  This episode will only be the second of the season, so nine groups were still in the competition.  That’s eleven singing performances.  In theory that sounds fabulous, doesn’t it?  But it translated to 2 extra hours of taping.  5 ½ hours of roof-shattering cheering for damn near everything.  We cheered after every performance, before and after every commercial break, before and after every group intro, at the end of every judge’s critique, as each group left the stage, and after every elimination announcement.   Every re-take started with us cheering. Many re-takes were shot two, three, four times.   If we failed to cheer at the right time or with enough enthusiasm, it was a re-take.  As if that wasn’t enough, it was Party Anthem week.  They didn’t want mere applause; they wanted us to bring the entire sound stage crashing down.

The opening group number was shot in its entirety 3 times (which was cool, actually).  The final singing battle was shot twice.  (Not so cool, because we were tired by then.)  It took 40 minutes for the judges to make a decision.  (REALLY not appreciated!)  The audience wranglers wished us a good morning as we dragged ourselves out at 12:30 am.  Our fingers and hands were sore from all the clapping.  We were completely exhausted.

It wasn’t all bad, though.  My hands would’ve hurt less if I hadn’t worn rings, so that was my fault.  We knew that our cheering wasn’t just for TV, but to boost up the very real people who were competing, which made it a little easier to keep going when we were worn out.   And oh, my friends, the singing!  Here are two of my favorite groups, Home Free and Street Corner Renaissance:

I had two other favorites, but I cannot for the life of me find them on the Interwebs anywhere.

Interesting things happen when they film this show.  When it came time to announce the bottom two groups, the crew took “beauty shots” of the contestants waiting to hear the results.  The groups were all placed on stage atop portable stairs, like little individual class pictures.  During set-up the contestants chatted and laughed, but when tape rolled they had to stare at the judge’s table without smiling, while two cameramen whirled around them.  If the table was empty, the footage was called “worried shots,” but if the judges were there it was called “tense shots.”  And there was nothing else going on: the host wasn’t talking ,the judges weren’t deliberating, we weren’t even cheering.  So on TV, when they cut away to close-ups of the contestants looking anxious, those are the beauty shots. 

Another eye-opening moment came when the host announced elimination results.  For most of the show he reads from a teleprompter, but to reveal the bottom two groups he reads the results off of a card.  Or does he?   When the time came, he opened a card and started ticking off the names of groups that were safe.  That’s when my radar went up:  there wasn’t enough room on that little card for all of that!  They stopped taping briefly to reset camera angles, and during this time the host refolded the card.  He opened it again and pretended to read it when he announced the first group in danger of elimination.   Another reset, and he folded the same card again!  And opened the same card again to announce the other group in danger!  The same blank card!

And all that tension while everyone is waiting to get the results?  Fake.  Sure, everyone wants to hear who stays and who goes, but there was so much time between those particular takes that the contestants goofed around with each other, one of the engineers played party music, our warm-up guy threw candy at us and led us in sing-alongs…by the time they finally started taping those segments, the announcements were little more than cues for the contestants and the audience to react for the cameras.  The host (or in one case a judge) just pauses for about 15 seconds to heighten the suspense.  Even that dramatic anticipatory music isn’t there; it’s added in later.

My favorite part of the night came while the judges were deliberating.  According to a former contestant sitting nearby, they usually don’t take longer than 10 minutes or so to made a decision.  They came back, sat down, cameras had just started to roll on the final segment… when the director cut, two producers approached the judges, and then the judges, producers, and director all left again.  They were gone for 40 minutes!  Uuuuuugh!  Maybe if they had come back with burgers for us we wouldn’t have minded so much, but it was already late and we were running on fumes.

In the meantime the show’s host went back to his trailer, too, the bottom two groups were stuck standing on-stage (chatting and laughing as usual…no tension), and our warm-up guy ran out of candy. The party songs were getting old, so Mr. Warm-Up wracked his brain for some good sing-along songs.  Eventually he tried Blurred Lines, a current pop song.  Turns out it was in the repertoire of one of the groups standing on stage!  So when we started singing they started beat-boxing and filling in the background with their version.  We all stopped to listen, but then the other group on stage joined in with improvised backgrounds, so we took the hint to keep singing.  Some of the other contestants joined in, too.  We didn’t get very far, but it was still frickin’ amazing!   We sang with the Sing-Off people!

Electronic devices of any kind were prohibited, including cell phones, so we couldn’t call home to let them know the taping ran late.  My step-dad gets panicky over this type of thing, so of course when we got back to the car Joe and my mom had a bunch of missed calls.  My sister, Shelly, left a message on Joe’s voicemail, so he called her back and explained what happened.  Not two minutes after hanging up, my step-dad called my mom!  Shelly had relayed the message but it wasn’t enough.   He’s getting crankier and more anxious in his old age.  Anyway, I drove home at what felt like warp speed.  My bed was calling to me, but perhaps not as loudly as Mom and Joe’s beds were calling to them.

Still, I’d do it again.  Anyone else up for it?


3 thoughts on “Pre-Noncation 2013: The Sing-Off

  1. Janine, your super-terrific description left me panting. What exhausting fun! And what an education about the filming of such programs. Wow! Many thanks for taking the time to clue us ordinary TV viewers in on just how grueling the execution of a show can be.

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