NBC's The Sing-Off premiered last night, in all of its cheesy glory and sans instruments, as host Nick Lachey will not allow you to forget. The little music competition show that could has been rewarded by NBC with a full season pick-up, which means one new judge, additional contenders to charm the family audience and larger prizes at stake. Yes, Nicole Scherzinger, known for her confounding statements that fall somewhere between criticism flirtation, has jumped ship to Fox's The X Factor—check back on Thursday to see if that's a good fit for her and her two friends—ushering in the Sara Bareilles Era, which puts the former UCLA a cappella performer alongside veteran judges Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman, thus adding a little bit more technical knowledge and legitimacy to the panel itself. Lachey is still Lachey, mind you, but did we get a fleeting sense that he's feeling more relaxed the third time around? Guess the second televised marriage will do that to you.
To start things off, eight groups were broken into two groups of four to perform for the judges. Among them: three college groups, a family-sized brood from Wisconsin—enter your various Partridge Family jokes now, but don't forget to call Emma Stone!—and a super group consisting of Sing-Off contenders of yore, which really emphasizes both the love for the craft and the desperation that can take hold of humans when it comes to televised singing competitions. Yes, they're all talented, but some of these ladies in Delilah will just not let their early exits go. The lack of versatility seemed to be the biggest threat to any group's potential for success, as with each impending round they'll be asked to perform genre-specific numbers instead of their familiar, foolproof set list. Of the two group's sent home, The Cat's Pajamas, the pride of Branson, Missouri by way of New Jersey, couldn't make their '60/'70s sound on Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind of Wonderful" translate to the Sing-Off stage, despite playing 200 shows a year in their hometown. At least the people of the Midwest are experiencing no shortage of a cappella these days. The Fannin Family's eight children will likely each have one stellar college entrance essay, but their approach to Selena Gomez's "Who Says," age-appropriate for 14-year-old lead Maria, seemed too safe, and the sibling group unwilling to ever rise above anything rated PG. Did we mention BYU's Vocal Point changed Brian Setzer's "can of ale" lyric to "ginger ale"? We know this is a family show, but c'mon. Live on the edge!
As four our favorites of the night? Afro-Blue, the co-ed group from Howard University (it's always wise to give a shout-out to Diddy), whose jazzy take on "Put Your Records On" not only showcased lead singer Christie's control, but also Reggie's powerful bass which slowed down the Corrine Bailey Rae original to something truly soulful. Denver's own Urban Method made a slightly overdramatic plea for stardom by explaining that they were "born to do this," a sentiment truly unique to anyone ever making a run at stardom or doing anything they are truly passionate about in the history of the world. Rapper Mike explained his arduous quest to remove white MCs as the punchline of the music industry, one which makes him lose precious beauty sleep—so obviously he should be rewarded, right? For all the drama, the "rap-cappella" group delivered, making their rendition of Eminem and Rihanna's "Love The Way You Lie" huge and theatrical, second only to the fiery performances by the famous faces in Em's music video. There will be eight more groups to get to know next week, so get adjusted to this season's changes by watching our early favorites, below