Saturday, April 18, 2009

MTV Filming An A Cappella Pilot

So, I just got home from the finals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. Much to discuss.

First, a crew from MTV was on hand filming the show. Apparently this will serve as a potential pilot for an a cappella competition series. MTV signed a deal with Varsity Vocals, the organization behind the ICCAs. It's all official, in writing, etc. I wonder if this is the same show Mark Burnett was producing alongside MTV alum, Jesse Ignjatovic?

Anywho, before the competition began, a host from MTV, Adrienne Bailon (Wiki says she's one of Disney's Cheetah Girls) filmed intros for each group.

"Please welcome Ivy league's finest, the Dukesman!"
"Representing the heartland, here are the Beartones!"
"Give it up for the a cappella fratboys, Ithacapella!"

Well, as soon as Adrienne said: "Please welcome a cappella's underdogs, Fermata Nowhere," well, I was pretty sure I knew which group would win the competition. And they did. Come on! It was a storyline too good to resist. Fermata Nowhere, a community college group from California (singing a hip hop medley of Lady Gaga and Rhianna, no less) was up against established groups from Yale and Oxford? Come on! Community college! Lady Gaga! These guys perform in orange jumpsuits! That's damn good TV!

I have to say, I'm glad I wasn't a judge tonight. Because there was no clear winner. Fermata Nowhere was probably the most entertaining collegiate group, so I was happy to see them snag the title. I'll take entertainment value over perfect phrasing any day. They had good song choice. High energy. Acrobatics. (Seriously.) True, there were some rough spots with their first song (something not in English). But nothing some good old fashioned MTV editing can't fix!

Undoubtedly, there's a debate already raging over at RARB about who was robbed, and what influence MTV played in the decision tonight. (I'll call a judge-friend tomorrow to see what went on in the room.) The truth is, Who cares? The groups were basically indistinguishable from each other (we heard "Umbrella" three times; "Single Ladies" twice). If any single group had shown any real innovation, they could have walked away with it.

When I got bored, I just looked around, taking in every inch of Lincoln Center's new Alice Tulley Hall. The place is gorgeous. It'll look great on MTV.

More tomorrow on my night at the ICCA finals...


Joseph said...

I can't believe the fact that we were pigeonholed so crudely. I'm speaking for myself, but I bet most of the guys in Fermata would agree with me that we worked very hard to get to where we are, and we don't consider ourselves the "underdogs" of collegiate a cappella. As long as I can remember, we've at least placed at our ICCA quarterfinals, and in 2004 came in 2nd at the finals! I feel like we deserved our win, but now people may debate about how much our win was influenced by the MTV angle. And that's something that none of us want to deal with.

Derek said...

I would have to say that the most innovative group there was the Beartones. Country? What A Capella group performs country and well at the same time? That's just my opinion though.

Pitch Perfect said...

Actually, the Hullabahoos. "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy." Circa 2006.,_Ride_a_Cowboy.mp3

Also: The winning high school group sang a country tune.

A cappella groups should do more country, come to think of it!

Amy Malkoff said...

Joe: Your win had NOTHING to do with MTV, trust me. Their ridiculousness had no influence over our decisions. There were some amazing groups there, but you guys deserved to win. Your performance - not some contrived MTV "narrative" - won it for you. So be proud and don't worry your pretty little head! :)

Trent Graine said...

ICCA Finals Review of the 2009 Champions:

First off let me say...this year's ICCA finals was incredible! Everyone represented their region well and everyone should be proud. Congrats to all the groups that placed its no easy feat at this level.

I am sorry to change the subject but it seems as if all anyone can think to talk about is MTV. How about the fact that judging seems really screwed up for collegiate finals this year!?!?!

I was in the audience on a great night of a cappella and it was well worth the money. I was though, one of those audience members who walked out, confused on the choice of winner. I know this is just one man’s opinion but I think it should be heard.

I completely agree with entertaining groups besting the rest, that's why a cappella groups are in entertain. But going off of what those ICCA judging sheets entail...Fermata Nowhere should have gotten literally…NOWHERE...or at least not first.

I have much to say about the winners' performance. First I will discuss their visual performance than, I don't want to even get started on their sound but I will, to further pose my question...what the heck were the judges thinking?

Maybe you could give them perfect scores on Visual Performance but even than they were not together. Don’t get me wrong they were entertaining but here is what was not good visually:
-Not one back flip was good, all sloppy. People are saying how exciting their acrobatic energy was but they were not even good! He fell to his knees EVERY TIME!!!!
-Only 3 members of the group could dance, the rest could only to basic arm movements and step touches. Also there was so much choreography that most of it wasn’t even together. To me, this just shows other a cappella groups that to win you have to be really entertaining but only a few members have to do all the work visually. In "visual COHESIVENESS" I would give them a 0!!!!!
-I hate it when groups don’t have choreography for their expected "ICCA Middle-song ballad". There is no reason for a group who wins best choreography not to be able to think of something creative to do in the middle to make it visually pleasing, cause lord knows it was not good vocally one bit...more to come on that later.
-Also maybe what they wore was different but come on, Alice Tully Hall...dress up!!! There were so many groups that dressed up and presented themselves so much better. You want to talk about stereotypes, I thought that if they didn’t win they were gonna bust out their guns and go on a shooting spree just from how they presented themselves.

Now on to the vocal performance of the winners' bout to collegiate a cappella glory. (Hang on to your seats this ought to get interesting.)

With all things considered I thought that Fermata Nowhere's sound and fullness was nowhere to be pun intended. Probably the most simple sounding group of the night when it came to vocal tactics. Here are some critiques to think about for their 3 songs:

Magdalena: Not much to say about this one but it was their best song of the night, sound-wise. Arrangement didn’t match the other two (very simple) arrangements which leads me to believe that they didn’t even arrange this first one...I may be wrong but that's what I thought when listening. But even if it was their most full song it was still empty, spaced with unison and breaks in singing, like a football game with too many breaks in the action. Too much choreography and not much singing.

Fall For You: A poor rendition of the song. No dynamics and too simple. Block chords at the beginning made them sound like a high school group. Poor song choice in general and the soloist did not fit one bit! BEST SOLOIST IN COLLEGIATE A CAPPELLA, NO WAY! Besides him going flat and cracking he was not into it and closed his eyes as if not connecting to the audience but trying to picture some chick he wants to be with back in Cali. Harmonies during the middle-end did not fit the song and made it sound nothing like the original. Overall one of the worst middle songs of the night with terrible interpretation.

Heartless Medley: Probably one of the most entertaining songs of the night but only because of the shenanigans during the song. Maybe the judges couldn’t get past their choreography to see that what they did vocally was actually really high school-ish but it didn’t get past me! Seemed like a lot of two part singing and a lot of solo/rapping/talking on the phone which by the way is the most ridiculous thing I saw all night. Too much in my opinion, and took away from everything they could’ve done vocally. Good thing the Heartless soloist was great or I would’ve written him off, phone conversation...DUMB. But once again that is just my opinion. To continue, I couldn’t understand the white rapper and the soloist for Disturbia sounded like a frog jumping to all the high notes and that song as well seemed like mostly unison. The single ladies soloist was average at best. You already read what I said about the dancers in the set and it all applies to single ladies and covers only 3 dancers whilst the rest of the group did step touches and sang the most known basic part of the whole song, in UNISON once again. The only good part vocally of the entire set was the last 17 seconds when they sang a barbershop tag ending to single ladies. Good job the last 17 seconds fellas.

One more comment on their set was the "rhythm section" as MTV, I am sure wanted to put it. They were good yes, I thought there was better that night but they were alright. This nest critique isnt just with Fermata Nowhere but I always hate it when Vocal Percussionists have to be away from the group and the choreography. It makes them seem like they are not a part of the group.

It seems like this group overall, was all about the choreography and couldn’t do much of anything vocally straining at all. It is a sad day when a singing competition gets shoved aside for choreography. Everyone makes an a cappella group because they can sing. They were not the best singing group there…period. If the judges thought different than I am confused and wouldn't know what to say if a group asked me to critique them for an ICCA competition.

Hey with all of this said they won right? The judges saw something in them that I guess I didn’t, but did the judges even think or see ANY OF THIS????...I am just confused...but all in all it was a great show. I always love coming to finals and watching the best of the best compete. This year though I just didn't agree with the winner.

Thanks for reading,

Trent G.
A Cappella Lover/Enthusiast

Amy Malkoff said...

CASA review:

Sara Yood said...

"One more comment on their set was the 'rhythm section' as MTV, I am sure wanted to put it."

Again, I reiterate, MTV had nothing to do with deciding any of the awards or the placement. It was solely at the discretion of the judges.

WMcIntosh said...

I just wanted to respond to the review left by Trent Graine:

1) I think we all got the message that you did not agree with the judges' decision. For the record, four out the five judges there had Fermata Nowhere down for first place. The judges were Julia Hoffman (President of CASA), Bill Hare , Barry Carl, Ben Stevens , and Amy Malkoff. Collectively, they are hardly what I would consider novices when it comes to collegiate a cappella.

2) I don't think anyone would make a case that Fermata's performance was perfect. But after reading quite a few reviews on that performance, I was caught off guard by your derisive tone throughout. You sound very upset by the results, and if one were to read your review at face value, one would come away with the impression that Fermata had lousy choreography except for three of it's members, sang unison and two part music throughout, and had soloists who were flat and had vocal trouble. This would also imply that the aforementioned judges were complete idiots.


In reality, "Magalenha" goes into seven parts, and involves spitting out Portuguese lyrics at ridiculously fast tempos. It is a tune that features plenty of rhythm, thus the "breaks" in between phrases. "Fall for you" is scarcely what I would call "very simple" as it also has a seven part divisi plus solo in sections. You may have been too busy scoffing at their outfits to notice the suspensions and major 7th intervals throughout the piece which pitted parts 1/2 step away from each other on several occasions. But go right ahead and call it "simple." I guess that's your call. As for "Heartless", you'll get no argument from me. Mostly four way throughout with the focus being on humor rather than seeing how many ways we could layer a Lady Gaga tune.

3) As for choreography, you nailed it. Most of the members of Fermata are not what you would call "dancers." We didn't hire a professional choreographer. What you saw at that performance was several weeks worth of brain storming by Alex and the guys within the group to come up with choreo that was interesting, lent itself to the lyrics, and had tons of energy. They missed a few moves that night, but I still felt it was cohesive. Your assertion that only three guys "did all the dancing" only works for "Single Ladies." Who was dancing during the other 90 percent of the set?

4) We chose not to do choreo for the ballad because we didn't feel that choreo would actually enhance this song in any way. We have actually had judges who have THANKED us for not doing meaningless choreo for a slower piece where the attention is focused on the soloist. There is a point at which choreo can become distracting, and usually it is the ballad where you are featuring a soloist. But again...that's just our opinion.

5) Fermata's outfits: Some groups prefer tuxes, some coats and ties...Fermata prefers coveralls. It's part of who they are and what they do. If you imagined that they would change their persona just to perform in the Lincoln Center, sorry to disappoint you. You will, I'm sure, be glad to know that they will be wearing their tuxes when they perform at the Commencement ceremony next month. I'm sorry if they made you feel unsafe.

6) As for your opinion on "Fall For You" Just wow. Avi did a great job with this arrangement IMO, and the middle is my favorite part. Ben knocked it out, and as I looked around the audience following his performance, it would seem that you were in the minority with your opinion here. I didn't hear the flatting or the breaking, but I'll take your word for it.

7) As for your rant regarding the "Heartless" medley where you call our soloists "froglike" and "average at best"...whatever. These comments in conjunction with your assertion that the phone conversation was "dumb" really makes me wonder why you are so bitter following this competition. Obviously your favorite group didn't win. And you are completely free to sneer and insult this group as much as your heart desires. It's a free country, and I'm sure Mitch is certainly wanting to hear opinions from everyone.

But here is what I saw from row M:

We didn't have 75 plus people fly out from the West Coast for this performance like Divisi had a couple years ago. We probably had a grand total of FIVE people from Mt. SAC in the audience that night. During "Magalenha" the crowd was much more quiet than we were used to as the audience seemed reluctant to cheer for a group other than their own. But the noise level rose noticeably following Ben's solo on "Fall for you" and the laughter rose continuously throughout "Heartless." By the time Fermata got to their last chord of the night, the audience was applauding before they even cut off. The noise was deafening, and I watched as more than a few people, who were NOT from Mt. SAC, rose to their feet. It's hard to figure out how that happened if this performance was truly as wretched as you described in your review. Of course, I may not be as objective as you. of my favorite videos of "Heartless" can be found at this link:

It's from the semi's in March. Not the best quality, but listen to the reaction from the person taping and the people nearby. I believe this was taped by someone from Oregon. Your assertion that the phone call was "dumb?" Listen to the crowd. Their laughter is genuine. These aren't Mt. SAC fans who are laughing and screaming. They were there to support our competitors.

At any rate, thanks for sharing your opinion. I just wanted to give another viewpoint of the evening.

-William McIntosh
Director, Fermata Nowhere

Anonymous said...

To Trent G.

It's a good thing you DON'T judge a cappella, because obviously you ARE missing something. These boys (which, by the way, are NOT gun toting teenagers, ready to go on a shooting spree, but are great guys - you are SO shallow) won semi-finals, quarter finals and then finals then perhaps you don't know what you are talking about. Different judges at every venue all thought they were the best. Wow, maybe the judges are all wrong and you should be judging! As you said "... I am confused and wouldn't know what to say if a group asked me to critique them for an ICCA competition.." Lucky for the 2010 contenders, you won't be.

Anonymous said... got owned.

Anonymous said...

Obviously your favorite group didn't win. You should just say you're in another group or you were supporting another group. Those Fermata guys kicked ass at the finals. Don't be so bitter just because it didn't work out for whoever you were rooting for.

Anonymous said...


Katy C said...

I am so proud of Fermata! I pass the room where they work nearly every day and there is not one moment that I don't see these guys working their tails off. I've sat in on a couple of their rehearsals and have seen them perform and there is no doubt in my mind that these hard working, talented guys deserved to win.

The guys in this group have a passion for music that exceeds most. This group is humble and I can guarantee if they did not go home winning first place, you would absolutely NOT catch them smashing the winning group's work on a public forum for everybody to read. Instead, they would look at the winning group and take notes on how they too could rise to that level of accomplishment.

I attended the semi finals and every person in the house that night was blown away by Fermata's performance. (with the exception of maybe one or two cynics like yourself, Trent.)

Congrats Fermata! I look forward to hearing about all of your accomplishments in the future. Keep working hard!

-Katy C

Music Ed said...

As a music educator and guest in the audience at Lincoln Center, I was disappointed in the audjudicators decision. It seemed very 'fixed' from the beginning introductions. I believe ICCA sold out to MTV. If they didn't sell out, then they lost control totally to MTV. Too bad money and ratings have affected so many groups future.

Fermata Nowhere was a huge disappointment. PRISON JUMPSUITS? Really??? What type of role models are they to all the high school kids? With all the other groups wearing decent attire for an event that was held in an historic and formal place they were so out of place and looked ridiculus,tacky and stupid!! The rest of the country isn't into prison fashion.
Wake up Califormia and MTV! We as educators spend our time telling young men to pull up their pants. A wanna be prison fashion is already now in the public eye and the majority of mature adults and mature teens see it as stupid practice. So, to millons of others this 'winning' group will look unprofessional and out of place witht he event.

I overheard several of the high school parents who were sitting behind me describing how appauled they were at this group's selection of music and thier attire as well.

That really is too bad. The group did have a nice sound, but I was not thrilled with their soloist or music program. Not varied enough. Everything seemed to have a rap or hip-hop edge to it. Perhaps it was the costumes that jaded my opinion.

I did also notice that the bass and beatboxer stood off to the side. Now that seemed to divide the group into the performers and the accompaniment guys. It is so much harder to do those jobs while dancing. I thought the Beartone's on the other hand, as well as some other groups, did a great job of incorporating all into the choreography. They did an excellant job of performing as an entire group.

Hats off to the Beartone's amazing bass (did you hear those low notes?!) and award winning (I assume so he was WOW!)percussionist!
Their arrangement's were also very, very good!

I thought that the BEARTONE'S were the most entertaining,well prepared and most professional of the groups. Not to even mention they were dressed appropriately and their program of songs were of a variety including tempo, genre and dynamic changes. This I felt held the audience's interest and attention. This was a program of music set for all ages and genders.

The county spin of the first two songs were refreshing. I have not heard any groups do this well, but they did an excellant job. Many of the other groups were also very good. In fact, the Florida ladies I felt were slighted and they had an awesome soloist.

Again, it was VERY evident that MTV ran the show. It seemed that some of the acapella protocols were magically put aside for MTV. The real losers of this is the ICCA with many groups, parents and educators, myself included, re-thinking their association with this event.

I think the rest of the participating groups should be very proud of who they are and the perfomance that they gave. Please continue to hold true to the 'real' acapella standards and values!

Anonymous said...

dear music ed:

we are sorry to hear that you don't like jumpsuits. we also wish to express our sympathy and pity to your inability to let yourself enjoy an unconventional performance. most importantly, we humbly request that the next time you're going to insult Varsity Vocals' integrity, please read Amy Malkoff and Sara Yood's comments regarding mtv's effect on the outcome.

The Audience, Lincoln Center April 18th, 2009

p.s. your devotion to the Beartones is justified a hundred times over. but next time, be a little more subtle, your bias is showing.