Photo by Lewis Jacobs/NBC
The tension is rising on NBC's The Sing-Off. Last week the finalists were narrowed down from four to three. Dartmouth Aires, Pentatonix and Urban Method remain for next week's finale, leaving Afro-Blue the odd group out. We spoke with Afro-Blue's Danielle Withers about the their background, their time on the show and the lessons they learned from The Sing-Off.
Afro-Blue is made up of ten students from Howard University in Washington, D.C. They each auditioned to take part in a jazz vocal class. Danielle said that there are such groups at the University, but Afro-Blue is considered to be the premiere act. The line-up seen on The Sing-Off is made up of former and current students from the class.
When asked to describe their style, Danielle professed, "I would describe Afro-Blue as a straight ahead jazz group. That basically means that we stay true to the original form of jazz music like swing and big band, but we as individuals are influenced by genres of music outside of the jazz idiom. So we take our influences from other genres and pair it with our love and knowledge of jazz music and that's really what you get with Afro-Blue."
And this influence is very wide-ranging. Danielle cited Michael Jackson, Michael MacDonald, Ella Fitzgerald and Karen Carpenter as some of her personal favorites. The latter may explain Afro-Blue's choice of swan song for their final performance on the show. After being eliminated they left the stage singing "We've Only Just Begun." Danielle stated, "That is definitely one of my favorite Carpenters songs. I feel like a swan song doesn't necessarily have to be a sad song, it can be a happy song. I truly believe that Afro-Blue has really only just begun to be the group that we're going to be. The doors that have opened for us after having been a part of the show, even in being a part of the show, who knows where we'll go from here. We really feel it's just the beginning."
While they have no definite plans for the future, Afro-Blue is sure to find success when they get there. All of the judges — Shawn Stockman, Ben Folds and Sarah Bareilles — praised the group for the strides they had made while on the show. Danielle agreed with their assessment, "We definitely grew in many ways."
She pointed out, "We are jazz musicians. That's what we do. We sing jazz music. We have a few songs in our repertoire that are funk based, but for the most part we sing jazz. So we discovered that we can take a popular song from the radio and infuse the jazz that is Afro-Blue into it and keep it really cool. And also keep it true to who we are as a group."
She continued that they also learned about themselves as performers. She admitted, "We're not a group that dances. We don’t dance at all. We kind of stand there and bob our heads, maybe snap, maybe sway a little bit, but we don’t use an entire a stage in the way that we learned to on The Sing-Off. Now we learned there are so many more dimensions to our performances that we didn’t know were there."
Finally the singer said a third lesson was about the fine art of chilling out. "We learned that arranging doesn’t always have to be a really intense process. We can be cool and relax a little bit. Sometimes we did feel the pressure… Every time we didn’t take the time to sit back and enjoy the arranging in an effort to make ourselves relevant in the competition."
While they didn't make it to the finale Danielle says there are no regrets. "We saw it a little differently… We were really, really happy to have made it that far mostly doing what it is that we do outside of The Sing-Off, which is sing jazz. So we were really happy to have been given the opportunity to do what we do on a nationally televised TV show."
Danielle would not go out on a limb to predict who she thought would win tonight. She declared, "All three groups in the finale are great for different reasons." To her, "The Dartmouth Aires are amazing performers… I'm a huge musical theater fan, and every time I watch them I feel like I'm watching a show from some of my favorite Broadway plays."
She said, "With Urban Method, if you really listen to their arrangements it's really, really cool what they do. I could hear it on a record. I could hear the backgrounds and the different things that they’re doing and you can actually hear the effects and things on a record."
Finally for Pentatonix she stated, "They are so, so, so, so cool and so ahead of their time and I feel the greatest musicians and artists of all time are musicians and artists that were ahead of their time. So that's what I love the most about the Pentatonix."
Tune in tonight to see who wins The Sing-Off at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. Central on NBC.
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