The only a capella competition on television makes a return.

The Voice has some wonderful judges, but no one compares with the professor, Ben Folds. I’m super excited for him to school us with his knowledge of music. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Jewel, but she makes fun of her snaggletooth, and I’m in love.

Fun. Medley

Trying really hard to retain the viewing audience of The Voice, the show kicks off right away with this performance with all the groups, introducing them one by one. Well, if that doesn’t get you excited for the season, I don’t know what will — it definitely isn’t that opening song for the show that they haven’t changed.

Vocal Rush (“Bottom of the River”)

From Oakland, California, this group is the youngest group in the competition — all in high school. There are 12 of them! Do high school students really sound like this?! I like how they don’t use their voices as instruments but also incorporate their feet and hands for sound — step routine, anyone? The lead vocalist is strong. But it sounds like there are so many of them. I mean, there are 12, so that’s to be expected.

Ben comments on the soulfulness and focus of the group. Not even 10 seconds into his comments, he throws us a technical term. Jewel notes about youthful anger, and I think that’s rather observant. 

Home Free (“Cruise”)

These five guys from Minneapolis are the only country group, and they’re already touring with 250 shows a year. So they’re rather experienced. And they sound it, too. Because there are five, I like how I can differentiate between the parts. They just sound clear and tight. And that bass? That’s Pentatonix-esque.

Ben says he felt the bass in his butt. Shawn compares country with rap and says they can go a long way.

Princeton Footnotes (“I Knew You Were Trouble”)

College groups are just the best, and we get our first of the night, founded in 1959. They want to assure us they’re not a stuffy Ivy League group. They don’t fit in any mold. They sort of remind me of season 3 runner-up Dartmouth Aires minus the incredible soloist. They sound rather bottom-heavy. It’s fun, but not my favorite. They do have a lot of charisma, so that’s nice.

Shawn compliments on the tenor and baritones (yeah, because they were hard to miss!) but wishes the leads were more loose. Ben says the harmonies came apart sometimes but says the lyrical changes (that mentioned Ben) were great. 

Calle Sol (“Pon de Replay”)

There’s always some island flavor, and it looks like this season, it’s this six-piece from Puerto Rico. The women are also dancers, so they’re really into the choreography. If they’re going to dance, they need be more on-point and less sloppy. They incorporate a dance break. I feel like I’m at a club, and I can hear this version blaring from the speakers.

Ben says it was a unique, which can be good and bad. But their sound wasn’t as full as it could be. Shawn also says there were highs and lows but that their issue is in the middle.

Streetcorner Renaissance (“What Makes You Beautiful”)

From Los Angeles, they actually sing on street corners. They’re also the the oldest group, and they’ve all had careers in things other than singing. I do love these older groups because they have such a great story. One dude is hilarious in saying how they won’t be able to beatbox like the younger groups. It’s okay, a capella isn’t about that. Shawn commented to Calle Sol that with a capella, you can take a song and do it completely different just because it’s a capella — this performance is the perfect example. One Direction certainly can’t harmonize the way these vets can.

Shawn wants children to take note and notes their texture of doo-wop that will never get old. Jewel explains that doo-wop songs did so well back in the day because of the hook and the catchy melody, and this song allowed them to showcase that.

The Bottom 2, Part 1

So now, the judges choose one group that might get eliminated to head into the Ultimate Sing-Off, going head to head against another group in the second half of the show. The judges select the Princeton Footnotes — wow, I thought they would go with Calle Sol, but they pick the group with the certain style, hoping they can continue to improve.

Ten (“Tell Me Something Good”)

From Dallas, this group of background singers with a gospel foundation were thrown together because the show was coming back. And it’s the first time they’ll have ever performed together. I don’t know whether I like that — but they definitely don’t seem like a group that’s been hastily formed. There’s this great rhythm in their beats that makes me bob my head, and it’s not just the song but what they’re doing to it. The lead singer is the best we’ve heard so far in the competition.

Ben calls it amazing and wanted more of the story — at least I think that’s what he’s saying. Shawn, however, says the cohesiveness could’ve been tighter.

Element (“Burn”)

From New York, this is an all-female group, and they feel they have something to prove because of it. I don’t know why there are two leads singing together, I would’ve much rather have listened to one of them. It kind of starts off unexciting, but then it picks up when it hits the chorus.

Going against what I said, Jewel says she loved the opening chorus. She tells them to build their intensity rather than just singing loud. Shawn talks about building their sound as well.

Voice Play (“Feel This Moment”)

From Orlando, this six-member group has all men — and one woman. And they work at Disney World. It’s their job to sing, and they also do it after work. I can’t get over how one guy looks like an older Christopher Mintz-Plasse. I’m not digging the female singer’s voice. It stands out like a sore thumb and doesn’t blend with the guys. I’m definitely getting some Pentatonix inspiration when they do the breakdown.

Shawn says how the first part of the performance wasn’t interesting, but it picked up. Jewel says the female vocalist has style and character, not sounding like anyone else. Well, that’s true.

The Filharmonic (“Treasure”)

This is a Filipino boy band from Los Angeles, heavily influenced by ’90s music but in their own style. But they don’t perform a ’90s song — darn. I like their sound, but they press on the accelerator from the start and don’t let go until the end, but I guess it’s the song? It’s just too much for the duration. They definitely don’t understand the meaning of less is more. They’re fun to watch.

Ben says they erupted with energy, but notes how they rushed through the beat at times. Shawn notes how Boyz II Men were smooth and they weren’t — and I think that was a compliment.

acoUstiKats (“Blurred Lines”)

This college group is from the University of Kentucky and they seem way more fun than the dudes of Princeton. They’re geekily adorable with their bow ties. Okay, they’re definitely more along the lines of the Dartmouth Aires than the Footnotes. The Aires could’ve easily won any season, but they were matched up against a heavy-hitter. These Kats could be the first college group to win. They are hilarious and crazy, and they manage to sound good, too. 

Shawn gives them the first standing ovation! Ben calls it responsible fun, but notes they rushed when it got fun.

The Bottom 2, Part 2

The judges put Voice Play in the hot seat, going up against the Princeton Footnotes, performing the same song. I agree with the choice.

Ultimate Sing-Off: “Bye, Bye, Bye”

I like this setup, trading parts of the song, but it’s also hard to judge that way because I can’t focus. I like Voice Play a lot more here than they did before. Ben even comments that they wouldn’t be in this position if they showed what they did in the ultimate sing-off.

The judges save Voice Play, eliminating the Princeton Footnotes.

On Wednesday at 8pm on NBC, the groups will take on party anthems.

(Image courtesy of NBC)

Esther Gim

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV