Aires place second in 'Sing Off'

by Ashley Ulrich | 11/28/11 11:00pm

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Aires singer Michael Odokara-Okigbo '12 was featured prominently in the group's performances during
by Maggie Rowland and Maggie Rowland / The Dartmouth

The Aires exited the stage after sharing handshakes and hugs with the winners, looking dressed for the occasion in navy suits. The Aires performed a handful of songs during the live two-hour finale, including a rendition of "Not the Same" by celebrity judge and singer-songwriter Ben Folds, accompanied by Folds himself. Throughout the suspenseful and high-energy program, the Dartmouth crowd erupted into cheers after every Aires performance but groaned each time Lachey said "When we come back" as the show switched to commercial break.

"The Sing-Off" winner was determined by audience votes in the week leading up to the finale. Voting began after the conclusion of the Nov. 21 show, and ended at 9 a.m. on Nov. 27. The final tally of votes for each group was not released on-air, although Lachey said more than three million votes were cast.

The Aires were chosen as one of three groups to compete in the finale following last week's performance of "Shout" by the Isley Bothers and a mash-up performance of "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga and "Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones, receiving input from celebrity judges Folds, Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.

Pentatonix will receive a $200,000 cash prize, a recording contract from Sony Records and the title of "Sing-Off Champion."

Students at the viewing party cheered and clapped for the Aires each time the group appeared on screen, but in the end, many students interviewed by The Dartmouth said they were not too surprised or saddened by the second-place finish.

"Obviously I wanted the Aires to win, but it's also understandable," Elizabeth Treacy '15 said. "Pentatonix was really good, and they have a huge YouTube following online."

The winner of "The Sing-Off" competition had been decided before the live finale, and the atmosphere for the episode was celebratory of each group's successes.

The show opened with the top three groups the Aires, Pentatonix and Urban Method joining together to sing "The Way You Make Me Feel" by Michael Jackson. Video segments then showed each group visiting different charities, after which each group performed a song dedicated to its chosen charity. The prime-time program concluded with a female-only and a male-only performance given by representatives from the top 10 groups. The 30 female singers sang "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin, and the 70 male singers sang "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen.

Ending a hushed wait in Collis Common Ground, Lachey announced Pentantonix was declared the winner, although Lachey said the Aires represented "the best of college a cappella."

"Thousands of singers across America auditioned for this show," Lachey said. "Week after week, Pentatonix and the Aires rose above the rest."

With 15 singers competing, The Aires were sometimes out of tune, judges said in previous weeks. The three judges noted, however, that the Aires' energy never failed to entertain the crowd.

"You guys hits a sweet spot with your big sound, your theatricality," Barielles said. "You keep it focused, even with all that energy. I want to see you all on Broadway. Like tomorrow."

Folds also lauded the Aires for their accomplishments.

"There are hundreds of university a cappella guys out there," Folds said. "You stand out. You are focused. You have a niche. You have an unmistakable lead in [Michael Odokara-Okigbo '12]. I think you guys are great."

The Aires flew out Los Angeles on Nov. 19 to rehearse for a week before the finale. Aires musical director Nic Chuaqui '12 said the group's schedule in Los Angeles was "a lot of work."

"We have been rehearsing all day, every day, starting around eight in the morning and ending after dinner," Chuaqui said in an email to The Dartmouth. "We're doing our best to keep up with our schoolwork, and everybody has been really focused."

Although the Aires received negative comments from the judges for being out of tune in their mash-up of "Born This Way" and "Sympathy for the Devil" in the Nov. 21 episode, the group focused its attention on its strengths leading into the finale, Chuaqui said.

"I think we have discovered our major strengths as a group," Chuaqui said. "We are really going to try to connect with the audience constantly, and make our arrangements musically interesting and fun."

In a video clip aired before the announcement of the show's winner, the Aires reflected on their time on "The Sing-Off."

"The Dartmouth Aires are just a group of dudes up in the woods in Hanover, N.H.," Odokara-Okigbo said. "Being on The Sing-Off' stage for the first time was amazing."

Fellow Aires member Danny Freeman '13 was emotional during his portion of the video segment, recalling how singers were "terrified" when they first began performing for the show.

"This is the dream of the amateur singer, to perform on this show," Freeman said.

Chuaqui said his experience on "The Sing-Off" has motivated him to pursue music as a career.

"I learned through being the Aires' director on this show that I love music because of its communicative power, and I am very glad that I had that realization," Chuaqui said. "This experience brought us together in a way that never could have happened otherwise, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this with my best friends."

College President Jim Yong Kim sent a campus-wide emailed to the College community on Nov. 22 to encourage everyone to vote for the Aires. Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson sent a similar email on Nov. 26.

"[The Aires] have excelled in their art and are representing Dartmouth on a national stage," Kim said in the email. "This is an opportunity for the Dartmouth community to demonstrate support for the talent, persistence and determination of these students."

The Aires auditioned for "The Sing-Off" last spring, and were later contacted by representatives from NBC asking them to compete on the show. The group traveled to Los Angeles over the summer to film the first 10 episodes of "The Sing-Off."

"The Sing-Off" began with 16 a cappella groups from around the country, with groups ranging from five to 15 members. "The Sing-Off" has averaged 4.67 million viewers a week, according to the Nielsen Company, a global marketing and research company.

The final episode of "The Sing-Off" a Christmas special featuring holiday music performed by groups from all three of the show's seasons and special guest Flo Rida will air on Dec. 5, according to the NBC website.