(l to r) Sean Stockman, Jewel and Ben Folds (Source: NBC)
(l to r) Sean Stockman, Jewel and Ben Folds (Source: NBC)

The Sing-Off: Premeires December 9th at 9:00 pm on NBC

Since we last saw The Sing-Off: A little over two years has passed between seasons of The Sing-Off, as NBC benched the show for the 2012-13 season in favor of trying to capitalize on breakout show The Voice‘s success, eating The Sing-Off’s fall spot in the rotation to run two seasons a year. This year, NBC brings the show back in it’s original holiday spot running seven episodes over two weeks.

Personally, I was surprised at the benching. The Sing-Off had just stumbled upon the sort of act that seemed incredibly fresh in it’s season three champions: Pentatonix. The five piece outlet had week-in and week-out consistently broken new ground for the a-capella genre with their original and often transcendent takes on classic songs. This has led to multiple successful concert tours, appearances across the dial (they just appeared on Ellen a few weeks ago), and an incredibly strong presence on YouTube garnering thousands of hits with every new video they released.

We also see many of the older faces return, including host Nick Lachey and judges Ben Folds and Sean Stockman. For the third straight season, however, we will see a new judge in the center seat as Jewel replaces Sara Bareilles on the panel.

One area that does however seem much different from two years ago is the landscape for competition shows. With the exception of The Voice, the competition show is starting to die off across the board, with even venerable juggernauts such as Dancing with the Stars and American Idol starting to feel the pain of cutbacks this year. I think the Sing-Off will need to pull some surprisingly strong ratings if it wants to see a fifth season, although the cut back to seven episodes should help the show maintain the high level of competition necessary for the show to succeed.

What I’m Looking Forward To: We’ve had two years of post-Pentatonix simmering. It should be interesting to see what direction this years groups take, as both PTX and Urban Method got as far as they did on ambition as much as execution. The smaller field should also theoretically mean a stronger field, which is essential because The Sing-Off is always a better show when every group is slaying it out there (as opposed to say American Idol, where half the fun is in watching people crash and burn their way through auditions. When you add in the fact the show should get a Voice bump, this is the best chance the show has ever had to vindicate itself in the eyes of viewers.

What Worries Me: Part of what made The Sing-Off work so well was that it knew what it was, and that was that it was the competition show worth watching if you actually were into music (I’m pretty sure every PTX live audience would make for a killer choir group). While part of that was the high caliber of the contestants (they routinely pulled from the best of college with some small time groups as well), a lot of it also came from Bareilles being the perfect mix for the middle seat, bringing not only enthusiasm, but some pointed criticism as need be. Jewel takes over for Bareilles, and until we what she brings to the judges’ table, I’ll fear the Nicole Scherzinger level worst. The other thing that worries me is that we had an insanely strong talent pool for season three (the super group composed of the best of seasons 1 and 2 finished sixth), so obviously a weaker pool will be pretty disappointing.