It’s starting to be a bit routine but Pentatonix has again scored a buzzworthy achievement with their collaboration with American Idol Season 9 semifinalist (and long-time friend–remember the he and the core trio go back a long while before they formed the group) Todrick Hall, a six-minute tribute and condensation of the 1939 Judy Garland classic The Wizard of Oz. Though it includes the Oscar-winning chestnut “Over the Rainbow”, the rest is a pastiche of modern pop songs (though “Lollipop” used for the Munchkins sequence is a 1958 oldie from the Chordettes) that are loosely linked to the plot of the film, or adapted to suit it. It has the female member of the group, Kirstie Maldonado, at the forefront–not only did she play the lead role of Dorothy, but she also played Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West. Needless to say, she delivered the goods in all three roles, though I quibble that Glinda the Good Witch is not given material to actually sing–Liam Kyle Sullivan as Kelly’s “Shoes” and 20 Fingers “Short Short Man”featuring Gillette only requires her to “talk-sing”.
I also quibble that I hoped Todrick added a tornado special effect or at least a wind machine for the Kansas sequence (set to Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” and Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake”), but I suppose that is beyond their budget, but otherwise it was a visual treat and viewers would be amazed how they almost mimicked the original (though of course, Todrick’s Wizard is a bit more glammed up than the original). Besides the songs Kirstie sang, three of the other members delivered great highlights: Scott Hoying as the Scarecrow covered Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You”, Mitch Grassi as the Tin Man covered Danity Kane’s “Damaged” (though I heard of this girl group, I never actually listened to their songs, and Mitch’s version made me discover and enjoy this catchy tune for the first time–and made me also recall pre-douchebag-era Chris Brown’s smash hit “Forever” and felt that the two songs could make a great mash-up), and Avi Kaplan as the Cowardly Lion gave a comic bass twist to Miley Cyrus’ “Can’t Be Tamed”. But the best part is the finale, a mash-up of songs with “Home”in its title, starting with Kirstie as Dorothy singing Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home”, then three songs with the word as its one-word title, starting with Todrick singing Daughtry’s song, followed by Scott and Mitch singing Phillip Phillips’song, and lastly Avi (in his higher register) singing Michael Bublé’s song before Kirstie reprised her tune and Scott ended with a snippet of “Over the Rainbow”. Kevin Olusola may not have any solo (he plays Dorothy’s dog Toto), but as usual his awesome beatboxing skills provided a bedrock foundation for all those songs to soar, and the group’s harmonies (which some detractors claimed is auto-tuned–in my opinion, yes, there might have been some effects, but I think they can deliver those harmonies well live) are stunning. It was a feast of sight and sound.
I reflected a bit over the past few months about Kirstie Maldonado’s role in the group. Though she’s an undeniably talented vocalist, I initially thought she doesn’t carry as much weight musically as her other group members. But then, I reflected on the way she delivers her lyrics during her solos and the fact that she has a theatre background and it dawned on me that Kirstie actually has something special and important to contribute to her group, that her presence is just as important and essential as the other members. I believe Kirstie’s theatrical background made her approach song lyrics the way an actor approaches a role, and the effect is that when she sings her lines, she doesn’t simply sing the lyrics but it sounded as if she actually lived those lines, and that made the entire performance believable. And that quality is actually essential for most pop singers to truly connect to an audience–it’s that quality that helped limited singers like Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Madonna sustain major careers, and singers with obvious virtuosity like Adele, Aretha Franklin, and Barbra Streisand move their listeners with intense feelings. This believability is of course well-demonstrated in the above video, but let me highlight where this important quality was also demonstrated.
1) The Sing-Off Mashup Medley (“Bittersweet Symphony” – the Verve / “Hollaback Girl” – Gwen Stefani / “Baba O’Riley”- the Who / “Last Friday Night” – Katy Perry). Check Kirstie’s lead singing the opening lines of Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night”; doesn’t it sound like she probably had a bender herself one time or another?
2) “Somebody that I Used to Know” – originally by Gotye featuring Kimbra. Listen to how Kirstie phrased the “screwed me over” lyric and how intense she sounded when she sang out the title. That delivery provided such emotional power that in my opinion made it such a major improvement over the original.
3) “Thrift Shop”- originally by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz. Well, as a palate cleanser, here is Kirstie in her comic best rapping rapidly and sassily and squeakily yelping “POPPING TAGS!!!”
4) “Evolution of Music.” Listening to her solo to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” makes me wonder if she actually did some “experimentation”.
Some posters recommend that Kirstie should branch out to Broadway. I think she is definitely ready for it as she has the right skill sets for it and can definitely shine in that milieu.
As a closing note, a dance super-group featuring So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew alumni Philip Chbeeb and Hok Konishi (both just missed top 10 in the former and won in the latter with separate crews in separate seasons) just posted a video dancing to the group’s “Evolution of Music”. Though they skipped a few of the snippets of that epic medley, it’s a treat to behold. Check it out: