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Sing On! with Tituss Burgess Makes Karaoke Competitive

Does Netflix's new musical game show hit the right notes?
  • Tituss Burgess hosts Sing On! (Netflix)
    Tituss Burgess hosts Sing On! (Netflix)

    I know what you're thinking: "Another singing competition when we already have American Idol, The Voice, The Masked Singer, Songland, and America's Got Talent?!" And I get it. But what if I told you that someone made a show that combines the vocal contest aspects of those shows with the at-turns collaborative and cutthroat elements of The Weakest Link? Well, someone did, and it's called Sing On.

    Here's how it works: six amateur singers trade off lines on a well-known hit song under the umbrella of the episode's theme — "Movie Night," "Summer Anthems," etc. In place of human judges, the show employs a vocal analyzer of the sort you're familiar with if you've ever played a videogame like SingStar, Karaoke Revolution, or (my personal jam) Lips; the more accurate each singer's performance is, the more money gets added to the jackpot. At the end of each number, host Tituss Burgess tells the most accurate singer they're moving on to the next round, but everyone else is at risk of being voted out by their fellow contestants. Votes are made in the open, with each performer stating whether their strategy is to vote out weak singers to maximize the jackpot in future rounds, or to get rid of strong singers and thus eliminate threats to themselves. Eventually, the field is narrowed to just two singers, with the most accurate singer taking home the jackpot that all of their fallen comrades have helped to build up; the theoretical maximum jackpot is $60,000, but they tend to end up in the low $40K range. As the rounds progress, Burgess pops in to deliver witty asides and sneak in opportunities to sing himself.

    Look, I love watching Burgess, and I particularly love hearing him sing — I think we all do — but is this what we want him to see him doing right now? He's a five-time Emmy nominee for his role as Titus Andromedon in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and just last year he co-starred in Dolemite Is My Name, a Rudy Ray Moore biopic that garnered Oscar buzz. He's also the host of Quibi's Dishmantled, in which cooks attempt to recreate meals with which they have been pretty much shot in the face, and now this. He's fantastic in both (I'm not going to act like Dishmantled hasn't made me laugh... a lot), but I don't see, for example, Burgess's peer Ted Danson alternating his sitcom work with turns hosting a competition where makeup artists try to do up a model's face while swinging from a trapeze, even if Danson would be great at it. I want the best for Burgess and I worry that he may not be getting the best career advice — but then again, maybe he is, and he decided to ignore that advice in favor of spending a few afternoons belting out pop bangers in a series of eye-catching outfits. If that's the case, I can't really blame him...

    ...because Sing On! is a lot of fun. The absence of judges means the viewer is spared a lot of filler and a lot of baloney with regard to said judges' subjective (and, as is often the case on these shows, questionable) taste. It also means the singers aren't trying to play to the judges' preferences with dubious "artistic" decisions; adding flourishes and melisma that weren't on the original recording won't get you anywhere when accuracy is the goal. And while a Paula Abdul could reliably be counted on to add chaos to any episode of American Idol during her long tenure, here the contestants' voting choices supply it: they pretty much never vote out the least accurate singer right away, besides which, someone can just have bad luck on one number and then pull out a good performance on the next if it happens to be a karaoke go-to for them. Then there's the lack of a season arc for the contestants. Unlike on American Idol (or, to a much lesser extent, The Voice), there's no promise of a recording contract if they can keep progressing through — just one episode to win the jackpot. So when a singer hits the particularly challenging "Golden Note" to win a separate $1,000 as a shower of gold cascades behind them, it's really satisfying. They may never be the next Kelly Clarkson, but they could be the Kellie Pickler of their local karaoke bar.

    If you enjoy karaoke and Tituss Burgess, you might find the experience of passively watching Sing On! slightly frustrating. Why haven't the producers also innovated a way to let me — uh, I mean, you — grab a microphone and join in on the fun, especially when I, I mean you, just know you are definitely a more accurate singer than some of the people competing? Such conundrums aside, Sing On! is a fun, silly time, and there's no reason you can't sing along, even if the only vocal analyzer tracking your performance is the one in your heart.

    Sing On! drops its eight-episode first season September 16th on Netflix.

    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Sing On!, Netflix, Tituss Burgess, Reality TV