The Sing Off

Last year, Puerto Rican a cappella group Nota's take on the Jay Sean hit "Down" helped them shoot to the top on The Sing-Off, winning $100,000 and a Sony recording contract. A year later, a cappella music is again in focus thanks to Glee's recent best-selling single "Teenage Dream" (which coincidentally features former Sing-Off competitors, the Beelzebubs) and the return of The Sing-Off. TVGuide.com talked with the talent behind NBC's reality competition series at a recent Paley Center for Media event to discuss what's in store for Season 2.

1. The Competition is Bigger
After the season's success, twice as many groups auditioned this year. To make room, the series will now feature 10 competing groups instead of eight. "There was so much talent in the second season and we wanted to try and cover it as much as we could," host Nick Lachey tells TVGuide.com. "We also expanded from four to five episodes, so that opened it up for more talent to be included in the competition." There's also more diversity in the performers' styles and ages. Groups range from high school music students to music teachers. "A cappella really does span all ages and it's nice to see that represented in our show," Lachey says.

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2. The Competition is Better
Because of the greater number and wider diversity of the groups, the race to the finish line is fierce. "Last year was great, this year is better," judge Shawn Stockman says. "The acts that are on this show are serious. You can really tell that this is what they do, this is something that they take very seriously and it makes the show that much better. It gives it that much more validity and value." Even the talent performing on the live finale, airing Dec. 20, has gone up a few notches. Look for performances from Sheryl Crow, Sara Bareilles and Neil Diamond, as well as from Lachey and all three judges.

3. Harsher Critiques, Sort Of
The increased talent on stage also means the judges will have to step up their game. "We definitely wanted to let these guys know that this is a serious competition," Stockman says. "This could change your life so you have to take this seriously." However, those in search of the next Simon Cowell will have to look elsewhere. The Sing-Off's judges hope to continue to be insightful without insulting anyone along the way, a trait for which the show was well-known last year. "You don't have to diss somebody on national television to give them constructive criticism," he says.

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4. More Group Numbers
In the spirit of the show's friendly competition, this season will see all the remaining groups perform together at the top of every show. Executive producer Joel Gallen cites Glee, which features large group numbers, as part of the reason for the addition.

5. No Auto-Tune Allowed
While there might be a little more flash because of the choreographed group numbers, it's still very much about the music. Just like last year, there are no back-up singers, music accompaniment or auto-tune machines to assist the contestants. "It brings a certain type of talent and a certain type of energy that you don't even hear on the radio anymore," Stockman says. "It's refreshing to the audience's ears that they can turn on the TV and hear pure singing, and singing that you know is not touched or auto-tuned.  It's just pure talent."

The Sing-Off premieres Monday at 8/7c on NBC.