A new judge isn't the only big change coming to The Sing-Off this fall.
With NBC's decision to make the third season of The Sing-Offa weekly competition, kicking off Sept. 19 at 8/7c, it meant the show would more than double the number of episodes it produced. As a result, 16 groups will now compete (up from 10 last season) over 11 episodes (up from the five that aired over the course of one week).
Speaking to reporters Monday during NBC's fall TV previews, series executive producer Joel Gallen said groups will also be asked to sing in a number of new genres including rock, country, hip-hop, in addition to "the usual guilty pleasures and big hits."
The expanded season will also include more of the contestant's personal stories. "You're really going to know these groups and get invested in them," Gallen said.
New judge Sara Bareilles, who joins Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman this season, replacing Nicole Scherzinger, says she's an "a capella nerd" and described her judging style as "really honest and really fair." Bareilles is a three-time Grammy-nominated singer and appeared on last year's Sing-Off finale.
"We try to be kind as well," she said of the judges. "We've all received criticism over the years and you get the most from someone who takes into consideration that you're vulnerable."
Asked why The Sing-Off has managed to perform well among TV's glut of music competitions, Folds said the show doesn't measure star potential so much as a group's ability to sing together.
When a group a capella number works, it "doesn't mean they're all the greatest singers," Folds explained. "It's about working successfully together... when it happens, it's transcendent."
In terms of judging criteria, Stockman added: "You can be technically sound with a capella music... but with music, period, it has to have soul." (Proof was provided right before the show's panel begun when last season's winner, Committed, kicked things off with an a capella rendition of Maroon 5's "This Love.")
One thing that won't change this season: The shows will remain pre-taped. Production began two weeks ago, and panelists said they can only hope the results remain under wraps. "People are on the honor system," he said, adding that the show has to shoot this early because many of the contestants are college students who need to go back to school in September. "End of summer seems to be a good time for people to take time off from their everyday lives." The audience also signs non-disclosure agreements. "It's definitely a little bit risky, but the benefits outweigh the risk," Gallen said.
Said Folds: "Ten thousand people knew about the Manhattan Project and they kept it quiet."