Michael Odokara-Okigbo’s dream of a pop music career was hanging in the balance for a very long, painful moment Monday night on NBC’s “The Sing-Off.”

One judge had already said Odokara-Okigbo and his a cappella group, the Dartmouth Aires, should go home. Another judge said the group had performed well enough to compete for the grand prize of $200,000 in cash and a Sony Music recording contract during next week’s finale.

So it came down to the final judge, singer Ben Folds, who had earlier criticized the group for pitch problems.

“Well, this sucks,” said Folds, on having to decide which of two groups to send to the finale. “But I had to go with the group that connected with the material most consistently all season. I went with the Dartmouth Aires.”

The tense moment came after the Dartmouth Aires had been one of four groups to perform twice Monday night. When it came time for the judges to vote one of the four groups off, they couldn’t decide.

Instead, the Dartmouth Aires were forced to compete in a sing-off against another group for the final spot in the season finale. They sang Queen’s “Somebody to Love” with Odokara-Okigbo on lead, bringing the studio audience to its feet.

Though the judges saved the Dartmouth Aires on Monday, the home audience will decide which of the three groups will take the grand prize in next week’s finale. The show’s season began in September, with a total of 16 groups.

Now the Dartmouth Aires are in the final three.

Even before the Dartmouth Aires sang on Monday’s show, Odokara-Okigbo was seen on camera talking about the intense pressure on him and his group.

“Getting this record contract would mean the world to me,” Odokara-Okigbo said before his group’s first performance of the night. “There is no room for error. We want to be in the top three so badly.”

For their first song of Monday night’s show, the Dartmouth Aires were required to perform a “master mix” of two songs, and they chose to combine “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones with “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga.

Showing the versatility he’s displayed all season on the show, Odokara-Okigbo sang the lead on “Born This Way” with power and energy. But overall, the performance didn’t impress the judges.

“This one fell off a little bit,” said singer Sara Bareilles, one of the judges. “But you guys have so much love for each other, so much fun, and that shows.”

“It was not my favorite performance of yours,” said judge Shawn Stockman, of the group Boyz II Men.

For their second song of the night, the group was required to sing a “judge’s choice” selection — the college party classic “Shout” by the Isley Brothers. Odokara-Okigbo sang lead on a raucous and frenetic version that drew the loudest crowd applause of the night.

The judges still found problems with the performance – mostly with pitch – but all were impressed with Odokara-Okigbo.

“Michael, Michael, Michael, you perform like you’ve been doing this 35 years,” said Bareilles. “It’s like you were born on this very stage and we’ve come to your home and it’s your birthday.”

“Michael, you are a frickin’ superstar,” said Stockman.

Odokara-Okigbo, a graduate of Waynflete School in Portland and a former member of the Boy Singers of Maine, is currently a senior at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

He said earlier this fall that being on “The Sing-Off” convinced him he had a passion for music and needed to pursue it as a career, win or lose.

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: rrouthier@pressherald.com