New Sing-Off Judge Sara Bareilles Looks To Cee Lo As Her Reality Show Role Model

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When NBC’s a capella singing competition The Sing-Off returns this fall, there will be some changes to the judging panel since the series last aired. With Nicole Scherzinger departing for a spot on Simon Cowell’s X-Factor panel, the Peacock Network made the wise decision that longtime VH1 fave Sara Bareilles was the perfect person to join Ben Folds and Boyz II Men‘s Shawn Stockman on the judging panel. Once we heard the news, we decided to give Sara a ring to congratulate her. We caught up with her by phone this afternoon while she was in Missoula, Montana, preparing for a sold-out show this evening. Sara spoke to us about whether her judging style on The Sing-Off will lean more towards Simon or Paula, her new “old soul/kind of Motown feeling” EP that she’s about to record with Ben Folds in the fall, and what director Jonah Hill brought to the next video she’s going to make for her single, “Gonna Get Over You.” (Hint: It may have a “kind of a ’50s greaser vibe.”)

VH1: When did you first hear that becoming a judge on The Sing-Off might be a possibility, and what was it about the project that appealed to you?

Sara Bareilles: I’ve been a fan of the show since the beginning, so it was really exciting to me to have the opportunity to even be considered as a potential judge. A couple of weeks ago, my manager came to me to gauge my interest in doing it. And I was like, “Oh my God, yes, of course.” Then I had a meeting with the executive producers, who are super sweet, and it felt like I was a really good fit for the show. Because I have a background in a capella, it just felt like a very organic, natural, worlds colliding kind of thing. It’s very exciting.

Did you ever harbor any desire to be on television in any capacity other than as a performer?

It didn’t really cross my mind until this show. This is the only way I would sort of consider it, because I can bring something to the show in terms of a level of expertise with a capella performing. I get a little nervous about being put in the position of having to judge people, but I know from experience that we can always improve in our craft. I really love getting constructive criticism from people I respect when it’s put in a good way. To me, it’s all about how you phrase things and how you deliver your opinions. It’s something that I’m going to have to feel out and test the waters a little bit, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. The best part is that I still get to watch the show, but now I get to watch it closer.

If you were to describe your judging style, would you say you’re more of a Simon or a Paula?

I want to venture into a whole different world. I think it’s important to be supportive, but like I said, people can learn and grow from constructive criticism. I get really annoyed when all I hear a judge say is, “You guys are awesome!” And I’m most definitely not a Simon Cowell; I do agree with what he says sometimes, but there’s definitely a way to deliver that kind of critique in a kinder way.

Okay, so you’re not really a Simon or a Paula, we can understand that. Who do you look to as an example of a reality television judge that you would like to emulate?

I watch The Voice, and I love Cee Lo and Adam Levine‘s style. What I love about Cee Lo, for example, is he’s very specific with his critiquing; he talks about technical things, but he also talks about just being emotionally moved as an audience member, too. I think he rides the line of being an expert in his field, but remembering what it feels like to be an audience member and not always picking every little thing apart.

It’s good to have that kind of background. You can judge somebody differently when you’re someone who’s been on stage, you can understand what someone’s going through in a totally unique way.

It feels like there are more singing competitions on television these days than we can even count. What is it, in your opinion, that is going to set The Sing-Off apart?

One of the things that’s really unique about the show is that, while it’s a competition, it feels like a community. There’s none of that cutthroat, backstabby stuff. These groups come in as units, so they’re used to feeling collaborative, so they’re used to rooting for each other. It’s a really cool way to experience a competition show. It’s not about hating on the other groups or taking away what’s good about them. It’s more of a mutual admiration society. That’s a great way to compete because you can celebrate each other’s victories, and lift each other up, and it’s a great way to learn.

Later this fall, you’re planning on heading into the studio with your friend and fellow Sing-Off judge Ben Folds. What can you tell us about the project that you’re collaborating on?

It’s still a little nebulous at this point. Ben and I have really agreed on making this as organic as possible, we’re talking about even doing just like a four-track to tape, really old school, almost like a live performance kind of EP. The tricky part when you’re recording any type of record, regardless of length, is it’s all about the songs first. I’m still working on getting a group of songs together that feel cohesive. Right now, I’m kind of writing in a lot of different directions, and I’m trying to figure out what is this little snapshot of my career gonna look like. It’s actually almost feeling like it’s going into an old soul, kind of Motown world at this point. That’s obviously subject to change, but I’m a big fan of that genre. I’m thinking about getting some old dudes in the studio [laughs], and pressing record, trying to capture a moment instead of trying to make it perfect.

So, you’ve got Jonah Hill lined up to direct the video for the third single off your excellent Kaleidoscope Heart album, “Gonna Get Over You.” How did that come to fruition?

I’m a big fan of Jonah’s, and I guess, he’s a fan of mine as well. He wanted a foray into music videos, and so this is his first video. And we collaborated on a whole concept, kind of a ’50s greaser vibe. I don’t want to give too much away, but he had a cool twist on that, so I think it’s going to be a really, really fun video to shoot. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but I think the video’s gonna be rad.

Before we let you go, we have to ask you what it was like going on the road with Ximena Sariñana, who is going to be our next You Oughta Know artist here at VH1. How did you two get hooked up?

I was turned onto her through my booking agent. He suggested her as a potential touring mate, and I checked her stuff out and was like, “Oh my god, she’s rad.” And she came out and kicked ass. She’s really cool, she does all of her own programming and comes out and it’s just her solo on stage. She does all of these really sort of complicated drum programming things, and sings her little tiny butt off. She’s just this little pixie, adorable Mexican angel. She’s amazing, everyone should definitely get to know her. She’s hard not to fall in love with, I’m a big supporter of hers.

Look for Sara Bareilles to appear in your living room this fall when The Sing-Off debuts on NBC. Additionally, she’s currently in the midst of a huge United States tour; check out this list of Kaleidoscope Heart tour dates and see if she’s coming to a town near you.

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

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