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Portland native steals the show on ‘The Sing-Off’

Posted Nov. 06, 2011, at 2:02 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 07, 2011, at 11:21 a.m.
Michael Odokara-Okigbo
Courtesy photo
Michael Odokara-Okigbo

Millions of people have tuned in each night to watch “The Sing-Off”, the NBC a cappella singing competition show, and a lot of people loved the Dartmouth Aires’ recent medley of Queen songs. But Mainers may not know that the Aires singer who had the captivating, theatrical, soulful solo during “Somebody to Love” is a native of Portland, who stole the show that day.

Michael Odokara-Okigbo, a 2008 graduate of the Waynflete School in Portland who’s currently a history major at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, wowed both the audience and the judges panel, which is comprised of singer-songwriters Ben Folds and Sara Bareilles and Boyz II Men vocalist Shawn Stockman. His performance was so good it prompted Bareilles to single Odokara-Okigbo out.

“That was my favorite performance of this entire competition up to this point,” said Bareilles. “Michael, you are a superstar.”

Odokara-Okigbo has been singing since he was a kid — as he said, his mother raised him on Freddie Mercury — and at Waynflete he sang in the school choir and in the all boys and coed a cappella groups. He was also in the Boy Singers of Maine. At Dartmouth, he quickly joined the Aires, a longstanding a cappella group at the school. Earlier this year, the group decided to audition for season three of “The Sing-Off,” the winner of which gets a grand prize of $200,000 and a Sony recording contact. The winner will be announced on Nov. 28.

For the Monday, Nov. 7, show, the remaining six groups were set to sing their hearts out in a night of “Rocking Out and Goin’ Country.” Each was scheduled to perform a rock classic and a country hit to determine who would be leaving the competition this week. The results of that show weren’t available at press time.

“The Aires auditioned in Boston in the spring, and found out that we were on the show in June,” said Odokara-Okigbo. “The show has been such an incredible experience, and I am really happy to share it with my best friends in the entire world.”

The Queen medley was obviously a highlight for Odokara-Okigbo, but he also loved the first episode of this season, in which the Aires sang Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Other songs the Aires have performed include “Animal” by Neon Trees, “Pinball Wizard” by The Who, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield and “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida and David Guetta. Though Odokara-Okigbo is studying history at Dartmouth, he wants to try his hand at a career in music.

“I plan on going into the music industry after graduation,” he said.

The next episode of the show is set to air at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, and so far, 10 of the 16 groups have been eliminated, leaving only the Aires, Afro-blue out of Washington D.C., Delilah from Los Angeles, Pentatonix from Texas, Urban Method from Colorado and Vocal Point from Utah. In the meantime, Sony has released a holiday album from the cast of “The Sing-Off,” on which the Aires sing “Up on the Housetop.”

Despite the competition, Odokara-Okigbo’s favorite part of the show is meeting fellow musicians and making new friends.

“My favorite moments on the show have been interacting with the other groups,” he said. “We are all so close as a cast, and it was a lot of fun to just relax and sing as a collective unit.”

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