Back to Pentatonix
Winners of NBC show ‘The Sing-Off’ construct radio-friendly songs with only their voices

September 7, 2012

By Beth Ann Downey - Staff Writer

When the members of pop a capella group Pentatonix were on the NBC reality show "The Sing-Off," they were unsure each week that they'd even make it to the next round.

But not only did the group go on to win the show in its final season in 2011, Pentatonix has gone on to release a Billboard Top 200 album and sell out venues in major cities for their live performances.

The hype for the group has proven to be no different locally, as Pentatonix will take the stage at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the State Theatre in State College to an almost sold-out crowd.

Mitch Grassi, 19, one of the founding members of Pentatonix, said being on "The Sing-Off" taught the young performers about hard work and resilience, and was very beneficial to their careers.

"It was fun, and it was a ton of hard work," Grassi said. "It taught us diligence, responsibility and, most of all, to be modest about everything. I think it's a tragedy that the show was canceled because I really do think that 'The Sing-Off' was one of the few, if not the only show on television, that showcased true talent."

Unlike other singing competition shows like "American Idol" and "The Voice," "The Sing-Off" featured all a capella artists. It was hosted by Nick Lachey, formerly of 98 Degrees, and judged by Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men, Ben Folds and Sara Bareilles.

Pentatonix originally formed while Grassi and other founding members Kirstie Maldonado and Scott Hoying were still in high school. They performed locally and made a well-received YouTube video as a trio covering Lady Gaga's "Telephone." Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola were added to fulfill the requirements for trying out for "The Sing-Off," and they all met less than 24 hours before their audition.

Grassi said the group has always had a "pop sound," but the diverse musical backgrounds of each of the five members was what helped Pentatonix win the competition.

"I think that really helps because it's a melting pot of different genres," he said. "It's a collaborative effort, and because of that, we created our own unique sound that I don't think anyone has really ever heard before."

A mixture of cover songs like Nicki Minaj's "Starships" and "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye, along with original tunes are featured on Pentatonix's debut EP, "PTX 1," which was released in June. It peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, and became the highest charting record ever released by indie label Madison Gate Records.

"That's definitely one of our goals, to break through the a capella barrier and become a pop group," Grassi said. "I think we've made some pretty great strides in doing so. We're excited and we hope to go even further."

Richard Biever, executive director of the State Theatre, said there has always been a general love of a cappela music dating back to doo wop and the barbershop quartet. But the talent and makeup of Pentatonix has brought the music to a whole new audience, he added.

"They somehow have become hip," Biever said.

Pentatonix has been able to connect with music lovers in their teens and early 20s, Biever said, adding he expects to see most of the "virtually sold-out" crowd on Tuesday night to be from that age group.

"My daughter is 15, almost 16, and when I told her they were coming, her jaw dropped, there was a big intake of breath and she said, 'You're kidding,'" Biever said. "They are really talented, and they have managed to create arrangements with their songs that really hit where those in their teens and early 20s live."

Pentatonix are known for adding reggae and dubstep breakdowns into popular songs to make them their own, Grassi said. The group has also tried its hand at writing original music - a process made easier by the fact that all members have been involved in music their whole lives, Grassi said.

"But it was really difficult at the beginning because we had really no idea what to do or how to start," Grassi said. "We knocked out the covers on the EP, and then we were like 'OK, what do we do now?'"

The group figured it out, just as they did when deciding what type of show to give to sold-out crowds like the one they will perform for on Tuesday. Grassi said Pentatonix tries to provide "more than just an appearance" by doing choreography from the show, switching up some of their classic songs and really showing their personalities on stage.

"The live shows are actually my favorite part of my career," Grassi said. "I've always loved the sound of the crowd and I love the reception the audience gives us. ... We like to make sure that people know that we aren't just boring a capella nerds."

Because of its raw nature, and the fact that the group performs everything from oldies to current pop songs, Grassi said there's something about all-vocal music that will appeal to people of every age.

"I think it's just a really good time," he said about a Pentatonix performance. "I think people should come to put a smile on their face and just enjoy good music."