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."