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9/20-21: NBC's 'Sing-Off' winner Pentatonix in Phoenix

A cappella champs bring trendy sound to Valley

by Kevin Downey - Sept. 18, 2012 03:27 PM.

A year ago, the five singers in Pentatonix were college kids scattered around the country, dreaming of the big time on the NBC a cappella singing competition "The Sing-Off."

These days, Pentatonix is on a tour that includes sold-out shows in New York City, Los Angeles and a two-night gig at the 900-seat La Sala Ballroom at ASU West. A second show was added for Thursday after the Friday show sold out.

"It's going to be a whole lot of fun," Pentatonix beat-boxer Kevin Olusola said. "We'll perform songs from 'The Sing-Off,' our YouTube videos and some new songs that people have not heard before. On tour, we're debuting new music. We love to have fun. We dance around and crack jokes, too."

Pentatonix's star first started rising on "The Sing-Off," hosted by reality star and former boy-band singer Nick Lachey. There are three judges: Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles and Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman. On the show's third-season finale Nov. 28, Pentatonix won the competition and received a Sony Music recording contract and $200,000.

A few weeks before that, Pentatonix didn't even exist. Last summer, one-time a cappella singer Scott Hoying heard about "The Sing-Off." He called friends Kirstin Maldonado and Mitch Grassi, whom he sang with in high school in Arlington, Texas. They formed a group so they could audition for the show.

Meantime, two other performers, Olusola and bass-singer Avi Kaplan, were off doing their own things when Hoying contacted them about joining Pentatonix. That was only days before the group's "Sing-Off" audition.

Olusola had been making a name for himself on YouTube as the cello-boxer -- a cellist who adds hip-hop beats by making beat-box noises. More than 450,000 people have viewed his YouTube video performing Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal."

"The guys in Pentatonix heard it and thought that's what the group needed," he said. "Beat boxing fills out the sound and makes it more musical."

Olusola had performed with an a cappella group in high school. He stopped performing while attending Yale University, where he took up Eastern studies that included an 18-month fellowship in China.

Once the group came together, Pentatonix quickly established itself as a top-tier group on "The Sing-Off." One of the group's most popular songs is a remake of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know." Their YouTube video of that song has been viewed nearly 8 million times.

On June 26, Pentatonix released the EP "PTX Volume 1," which hit No. 14 on the Billboard Top 200.

The group has been performing around the world, including on a TV show in China.

Their upcoming ASU West performance is part of the school's initiative to become more of a cultural center for students and its northwest Phoenix and Glendale neighborhood. ASU West now has 400 students living on campus, up from fewer than 200 in recent years.

"We wanted to heighten our profile as a campus that's presenting artistic and cultural events," said Jeff Kennedy, associate clinical professor at ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Science and the campus' artistic director. "This is an event that our students will love. For our surrounding community, it gives them a reason to come onto the campus. It underscores that we are now doing big events like this."

Kennedy said he started watching "The Sing-Off" last fall.

"There was no question early on that Pentatonix was incredibly special," he said. "I just thought, 'Wow, these kids are the real deal.' They translate pop and hip-hop into a cappella in the most incredible way."