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February 27, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Award-winning group Pentatonix sings a happy tune on tour
By Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

Covers of songs often fall short. But in the capable hands of the a cappella group Pentatonix, covers often rival the originals.

The five-member group first gained attention in 2011 for its pitch-perfect win on the third and final season of NBC's a cappella competition "The Sing-Off."

Pentatonix — lead vocalists Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi, bass and vocal percussionist Avi Kaplan and beat-boxer Kevin Olusola — continues to amass fans. YouTube channel videos of the group's intricate renditions of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," and Fun.'s "We Are Young" have garnered more than 50 million views and nearly 450,000 subscribers. Tonight, Pentatonix will bring its dizzying harmonies to the Royal Oak Music Theatre.

"We get to wake up every single day and live our dream," Kaplan says. "We get to sing, focus on music. It's really a dream come true. It's a blessing and an honor."

But when destiny called, members of Pentatonix — all in their early 20s — had to majorly rearrange their lives to answer.

Vocalist Grassi was a high school senior when taping of"The Sing-Off" began, and Olusola met the group while a senior at Yale University, where East Asian studies and pre-med were his focus.

"At first it was difficult," Olusola says. "I always thought I was going to do something in medicine."

Olusola's unique musical abilities caught the attention of the media and the members of what become Pentatonix after he developed a technique of beat boxing while playing the cello. He calls it "celloboxing."

In 2011, his "Julie-O" celloboxing YouTube video went viral. Olusola says the idea of being in an a cappella group merely intrigued him at first, but after meeting Hoying, Maldonado, Grassi and Kaplan, he was sold.

"When we met, I knew that I wanted to do this for a very, very, very, very long time," Olusola says. "We created a sound that I had never heard in a cappella. I believed in us."

Since leaving fellow "The Sing-Off" contestants coughing in the dust with their interpretations of hits including Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over," Pentatonix went on a fall tour in 2011. They also recorded two albums, "PTX Volume 1" and "PTXmas," have a third in the works and have appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and Katie Couric's morning show, "Katie."

For Kaplan, who studied opera at California's Mt. San Antonio College, choosing to leave what he knew for the unknown was a no-brainer.

"It was a big risk, but for me it was the right decision," he says. "I felt like the group was meant to be, and I was meant to be in it."

Olusola says 2013 will be about building an amazing live show and figuring out what their original sound is.

"We will continue to do covers because we love doing that; it helps us push our style," Olusola says. "Ultimately we want to be artists that people will love and respect, not just for our sound but for our artistry."