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Pentatonix on Their Pitch-Perfect, Platinum Career
Pentatonix's holiday album, That's Christmas to Me, went platinum and became the highest-charting holiday release by a group since 1962 and fourth-best-selling album of 2014; they won a Grammy this year for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella for their amazing "Daft Punk" medley, and also presented Barry Gibb with an on-air Lifetime Achievement Grammy; they have a role in the upcoming Pitch Perfect movie sequel; and this summer, they'll hit the road opening for Idol icon Kelly Clarkson. Not too shabby for a bunch of self-described "choir nerds" who came together solely to audition for The Sing-Off and were likely once written off by doubters as a novelty act or reality-TV footnote.
"Our [first] album came out and it was in the iTunes category of pop. It got to number one for about a week or two. Just to see that higher than people we really like, such as Justin Bieber, it gave us validation that we can continue going forward with what we're doing. It could be successful in the mainstream," recalls the group's beatboxer, Kevin Olusola.
To many fans' delight, NBC renewed The Sing-Off following the success of Pentatonix and Pitch Perfect. But while the show gave the fledgling fivesome (Kevin, Scott Hoying, Avi Kaplan, Mitch Grassi, and Kirstin Maldonado) their start, it was really YouTube — which has overtaken TV talent competitions as the platform of choice for aspiring artists — that put Pentatonix on the musical map. "We wanted to be able to stay relevant and stay connected to our fans," explains the group's bass singer, Avi. "We didn't want people to forget about us. The only way we could think of to connect with our fans, to show them we're still around, was YouTube. We did it, and then we just kept doing it, and kept getting better at it. It's kind of just a part of who we are now."
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Now, Pentatonix have become the hipster posterchildren for a whole new generation of a cappella-obsessed teens. "We're trying to be that," laughs Scott, who incredibly was passed over at The Voice's Season 1 executive auditions before ending up on another NBC show. "Our main goal is to break through the a cappella connotation that people have of it. We want to make it a mainstream thing, a normal thing, a genre that's like pop. We're not an 'a cappella' group; we're a band that sings with no instruments. That's our thing, and that's our main goal. "
"I think [a cappella] is kind of on the forefront of music right now because of Pitch Perfect and what we're doing in The Sing-Off. I have noticed the younger generation on Twitter and Instagram are all talking about a cappella," Scott continues. "They're big fans of it, posting it, buying the Pitch Perfect album and our album. I think it's really cool. I've always thought it's an underrated genre. It's cool to see it rising up. It's something we've always wanted to revolutionize and make more mainstream… We can't even tell you how many times parents have come to us and say, 'Thank you for what you do. My kid is so into music now and he's so passionate about choir. It's so cool to see him love something so much. Thank you for doing that.'"
"They're just so inspired to sing, to get involved with choir and try to do what we do. It's really an unbelievable thing that we can inspire the people we once were. We were all choir nerds, so to inspire those kids is really cool," adds Avi.
Youngsters aren't Pentatonix's only fans. The members of fun. recently named Pentatonix's version of "We Are Young" as one of their top three favorite fun. covers, and Gotye and Beyoncé are also admirers. "I think the best story is the guy who produces for us, he was at a bar and ran into Gotye," says Scott. "He was like, 'Gotye, sorry to bother you, but I work with this band that did a cover of 'Somebody That I Use to Know.' Gotye says, 'I've seen it. The a cappella one, I love it. My dad just showed me last week.' Gotye freaked out and said it was one of his favorite covers. That was a really cool thing. Beyoncé posted us on her Facebook. We idolize these people, especially Beyoncé. She doesn't seem real! So when you see her post something and say 'amazing' just casually, you're like, 'Oh my God!'"
Of course, being on the Internet and in the media spotlight has its downside. While ultimately this reaction is the utmost in flattery, there are actually some detractors who accuse Pentatonix of having secret instrumental accompaniment. "I have to tell this story," laughs tenor Mitch. "This guy wrote a blog post about how we had hidden instruments when we filmed our YouTube covers and we were just scamming the viewers. We were like, 'OK, we'll do it for you live!'"
"Someone commented on YouTube that Avi was using this sub synth to make him sing so low: 'As you can see, his hands are out of the frame, so you can see that he's using it,'" Scott chuckles. "It's just hilarious. It's flattering. I promise you, we do not use instruments."
And Pentatonix don't plan on adding instruments to their repertoire any time soon, even though Kevin just released his debut solo EP, The Renegade, which features his impressive cello-playing. (Incidentally, that EP current sits atop Billboard's classical albums chart.) Says Avi: "Whenever we're making an arrangement and think, 'I wish we had an instrument here,' we just make it work with our voices, because that's our sound. If we did add an instrument, I can't really imagine what it would be."
"I think for right now we're going to stick to our sound," asserts Kevin. "It's working, and if it's not broke, don't fix it. And it makes us unique!"