'Sing Off' Winners Pentatonix Thrill Fans on New Tour

The a cappella group Pentatonix is currently on their 2013 tour

When Pentatonix hits the stage on its current tour, the quintet won’t tote along a large band or background vocalists. That's because Pentatonix is the a cappella group who won The Sing Off vocal competition in 2011; they practice the art of crooning without benefit of a band or backing music.

Pentatonix’s five singers – the initial trio of Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi together with bass vocalist Avi Kaplan and beat-boxer Kevin Olusola – won the third season of NBC’s The Sing-Off in November 2011. Their prize was $200,000 and a recording contract with Sony. Pentatonix had its debut EP, PTX Vol. 1 and its Christmas EP, PTXmas atop Billboard sales and iTunes charts, and filled venues around the world with screaming fans.

“I’ll never get sick of the fans and the yelling,” says Hoying, an Arlington, Texas native, with a laugh. “It’s awesome and we love it. That last show we did in Philly (Sept 2012) looked really crazy. The place we’re playing in Philly this time is twice the size with twice as many attendees so we’re hoping that it’s twice as crazy,” he laughs.

Hoying may be used to the madness now, but not while growing up in Arlington. There, he listened mostly to country classics and gleaned inspiration from them until a friend introduced the then 14-year-old Hoying to something bolder: Philadelphia soul shouter Jazmine Sullivan.

“Whoa, there was much soul to be heard,” says Hoying. “All of a sudden my new steady musical diet became R&B. But I had that country inside of me already.”

Meeting up with Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi in Arlington High not only allowed him to show off his new chops, but also to collaborate with vocalists who had their own blend of influences.

“Nothing that I did previously compared to what I could do with these two,” says Hoying. “Yet, we didn’t get together just to form a band. We experienced camaraderie. We were and are pals first. To us, singing as a group was a hobby.”

That may be why Pentatonix sounds like so much fun. It is the sound of a group of friends sharing a laugh and a song. Even when they got to The Sing Off, it wasn’t something overly serious for the trio.

At first the threesome thought they’d do okay, have some fun, then head off to college. “We never knew how far that we could take it. That is until we won a round or two. Then we began to realize that we could do more with this, and it was like whoa. That’s when we really decided to go for it.”

Really going for it meant adding a vocal rhythm section for added panache. Avi Kaplan was a noted bass vocalist with a wide ranging reputation for down-and-dirty low notes. Beat-boxer Kevin Olusola, a Yale student who also played the cello, was a YouTube sensation when the trio found him. “There was no one but Kevin for us,” says Hoying. “We didn’t even think that he’d answer our phone call but he was immediately into it.

The rest is Sing-Off history.

Now, Pentatonix is wrapping up its new album and is on tour again. Hoying is secretive about the overall recording plans save to say they’ve penned some originals to go with a slew of cover tunes. “We’ve got some folk originals and some R&B too. There’s rhythmic stuff from Avi and Kevin and some trio songs from the rest of us. But everything has that Pentatonix sound,” says Hoying.

The same is true for their newest round of live shows – there are plenty of surprises to thrill new fans and repeat customers. “There’s less talking and more singing,” says Hoying with a chuckle. “Other than that, you’ll have to wait and see.”

Philadelphia area fans can see Pentatonix at The Electric Factory (421 N. 7th, Phila PA, 215.627.1332) on February 20, for additional tour dates click here.

Video ©Pentatonix
Pentatonix photo by Tim Cruz

Posted on Tuesday, February 19, 2013