In just five years since winning the third season of NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” Pentatonix has amassed a huge following with almost two billion views on the group’s YouTube channel.
In October, the a cappella quintet released “A Pentatonix Christmas” which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Featuring vocalists Scott Hoying, Kirstin Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola performing an eclectic mix of traditional, modern and original Christmas songs (see www.ptxofficial.com). All five musicians talked recently during breaks in a New York recording session.
“What’s cool about a cappella and Christmas is that they just go so well together,” explained Mitch. “A cappella is all about joining together for unity, so it sort of mirrors family and friends coming together for the holidays.”
While not normally associated with the festive season, the group included their cover of the Leonard Cohen favorite, “Hallelujah,” on the CD.
“We originally planned to record a new version with special Christmas lyrics, but decided not to mess with the original,” he said. “Nevertheless, we still felt it belonged in this collection because so many people love and appreciate the song – just like Christmas classics.”
To coincide with the CD, the group produced a video of “Hallelujah” which accumulated some 60 million YouTube views within weeks of release.
Filmed in the California Mojave Desert, near Barstow, the video features the group singing while walking across spectacularly stark Coyote Dry Lake.
“It turned out to be a stunning video, but it was a stressful day,” recalled Kevin. “We’d just flown back from a private event in Michigan and had a 2-hour drive to the desert. The sun was setting so we only had a few hours to complete filming.”
“The five of us were in a van and briefly got lost, but made it eventually!” laughed Kirstin.
The CD also contains cover versions of Kanye West’s “Coldest Winter” and NSYNC’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” from the late 90s on which Scott has the lead. He says the group “tried to stay true to NSYNC’s original because for us, growing up in the 90s, it has a nostalgic feeling and we wanted to hold on to that.”
Kevin also contributed an original piece, “The Christmas Sing-Along.”
“I actually began writing it in Belgium and finished it in a hotel room in Little Rock, Arkansas,” he said. “I asked Scott to help with the lyrics and he added his magic flare.”
Grim lyrics dominate “Coventry Carol,” a sixteenth century English Christmas carol that references the biblical account of Herod’s massacre of infants. Nevertheless, the melody’s lullaby quality appealed to the group.
“We chose it for the music, not the lyrics, of course,” said Scott. “We just loved its harmonic beauty and amazing chords. It’s a choir nerd’s dream!”
Traditional favorites on the CD include “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” which highlight the group’s distinctive sound and arrangements. There’s also a jazzy version of “White Christmas” which retains its old-fashioned Christmas charm with a little collaboration from Manhattan Transfer.
Pentatonix will be collaborating with country music icon Reba McEntire, as well as Kelly Clarkson, in their very own holiday TV special which aired on NBC Dec. 14.
“It’s mainly us on stage performing lots of Christmas songs,” said Scott of the recently recorded program.
As their holiday harmony spreads musically around the globe with the new CD, the group also recognizes followers of many ages and cultures.
“Kids bring their mothers and grandmothers to our concerts,” said Kevin. “You don’t see that with a lot of artists today. It’s really a blessing that our music can reach across generations.”
“We’ve performed in about 40 countries,” added Avi. “We’re especially blown away by the fans in Japan, which is probably our second
And with group members representing a cross-section of society (gay, Jewish, African-American, and Hispanic), their appeal is even broader.
“As individuals, we are so different in our personalities, lifestyles, how we grew up, and our culture,” noted Kirstin. “We’re grateful for our diverse fans.”
“We’re a microcosm of America and are blessed to live in a country that’s so diverse,” adds Kevin. “While it’s great for people to see that we can love and respect each other and work together, despite our differences, at the end of the day we just want to make great music.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. See www.tinseltowntalks.com