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Being in Nashville, we all know how tough the music industry can be. The lengths one must go to get a recording contract are great, and are even greater still if one wishes to keep it. With so many artists trying to penetrate the market, so many amazing talents get lost in the shuffle.
This is especially true for contestants on reality show singing competitions. Shows like American Idol and The Voice are all over the place. To make a mark, musicians have to be not only talented, but also incredibly driven, well connected, and very lucky.
Such is the case of rock-star a cappella group Pentatonix. Most recently, you’ve seen them on film with a cameo in Pitch Perfect 2, singing at this year’s Grammy Awards with Stevie Wonder, and on YouTube with their incredibly successful videos.
The group came to fame by way of Season 3 of NBC’s The Sing Off. They are now a household name. Recently, I spoke with one of the openly gay members of the group, Mitch Grassi, on the group’s rise to success, which wasn’t as seamless as it looked.
The group was born as a trio out of Arlington, Texas. Having grown up together in a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth, Kirstie Maldondo, Scott Hoying, and Mitch Grassi were the best of friends. Self-professed choir nerds, the three were in the choir at Martin High School in Arlington. A local radio show held a contest for local talent, and the grand prize was an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to meet the cast of Glee.
The three of them decided to combine their talents and make a go of it. “The competition was for an a cappella group, so Kirstie, Scott, and I were all close at the time. Obviously we were obsessed with music and singing, so we just put it together at the last minute,” Mitch said in our exclusive interview.
They composed an a cappella version of the song, “Telephone,” a collaboration of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. Even though they didn’t win the competition, the three stuck together as friends. They kept performing around school and gained some attention locally. The three of them also went on to win local competitions in solo performances and kept honing their musical craft. They knew they had something even then, they just weren’t quite sure what to do with it.
A year later, Kirstie and Scott graduated high school and were at college. Scott went to the University of Southern California and joined the school’s a cappella group, The SoCal VoCals. One of his friends in the group, Ben Bram, encouraged Scott to try out for NBC’s The Sing Off. Scott knew then what he had to do. He called up Kirstie, who was in school at the University of Oklahoma, and Mitch, who would end up missing his high school graduation, and talked them into dropping everything to make the audition. The only problem? The show required a minimum of five people to be considered.
Avriel “Avi” Kaplan and Scott Hoying met through mutual friends. Avi’s bass sound was well known throughout the a cappella community, as he had been in numerous groups. When he was a member of Fermata Nowhere, the group became the first community college choir to ever to win the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. When Avi was shown the “Telephone” video on YouTube, he was impressed and knew he had to join in.
Kevin Osoula is a cello-playing, beat-boxing machine from just up the road in Owensboro, Kentucky. Born to parents from Nigeria and Grenada, Kevin’s musical talents were fostered from a very early age. He attended Yale University, where he majored in East Asian studies, even spending eighteen months in Beijing. His interests in music won out, though, in the end.
Kevin developed what he called “celloboxing,” a style of music where he would play his cello and beat box along with it. He won several awards and was featured on NPR, CBS, AOL, Huffington Post, and several others. Scott and the gang found him on YouTube and decided to bring him on as well.
The five of them met for the first time the day before the audition. They had no idea whether it would work or not, obviously a scary proposition. “I feel like we all took a really big risk,” Mitch said. “It was scary enough going into it, since we’d all just met the day before. So we were all ‘Is this going to work?’ But luckily, everything just meshed musically. It made the experience that much sweeter, and then after that, we realized how special it really was. We just put everything on hold and made it happen. And it worked out, thank God!”
Made it happen, indeed. Pentatonix dominated Season 3 of The Sing Off. They were noted on the show for their ability to “sing, dance, harmonize, and put together a respectable arrangement in just minutes.” They covered songs like “E.T.” by Katy Perry, “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin, and “Stuck Like Glue” by Sugarland, as well as many more popular hit singles of the time.
The Sing Off also offered Pentatonix a platform to raise awareness for issues facing LGBT youth—a cause important to all of the group’s members, but of special significance to Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying, who were both openly members of the LGBT community. During the show, the group visited the offices of The Trevor Project and filmed a public service announcement with the organization.
During the finale, in which Pentatonix went head to head against the Dartmouth Aires and Urban Method, both very talented groups, a segment about The Trevor Project aired on network television. This generated a great deal of controversy as the network edited the clip, eliminating references to LGBT specific issues and to Grassi’s and Hoying’s sexual orientation.
LGBT controversy aside, Pentatonix prevailed over their competitors and won the competition. The prize was a recording contract with Sony and a check for $200,000.
As with every success story, there are bound to be hiccups. Reality shows are well known for not always supporting their winners after the show ends. It takes a lot of hard work, determination, and immense amounts of creativity to keep going once the show is over. This was the case with Pentatonix, as well. Once Sony had the recording contract, the studio didn’t quite know what to do with them.
They were assigned to a smaller recording label, Madison Gate Records, which is owned by Sony but is normally used for smaller projects. Madison Gate is more known for its work with movie soundtracks and Broadway musical recordings. The label had only produced two artist albums: a joint project of Kevin Costner and Modern West, as well as one by The Backbeats, also Sing Off alums. Pentatonix was by far this small label’s most popular production, and it didn’t really make sense for the group to be on this label.
“I think, at the time, there wasn’t really a market for what we do,” Mitch said. “It’s very niche. They weren’t really prepared to put as much work into such a project. There really was no guarantee that we were going to be able to sell records, or sell tours, or anything like that. They were just like, ‘Yeah, you guys are great, but no thanks.’”
For most people, this would have marked the end of the story. But these five are not most people. Even with such a big blow to the group, it didn’t even come close to putting a stop to their plans. “Honestly, I mean, we were so naïve at this point in time,” Mitch explained. “We were just like, ‘Oh! I mean that’s ok, let’s just do it ourselves.’ And I feel like that was a good thing because we handled everything. We had creative control over what content we put out and when we put it out. So, in a way, it was sort of a blessing. It never really jarred us or upset us too much, surprisingly.”
They found their way forward in a medium they’ve used before—YouTube. “This was at a time when YouTube users were getting a lot of traction, especially musicians. And it was a great way to get your name out there. Scott was just like, ‘Hey, you know things are a little slow right now, but maybe if we do what we do best and put it out there, maybe something good can come from it.’ And, sure enough, it did.” And with their first video, a Daft Punk mashup, Pentatonix was on fire. It has led to a huge career.
Of course, along the way there were other problems. Some Christian groups are upset with Pentatonix for releasing a Christmas album, That’s Christmas to Me. Some in the homophobic Christian right have told their followers to be wary. One religious blogger on bereanresearch.com wrote, “Two of the male members of this group are openly homosexual, and actively promoting LGBTQ initiatives. That breaks my heart, because I know it breaks God’s.”
The religious, anti-gay blogosphere is crawling with exhortations about what “good Christians” should do. Another blogger on Delight in Truth writes, “Dear Christians, if you find the Word of God as inspired and authoritative, please stop buying, promoting, liking, posting, and applauding these Pentatonix videos. Would you listen daily to an openly gay pastor who promotes the LGBTQ lifestyle and preaches ‘really good?’ If no, then why promote Pentatonix?”
How do such criticisms affect the group? “You know, it’s really easy to ignore for me. We have a lot more supporters than we do opposition,” Mitch said, “so it doesn’t really bother me. I think it’s an unfair argument because we’re not marketing ourselves as a Christian group or religious group, we’re marketing ourselves as a family group, and, at the end of the day, we make music that we want people to enjoy. That’s really all it’s about. It’s not about preaching a message or anything like that necessarily. I think that argument is pretty invalid.”
The argument is not only invalid, it also went unheeded: that Christmas album went on to be certified double platinum, meaning it sold over two-million copies. It was, in fact, the most successful Christmas album for any group since 1962, even surpassing Mannheim Steamroller.
Pentatonix has gone on to win multiple Grammys, tour with Kelly Clarkson, and headline sold out world tours of their own. They have now sold a combined 2.8 million records in the U.S. alone. Now on the RCA record label, they have really become the first a cappella group to achieve mainstream success in the modern market.
“I still feel like a completely nerdy kid who’s just singing in an a cappella group with his friends,” Mitch said. “It’s still so weird, but maybe it’s because I’m just so young.”
They really are living the proverbial dream. In their recent movie, On My Way Home, the group documented their previous national tour. The chemistry they have with one another is visible. They know each move the other is going to make and are synched so well, it becomes obvious how they work so well together: sharing talent and charisma, they’re the absolute best of friends whom have truly become each other’s family. That family also includes their friend, Ben Bram, who told Scott to try out for The Sing Off: He’s now their producer and a co-arranger.
When Pentatonix comes to town this May, they are going to be bringing a big show. “Omigosh! We’re bringing a lot more new songs,” Mitch promised. “We’re doing almost the entire new album, which is awesome! I’m so excited that we have original music that we can perform all the time and our fans can sing along to. We’re bringing a humongous show, production wise. And… a couple of surprises. And that’s all I’m going to say!”
For a group that is known for what they can come up with in a moment’s notice, it’s surely going to be a show that is full of surprises and fun to watch.
If you would like to learn more about Pentatonix, you can explore their website, amazing YouTube videos, or the full length documentary, Pentatonix: On My Way Home, on Netflix. Tickets to the Nashville Bridgestone Arena show on May 10 are available through ticketmaster.com and all Ticket Master outlets.
For those with a thirst to celebrate, Red Bull Unlocked is the key. In city after city, the most exciting bars, clubs, mixologists, performing artists, and more take over a local landmark building to showcase their signature ambiance while also collaborating for a must-see mashup. And now it's Music City’s turn to seize the spotlight, as the event brings 10 bars together in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood.
Fueled by the best of Nashville’s thriving music scene, Red Bull Unlocked has curated an eclectic night of show-stopping entertainment performances including a pop-up Whiskey Jam show, DJ sets, musicians, and more. The full lineup is here:
- Whiskey Jam (feat. Dozzi, Willie Shaw, and Johnny Hayes)
- A.B. Eastwood
- Daisha / Rap Girl
- Boom Bap (DJ Collective feat. DJ-Rate, Case Bloom)
- Whiskey Disco (DJ Collective feat. Coach, Jim O'Shea)
- Old Crow Medicine Show’s Jerry Pentercost (DJ Set)
- DJ Stretch
- DJ Griffin Green
- The Play Mates (Drag Show feat. Sasha, Vanity, Deception, Aura Mayari, Corlis Todd, and Carmin Triple C)
Counting down to the epic celebration, Daisha shares, “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to perform in so many of Nashville’s top spots all in the same night. Fans can expect a lot of bops and high energy. I want people to dance and have a good time.”
Ward Guenther, Whiskey Jam Founder, adds, “Red Bull has been enjoyed at Whiskey Jam since the very first night, so it's only fitting Whiskey Jam is enjoyed at Nashville's first Red Bull Unlocked. Looking forward to this!”
Red Bull Unlocked Istanbul
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Local favorites including Pearl Diver, Tin Roof, Lipstick Lounge, White Limozeen, and more will join forces for one epic night. Full list of bars and partners below:
- The Dive Motel
- Lipstick Lounge
- Pearl Diver
- Play Dance Bar
- Rosemary & Beauty Queen
- The Stage
- Tin Roof
- Whiskey Jam
- White Limozeen
- Woolworth Theatre – Opening Fall 2022!
- Eleven Eleven - Opening 2023!
Date: August 21, 2022
Time: 6 PM – 11PM CT
Location: 1102 Forrest Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Entrance: Ticked event
Rumble Boxing, the boxing-inspired group fitness studio, opened its doors for the first time in Nashville on June 20 at 609 Overton St, Nashville, TN. The hottest workout on the block is hosting its official grand opening from August 4th-7th with daily classes, membership specials, and prizes from local vendors. The new Rumble Boxing studio is currently offering a buy one class, get one free promotion for the Nashville community.
Rumble Boxing delivers 45-minute, 10-round, strength and conditioning group workouts, crafted around teardrop-style aqua boxing bags and high-intensity strength training circuits. This brings all fitness levels together to experience what Rumble is known for: combining the sweet science of boxing with high energy and positive vibes.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
This boutique fitness brand offers serious benefits like increased stamina and strength, with cardio that’s actually fun. The seasoned trainers at the new studio are thrilled to serve their local community while offering this fun, new modern approach to boxing and welcome members of all fitness levels to the Rumble family.
The new Rumble Boxing studio is owned and operated by Blake Baskin and Antonio Compton. With their background in the fitness industry, this dynamic duo is excited to bring their passion for boxing and group fitness to Nashville. As business and life partners, Blake and Antonio aim to create a strong community within their new Rumble Boxing studio and share their message of non-apologetic inclusivity.
Black and Gay-Owned Business
Rumble Boxing Store with Dolly Parton Mural
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“We own who we are, and this brand aligns with that perfectly,” said Antonio. “This is what we want to create and bring to this community: a fitness class that is designed for anyone and a place for people to be who they are. As a Black and gay-owned business, we want to help lower the division we see in the world right now. Our goal is to bring people together through Rumble, set everything aside, and have fun.”
To echo their message of acceptance and inclusion, Blake and Antonio commissioned a local Nashville artist to paint an 11 X 6-ft. mural of Nashville icon and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. The massive portrait features the country star in Rumble Boxing gear in the lobby of the studio.
The excitement and buzz around Rumble allowed Blake and Antonio to recruit top-tier trainers to head up the new studio, including Head Trainer Oronde Jones, a well-known celebrity trainer in the Nashville market.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“Compared to other fitness classes, Rumble is a class you can truly get lost in for 45 minutes. With the dark room, you don’t have to worry if anyone is paying attention to you. The music is awesome and inspiring, and the beat drops right when you need it the most. Also, with boxing being a sport you can never truly master, you’re always improving and crafting your skill. On the floor, you’re consistently doing something new, which prevents you from ever hitting a plateau.” Said Oronde Jones about his favorite part of Rumble.
Rumble has massive brand loyalty and widespread appeal, partly thanks to attracting top names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Jason Derulo, David Beckham, and Kevin Hart to its studios.
About Rumble Boxing
Founded in New York City in 2017, Rumble is a group fitness concept delivering a mix (or combination) of boxing-inspired circuits and the transformative power of resistance training. Pro and amateur fighters glove up together, no matter their fitness level or skill, to reveal their inner fighter. The experience is a 45-minute, 10-round, full-body cardio and strength workout crafted around specially designed water-filled, teardrop-style boxing bags. Rumble was founded by Noah Neiman (former Barry’s Bootcamp Master Trainer, and cast member of Bravo’s Work Out New York), Eugene Remm (Co-Founder of Catch Hospitality Group (Catch Restaurants, CATCH STEAK, Lexington Brass), Andy Stenzler (Co-Founder Cosí, Kidville), and Anthony DiMarco (13-time IRONMAN, former Managing Director, Google).
Who would have thought that we would have to get through a pandemic in order to appreciate the small things we have, such as the ability to simply pack our bags and hit the road?
For two years, there’s been nothing left for us travel junkies to do but sit at home and try to find new destinations that we will conquer once we defeat what appears to be the biggest villain of the 21st century. But once that happens, hold your bags tight because we will be up for some of the most interesting travel experiences. Take a look at some ideas for your post-COVID traveling plans:
A Gay Cruise
One of the best options to have in mind when all of this passes is a good, nice and long (pun intended) gay cruise. Or cruise in general, for that matter. Bear in mind, social distancing will still be a thing in the post-COVID world. But COVID-19 likely doesn’t mean that cruises will cease to exist. On the contrary, though cruise ships will probably keep the number of passengers smaller than before, it is believed that they will become an even bigger hit in the following period, especially because they are all going to go a lot more environmentally-friendly. On the bright side, is there any better way of celebrating the end of the pandemic than by cruising around some magnificent seas, stopping by at great cities and having romantic dinner nights at nice restaurants?
A getaway in nature
On the other hand, there is always the option of stepping away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and spending some time in a place that’s not only healthy, but also beautiful. Some of the destinations that plenty of people will look for are the ones that can cater for both peace of mind and amazing things to see or do. One such destination is New Zealand, one of the greenest countries on Earth right now. Not only will you be visiting the magnificent country that gave us the beautiful Shire from Lord of the Rings; this is also a destination that’s excellent for everyone who prefers relaxing to partying. If you’re up for some partying, you will be able to hit Auckland, while if you’re for something calmer, there’s plenty of amazing places that you can see and visit.
Dancing Around at Pride
Pride parades are also events that you want to have in mind for the post-COVID world. Such events have always been quite important, but it seems that they are now more important than ever. The virus has canceled more than 75 Pride parades all around the world, which is one of the reasons why we must support the ones that will see the light of day once the pandemic stops. Truth be told, the upcoming Prides will perhaps be the best Prides ever organized. Give the gays a couple of weeks of quarantine, then let them outside and see what kind of party they are able to throw!
A road trip
If you’re, as well, waiting for the day to wake up and say “long gone are the days when we were not allowed to go wherever we wanted?”, and if staying at one place gave you a lot to think about, then your first post-COVID travel experience should definitely be a nice road trip. You can practically choose which country you want to tour, and you can either take your own car (you have probably missed it so much), or rent one at your destination. Australia is an amazing country for this, though, as it offers the possibility of seeing the Great Ocean Road, which is an amazing thing to see and experience. On the other hand, if you do not want or cannot leave your country, you can also choose to go on a domestic road trip – there are amazing things to see in your vicinity as well.
Holiday for a single guy
If you’re single, or you’re traveling someplace with another single friend, then you should definitely organize a nice vacation for yourself or for you and your single friend, and hit one of the best European cities. Europe has been greatly affected by the virus, which means that now it’s time to pay it back and get it back on its feet by traveling there and seeing all the amazing things it offers. Any city you choose in Europe – you will not make a mistake. Apart from being able to see great landmarks, you will also have the chance to have a drink at great gay clubs and pubs, and join unforgettable gay parties. And if the gay scenery is not your forte, worry not, as Europe indeed has to offer so many different and magnificent things.