Pentatonix members make triumphant return to Martin High

Posted 6:57am on Friday, Dec. 09, 2011

Pentatonix's Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi are used to performing on the stage at Martin High School, where all three 19-year-olds graduated from not long ago. But on Thursday evening, they performed there in different circumstances -- as the founding members of Pentatonix, the quintet that won the third season of NBC's a cappella singing competition The Sing-Off.

It was a triumphant return, and the crowd let the three singers -- and their vocals-only rhythm section of Kevin Olusola and Avi Kaplan -- know it, with every song punctuated by appreciative whoops and screams that drowned out between-song banter.

The group appeared loose and relaxed, joking with one another and the crowd between numbers, as they performed the first of two sold-out concerts Thursday night. The material was largely made up of songs the group performed on The Sing-Off, where their techno-influenced take on a cappella continually impressed the show's judges and often left judge Shawn Stockman (of R&B group Boyz II Men) speechless.

Olusola and Kaplan, who were recruited by the other three singers to meet minimum group size requirements on The Sing-Off, began the show with a display of their often astonishing "rhythm section" prowess, which tended to feature Kaplan providing the bass parts and Olusola doing beatboxing -- although the two work so well as a unit, it's often difficult to tell who's doing what (Olusola did do a "flugelhorn" solo at one point, sounding pretty much just like the brass instrument).

"We work as a team," Kaplan said during a brief postshow interview. "Sometimes [Kevin] will do sound effects, sometimes I do sound effects. We just want to make it seem like we're one unit -- and also like we're not human, like we're machines. That's what we really try to get across: You don't need a synthesizer or a computer to create the sounds that we want to create. ... Our goal was to make sure that these three amazing singers we have singing with us always have the support in the background."

The duo's bassy introduction led into the whole group's cover of the Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star, which was one of the highlights of their strong Sing-Off season but may have been even better in this version, with all members performing in high gear. Hoying's consistently belted in a clear, rich tenor without oversinging; Maldonado reprised her sweet lead vocal on Sugarland's Stuck on You; Grassi, who sings many of the high parts, soared on the bridge of Florence + the Machine's Dog Days Are Over.

The show had an overall good-vibe feeling to it, and a bit of nostalgic jokiness when the group serenaded Martin assistant principal Tunya Redvine with a rendition of Marvin Gaye's Let's Get it On. Hoying said afterward that this was the first time that the group had performed an hour-long show (on The Sing-Off, they worked nearly nonstop, rehearsing for 14 or 15 hours every day for 11 weeks, but would only perform on the show for about two minutes at a time).

Hoying said that it is hard to do the hour-long show. "We arranged our songs high, so they'd be energetic and awesome for the show," he said. "But we've never had to do all the energetic stuff in a row. It kind of wears you out."

The group has a deal with Epic Records, and during the show Hoying said they had already met with Tricky, a producer and artist who has worked with such stars as Justin Bieber. "We want to write original songs and make them really, really cool and hip and new and fresh," Hoying said after the show.

Hoying said it was great to be back at Martin, performing on the same stage where he once sang in a high-school show choir. But even Olusola, one of the non-Martin members of the group, said he loved being at the school.

"The support of Martin High School for this group is incredible," Olusola said. "Scott always tells me that when [he, Maldonado and Grassi] come here as a trio, they get mobbed, because people at the school love them so much. We're just happy to be part of this family."

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