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Monday, December 9, 2013

Singing way to stardom: The acoUstiKats take to the national stage on NBC’s The Sing-Off

University of Kentucky acoUstiKats perform tonight on NBC's The Sing-Off at 9 p.m. (Photo from Facebook)

University of Kentucky acoUstiKats perform tonight on NBC’s The Sing-Off at 9 p.m. (Photo from Facebook)

 
By Whitney Hale
Special to KyForward
 
Tonight the vocal talents of some of the University of Kentucky’s and state’s best singers are in the spotlight on a national stage as the acoUstiKats, a popular men’s a cappella group, begin competing on the fourth season of NBC’s The Sing-Off.
 
The acoUstiKats are among 10 groups who have been selected to compete on the reality show featuring the country’s top a cappella groups. They are one of only two collegiate groups chosen for this season, which showcases a broad range from a group featuring high schoolers to a group back singing after raising families. The Sing-Off will begin airing at 9 p.m. on Dec. 9.
 
Described as having “Southern charm with a whole lot of swag,” the acoUstiKats were founded in 1993 during Director of UK Choral Activities Jefferson Johnson’s first semester at UK School of Music in the UK College of Fine Arts. As a subsection of the nationally renowned UK Men’s Chorus, this group serves to promote and encourage male singing of all ages.
 
“These 12 guys are selected by audition from the UK Men’s Chorus. And they have worked and rehearsed, and worked so hard that they have now been selected to be on this great show by NBC,” said Johnson.
 
The acoUstiKats have traveled the world performing in all venue sizes, but The Sing-Off will be their biggest challenge to date. They were invited to audition for the show last spring after taking the Best Overall Ensemble Award and Best Choreography Award at Voices in Harmony.
 
Voices in Harmony is a Lexington-based showcase and competition sponsored by Lexington Catholic High School coming in February for its third annual event. The House Jacks, an a cappella group from San Francisco, appeared in this year’s VIH in March. One of their members, Deke Sharon, is an a cappella arranger and music producer for NBC’s The Sing-Off.
 
Featured in the Feb. 28-March 1, 2014 VIH will be headliners Delilah. This all-female a cappella group of eight made it to the top six of last year’s The Sing-Off. Of course, the acoUstiKats will return to VIH in 2014 as well.
 
A bit surprised by the invitation to audition for The Sing-Off, UK’s acoUstiKats decided after some conversation that they would go for it.
 
“Some of us were just like, ‘Oh, well, that will never happen, but you know what, let’s try it anyway, what do we have to lose,’” said business manager Evan Jennings Pulliam. “You have to put your entire life, body, soul and spirit in to making something like this happen and all 12 of us were fully dedicated,” said the marketing and arts administration senior.
 
And dedicated they were. In preparation for their audition they rehearsed about 10 to 12 hours a week on top of classes around finals time last spring. That was just the beginning of the long hours they would put in once they were selected to compete. They even spent time together not rehearsing to help build stronger relationships within the group, so they were at their most cohesive during the competition.
 
“We had to make sure that we scheduled in time for group bonding, so that whenever we were living with each other all the time, we wouldn’t kill each other. We really put a big focus on becoming a brotherhood, becoming a family and becoming one cohesive unit,” said acoUstiKats coach and music education senior Jordan Lindsey.
 
On The Sing-Off, each a cappella group will perform show-stopping numbers with no lip-synching, backup bands or safety net. They’ll sing music from today’s top pop chart to R&B, rock, country and more.
 
Performers on The Sing-Off will be critiqued by judges and celebrated vocalists Ben Folds, of Ben Folds Five; Jewel; and Shawn Stockman, of Boyz II Men. Hosting the show is Kentucky-born Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees fame, two successful solo albums and the host of NBC’s The Winner Is, a vocal game show which premiered last June.
 
The amount of talent at the judges’ table and hosting the show was not lost on the members of the acoUstiKats.
 
“You are actually standing on the stage. You put your mike down the very first time you perform for them and you realize that there are Grammy Award winners in the house that are actually watching you sing, not the other way around,” said acoUstiKats marketing coordinator and marketing senior Jeremy Michael Lewis.
 
And of course the major talent didn’t end with the judges; the acoUstiKats learned quite a bit from their fellow competitors as well and hope to even incorporate it in their own repertoire.
 
“I can’t describe to you how good it feels to sing alongside some of the groups that we performed with. Not some, but all of them are phenomenal musicians, phenomenal groups,” said acoUstiKats arranger/coach and music education junior Nick Johnson.
 
The other a cappella groups joining the acoUstiKats on the The Sing-Off are: Calle Sol, from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; Element, from New York City; The Filharmonic, from Los Angeles; Home Free, from Minneapolis; The Princeton Footnotes, from Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.; Street Corner Renaissance, from Los Angeles; Ten, from Dallas; Vocal Rush, from Oakland, Calif.; and Voiceplay, from Orlando, Fla.
 
One group will be eliminated each episode of The Sing-Off. The last group standing on the Dec. 23 program will be awarded a $100,000 prize and an Epic Records/Sony Music recording contract.
 
In addition to being excited to have the opportunity to compete for such a valuable prize package, the acoUstiKats are just as thrilled to put a spotlight on the university’s talents.
 
“We wanted to promote the University of Kentucky as having the best male collegiate a cappella group in the country, and I’m proud to say we have reached that level,” Pulliam said.
 
To get a sneak peek of the Kats, music lovers can find the group online on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
 
Whitney Hale is a senior public relations specialist at the University of Kentucky.

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