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American Idol is more high-profile and The X Factor is more sensationalized, but perhaps television's most unusual singing competition is The Sing-Off, which pits a cappella singing groups against each other. In the season that recently wrapped, the winning group was a five-person ensemble called Pentatonix, and its members speak to Melissa Block on today's All Things Considered.
If you're having trouble imagining what such a group might sound like, rest assured, you'll hear them do some singing — but if you want to see a performance, here they are in the closing weeks of competition performing a "mastermix" of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and Cee Lo Green's "Forget You."
Pentatonix was assembled by three friends, Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, and Kirstie Maldonado, who went to high school together and had done some singing together, but badly needed a low end and a beatboxer to complete their group. They found their bass, Avi Kaplan, through a friend and found their rhythm section, Kevin Olusola, through YouTube videos showing him playing the cello and beatboxing. If that sounds unlikely, you really need to see Kevin do it.
Putting together an arrangement like the ones Pentatonix favors requires some unusual sounds, and you'll hear Avi demonstrate how, as he says, he takes the natural tones that exist in his voice and changes them with his tongue. You'll even find out the answer to the question: How low can he go?
Rarely will you hear an interview with quite so many unlikely mouth noises — and that is, in this context, a good thing.