"American Idol" has shown that singing competition shows are big ratings grabbers and, to take advantage of the holiday reruns and specials, NBC is launching "The Sing-Off," where a capella groups vie for the grand prize - an Epic Records/Sony Music recording contract. However, instead of the show running over multiple weeks, as most reality competition shows traditionally do, "The Sing-Off" will air only four two-hour episodes from start to finish beginning tonight. To find out more about this new twist on the singing reality show, executive producer Joel Gallen and host Nick Lachey fielded questions during a press call and our Jim Halterman was there to find out about the movie origins of the show, Lachey's advice to the groups and the singer's other untapped career aspirations.
Most reality shows don't find their origins in the motion picture business but "The Sing-Off" is the exception, as Gallen explained. "There is a movie script [at Sony Pictures] that was being developed around the whole a cappella world especially around colleges and universities. And the way I understand it Amy Pascal, the Chairman of Sony Pictures, was reading the script and of course not only was responding to how good the idea was for a movie she immediately, I think, contacted the television division of Sony and said 'you guys should try to turn this into a sort of reality competition show.' And that's sort of when it started. And then the Sony television people contacted me and I came in and we sort of all developed it together. And, you know, several months later here we are with 'The Sing-Off.'"
Lachey, who burst onto the music scene with his pop group 98 Degrees in the late 90s, shared his excitement over the show's focus. "It's kind of a forum that no one's really explored on television before and it's something that's really a passion for me having grown up singing a cappella music. In 98 Degrees we always really took a lot of pride in being able to sing a cappella and sing live a cappella."
One thing is for sure, Lachey is ready to take on his hosting duties. "My responsibility here is one part to move the show along and kind of act as the emcee and keep things moving and kind of keep that organization in play," the singer said. "I think secondly to really be kind of a support system to these groups and encourage them as they go through this process. It should be a lot of fun."
Besides Lachey in the hosting role, "The Sing-Off" also has three judges who will have the task of being the on-stage critics to the performances by the competing groups. Lachey was enthusiastic when talking about Shawn Stockman (of the singing group Boyz II Men) and Ben Folds being two of the three judges on the show. "Clearly both are incredibly respected and talented musicians who have been in the business a long, long time and both very familiar with what it means to be an a cappella performer and have a real passion for a cappella music. So I can't think of two better suited people to be on that panel and I think they're going to bring a real expertise and a real knowledge of what it means to be really good at singing and performing a cappella music." [EDITOR'S NOTE: Nicole Scherzinger was added as the third judge after this interview took place.]
Why the quick four-episode airing schedule of the series? "It was definitely a network decision based on their scheduling needs and their research that they had done," Gallen said. "They thought this was a great way to launch a new series like this over a shorter period of time where they could really slam the promotion and get everybody keyed up around basically four days within a week's time... we originally pitched it as eight one-hour shows and, because of this strategy that they had which we obviously liked also, we sort of condensed the show into four two-hour shows."
Of the art of a capella singing that is the foundation of the show, Lacey stressed that it's much more than just a group of singers belting out a tune without musical instruments. "A cappella can cover so many different styles and I think we're going to see a lot of those different styles represented in the different kinds of groups that we have on the show. You know, I think that aside from the stylistic differences, I think what really sets a group apart is their preparation; as I said before there's really nowhere to hide when doing a cappella. So how much you put into it and how much you prepared and practiced I think is really going to be one of the really telling things that shines through on the show."
Asked which age group "The Sing-Off" is being geared towards and Gallen said they do not plan on excluding anyone from being a potential fan of the show. "We're not zeroing in on a specific age group or a demographic or male or female... we're trying to get as wide a range and as diverse an audience as possible. And I think based on the type of music that we're going to showcase with these groups and the types of groups themselves I think we have a very wide range of representation, which I hope will translate into a very wide representation of the audience."
Gallen explained how the groups were chosen to enter the "Sing-Off" competition in the first place. "As with all these shows we went through an intensive casting process and searched throughout the country both by going on location to several cities and also looking at clips on YouTube and getting people to submit clips that couldn't show up at one of these auditions." He also found something interesting that isn't always a part of other singing competition shows. "[With] all of these groups, none of them do it for a living. I mean they all have jobs or they all go to school. They all have other lives. And this is just a labor of love, a passion that they all do but nobody really makes a living singing a cappella at least not on our show. I think that's what makes this show even more compelling, the stories you're going to hear and the kinds of things that these people do in their everyday life and why it was so important for them to come together to do this show."
Of his own singing career, Lachey admitted that he isn't opposed to a 98 Degrees reunion somewhere down the line. "I think there's always a chance of that. We've always kept that door wide open." In fact, he shared one his favorite a capella memories with the quartet. "We had a chance to do the 'Christmas at the White House' special when President Clinton was in office and a chance to sing 'Ave Maria.' We had a great a cappella rendition that we had a chance to sing for the President and quite a few other dignitaries at that event so that stands out as probably one of the most exciting."
While Lachey began in the entertainment business with his pop group, he has gone on to doing some acting as well as hosting "The Sing-Off." Where does his real passion lie? "I think singing is always for me kind of my passion and really the way I broke into the business and it will always be first and foremost." However, putting Lachey on the spot, what else could he see himself doing that he has yet to attempt? "I'd like to host a sports talk radio show. Aside from music sports is my other passion. I could talk about that for hours on end. So, you know, to get paid to do that for hours would be kind of a dream come true at some point."
"The Sing-Off" airs this Monday through Wednesday at 8:00/7:00c on NBC with the finale on Monday, December 21 at 8:00/7:00c.