When Kevin Olusola posted a video on YouTube celloboxing (beat-boxing while playing the cello), it got thousands of views and instantly went viral. Among the people who saw the video was a three-person a capella group in Arlington, Texas.
Once they saw Olusola’s incredible talent, they contacted him to see if he wanted to join their group for an audition to be on “The Sing Off.” A day before their audition, they met Olusola face-to-face.
“It was the day before the audition that we all — all five of the members — met for the very first time,” Olusola said.
The group called themselves Pentatonix.
“I just thought it was going to be a fun little thing to be on TV and then I actually met every single member of the group and we sang together for the first time — and I was absolutely blown away,” he said. “I never heard a capella like this before in my life. I was completely flabbergasted and I realized I wanted to do this with these people for a long time.”
Olusola said initially he was nervous about auditioning for the show. Sure, he’s been involved in music most of his life, but at the time, Olusola said he had plans to enter the medical field.
“My parents always wanted me to do music because they thought it was such a great extracurricular activity but we never thought it was going to be something that would be my career,” he said. “My dad’s from Nigeria and my mom’s from Grenada and they both went into medicine. My dad’s a psychiatrist and my mom’s a nurse so I was going to go into medicine, also.”
Though Olusola started playing piano when he was 3, cello at 6 and saxophone at 10, he said he was on a path to focus on his academics. He was in his junior year at Yale — and fresh off some motivational words from YoYo Ma — when he was influenced to shift gears and focus on music.
Having won Season Three of “The Sing Off” and now embarking on a nationwide tour, it seems Olusola made the right choice.
Olusola chatted with us about the tour, the group’s music and meeting the artists they cover.
When did you start beatboxing?
I kind of just did it when I was young – honestly for fun, nothing serious, I wasn’t ever going to pursue it. It’s kind of funny because my dad used to make fun of me for doing it. He’d say, ‘stop it’ in the car while I was beatboxing. I did a capella for a year at boarding school and then I stopped because at Yale, I think they really focus more on singing than having a beat behind them. So I just did my cello thing. I always just did it for fun here or there, though. … But when I met the group, I started learning about all these different styles like dubstep, electronica, more hip hop, stuff that I never thought of. So when I was on the show, that’s when I really developed my beatbox. And it was a lot of extra hours — beyond the 15-hour days that we had, it was a lot of hours just being alone and listening to other stuff. I’m really happy I did that though, because I feel like I’m a better beatboxer now than when I was before.
You guys have covered everyone from Nicki Minaj to Katy Perry. What’s been your favorite song to cover with Pentatonix?
Honestly, right now, I think it’s Gangnam Style. It was so much fun. Every single part of the song, I love. There’s no part that’s boring, to me at least. I had to really extend the way I beatbox — even more electronically than we have before. It came together really quickly, because everyone was just in it while we were arranging it. We just knew what we wanted to do and everyone was just so excited. I don’t think I’ve felt that excited about an arrangement for a while. So we’re all just really excited to have it out. When we first saw the video, I mean, I watched it literally like 20 times a day. I was just so obsessed. We’re so happy. I love this cover so much.
How do you guys approach a new cover? Where do you start?
We usually just sit around, sit together in a circle and just start trying things out, honestly. Someone might have good ideas or we’ll kind of knock them down if they’re not the best. And it’s cool to work in that environment because everybody’s understanding. We all understand we’re all trying to make this song that we’re arranging as cool as possible. Sometimes someone’s idea doesn’t work and we have to knock it down but the person’s not angry or anything, they just understand, ‘Well, OK, it might not be what’s necessary for this arrangement.’ It’s really good to work in this very professional environment.
How long does it take for you guys to put an arrangement of a song together?
I mean, it depends. Gangnam Style for us took about three days. It was crazy for Scott (Hoying) because he had to learn Korean in three days. Other songs, for example when we did ‘Aha’ that one took us, my goodness, probably a week of just thinking and work because it’s just such a creative piece and we wanted to bring that same level of creativity to it so that took us a long time. But in the end, it turned out pretty good. So it just takes time, depending on the piece and how we’re feeling and how big the arrangement actually is.
You guys have even met several of the artists that you’ve covered. What is that like?
That’s been incredible. We met Nicki Minaj at the All-Star Game, which was absolutely incredible, I mean, just to see the reaction of these people when we do their song … it’s so funny but we have a Justin Bieber song that we did and we just met Justin Bieber’s mom on Friday on Access Hollywood. Her reaction was absolutely priceless. She was just like, ‘Wow! I’ve never heard people beatbox like that.’ So it’s cool to see people’s reactions, especially people we respect so much in the music industry.
You guys are the Season Three champions of “The Sing Off.” What was it like being a part of the show and being judged by Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) and Sara Bareilles?
That was incredible. I remember the first time we got on stage to perform, I was just shaking. Because I was like, ‘OK listen, Shawn Stockman, man … I’ve been listening to his music since I was young — I mean, young, young.’ Evolution, I mean, I had all of them — Cooleyhighharmony, everything. So I freaked out when I saw Shawn. But then to hear them really care about us progressing, I mean they really are normal people. They’re normal, but just very, very hard-working and that’s how they’ve had the success that they’ve had. To have them impart all their wisdom upon us was just so nice of them and so incredible so we really took their advice to heart — I think it made us a better band.
How has your life changed since winning “The Sing Off?”
Well, I mean, now it’s like we get to live our dream every single day, which is so amazing. To be able to wake up and know I get to do music every single day — arrange music, compose music, write music and to be with my four best friends in the world, and just to go and do performances and to tour, it’s honestly a dream come true. It feels like a fairy tale and I’m just so thankful I get to live this fairy tale.
What can audiences expect from your performances on tour?
Absolutely craziness. It’s a lot of fun. We’re doing some Sing Off stuff, some YouTube stuff, original stuff, EP stuff and then some stuff that people haven’t heard before at all which is specifically for the show. If people like to groove and dance, absolutely they should get up and dance while we’re grooving because we’re going to have a lot of fun on stage. There will be some audience participation, too. We’re really excited to go to Minneapolis and show them what we have.
Pentatonix performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at Mill City Nights. Tickets are $20 in advance or $22 at the door. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.