Emily Yahr (c) 2014, The Washington Post.
Penatonix website: ptxmas.ptxofficial.com/
Maybe you stumbled across their CD in your mom’s car while home for Thanksgiving. Or maybe you’ve noticed that the name is popping up everywhere lately. And maybe you have one simple question: What’s a “Pentatonix”?
Allow us to introduce you. Pentatonix is an a cappella group that’s been around for several years but has recently become inescapable with a hugely popular Christmas album. The group’s “That’s Christmas to Me” debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 in October and has steadily racked up sales and streams since. Near the top of the Amazon, iTunes and Spotify charts, the album sold 227,000 units this week alone — placing it at No. 2 on the Billboard chart with 408,000 total copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (Expect that total to greatly increase as holiday season marches on.) Yahoo notes it’s the highest-charting Christmas album since 1962.
How did this happen? Thank reality TV, of course! Pentatonix (a quintet made up of vocalists Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan and Kirstie Maldonado, along with beatboxer Kevin Olusola) broke through on NBC’s criminally underappreciated “The Sing-Off.” The show is an a cappella singing competition beloved by a niche viewership, but it rarely makes the cut for a full season pickup. For three years, “The Sing-Off” was a limited run series in December — this year, it’s simply been reduced to a two-hour special airing this month.
Pentatonix (or PTX, for those in the know) was born when Arlington Martin High School singing pals Hoying, Grassi and Maldonado wanted to try out for “The Sing-Off” in 2011. Later, they roped in Kaplan and discovered Olusola through his beatboxing YouTube videos. The group won the show in December 2011, the year NBC extended it to a full fall season with judges Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles and Shawn Stockman. In addition to a $200,000 cash prize, the group was gifted with a Sony recording contract.
While “That’s Christmas To Me” is the group’s second full-length album, they have released several EPs featuring their covers of popular songs including Nicki Minaj’s “Starships”; Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding’s “I Need Your Love”; and Ariana Grande’s “Problem.” You might also recognize any of those from YouTube links. Their cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” has about 33 million views, while their “Daft Punk” covers medley has a ridiculous 105 million views.)
As “Pitch Perfect” and its upcoming sequel proves, people love a cappella music for some reason — it’s a rare genre that’s both tween and Mom-approved. And Pentatonix won’t be slowing down anytime soon, thanks to some cool NBC corporate synergy: They have appeared on “Today,” “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” and Wednesday’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” tree-lighting. And of course, they’ll be back where it all began: “The Sing-Off” holiday special, which airs Dec. 17 on NBC.