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The SoCals: Reppin' L.A. in NBC's 'The Sing-Off'

December 14, 2009 |  8:06 am
Socals Eight singers. Millions of viewers. No retakes. No instruments. No Mr. Schu? That’s the reality for the SoCals, the L.A.-based a capella group that will be fighting it out on “The Sing-Off.”

The SoCals are no strangers to the stage. They all hail from the USC a capella group the SoCal Vocals. Last year, the college group won first place in the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella, which led to a live performance on the "Today” show.

They will be vying with seven other groups for "The Sing-Off's" ultimate prizes: $100,000 and a recording contract with Epic Records. Hosted by pop singer Nick Lachey, “The Sing-Off” airs today with consecutive episodes on Tuesday and Wednesday. The finale will be aired live on  Dec. 21. All four episodes start at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Recently, I spoke with the SoCals’ bass singer Ryan Alvarez about the group, its competition and the comparisons to the the hit Fox show "Glee."

Are you prepared for all the attention you’re going to get soon?
Not really. We have been so focused on the music part of it. We’ve been working such long days on music, choreography and costumes.  Honestly, I don’t think we’ve had a chance to think about where this might take us. At this point, we’re focused on the competition. We’re doing it one day at a time.

What makes the Socals different from other a capella groups?
We describe ourselves as a “party on stage.” We want to entertain the audience and make them have fun, walking away smiling and clapping from our performance. We do a lot of fun moves and of course the music is important. That’s our focus, but beside the music, we don’t just stand there and sing. We like to move around the stage and do big choreography. We’re a little bit more theatrical than some groups. It’s definitely a whole entertainment package.

Being from L.A., is that the influence of Hollywood in your performances?
I guess we do have that sort of entertainment-industry influence in that we really want to be performers and not just singers.

There have been comparisons made between “The Sing-Off” and “Glee.” Are you all fans of the show?

I can’t speak for everyone in the group. I watch the show. I think it’s great. I love it. I think it’s funny. I love the music they incorporate into every episode. If anyone compares us to “Glee,” it’s OK. I think it’s a great show.

How realistic is “Glee”?
I think the realistic part is the heart they put it into it. You do have people from different backgrounds, and it’s the music that brings it all together. It makes you a little community. I think that’s the realistic stuff: the relationships that happen within the show.

The unrealistic stuff: First of all, “Glee” isn’t technically a cappella. They play with a band. We use only our voices. Also, “Glee” is prerecorded. It’s produced. It’s mixed in a studio, so they sound note perfect. In this show, we’re live. They’re not doing any touch-ups, so what people are going to hear is what we sound like. We don’t have the benefit of tuning and mixing like they have in “Glee.”

Did you know any of the other groups before appearing on “The Sing-Off”?

Yeah, definitely. A couple years ago, when we were all in college together, our group, the Socal Vocals from USC, went on an East Coast tour. We actually sang with the Beelzebubs [from Boston, Mass.] at their school. It was great. We were also somewhat familiar with Noteworthy, the all-girl group from BYU [in Provo, Utah], because we’ve been in competitions with them before. We had a good relationship there, as well.

Nota_opera_box So, how fierce is the competition?
It’s tough. Everybody here is so good and at the top of their game. In a sense, it’s great. America is going to get to see the best of the best a capella. For us, we really have to work really hard, because we have to keep up with all these other amazing groups.

Which group poses the biggest threat to the SoCals?

Oh, everybody is so good. I’ll give you one of my personal favorites: this group called Nota. They’re from Puerto Rico. They are on fire. Their harmonies are tight. Their percussion is amazing. They really take the stage and own it. I think Nota is definitely a group to watch for in this competition and even after.  I think they’re really going places.

Besides the money, there’s a recording contract at stake. How realistic is it that an a capella group would get a record deal without this show?
I honestly don’t know. A capella has certainly been around. There are professional groups now. It’s not a huge thing that everybody knows. But with shows like “Glee” and this show, who knows? Maybe a capella will really take off. I think that things might be changing right now.

– Jethro Nededog (follow me on Twitter @TheRealJethro)

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Photos, from top: L.A.-based the SoCals on “The Sing-Off”; also on the show, Puerto Rico’s Nota. Credit: NBC Universal
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