Scott Hoying, formerly a pop music major and self-professed “choir nerd” at USC, began his freshman year like any other college student with an interest in vocal music: His days were filled with school, friends and a whole lot of singing. Naturally, Hoying quickly found his home at USC in its a cappella choir community, where he joined the SoCal VoCals.
Hoying had no way of knowing, but at the time he was on the cusp of stardom, soon to become a founding member of the a capella group Pentatonix.
Pentatonix, a small group of five talented musicians, began its journey in 2011, when Hoying and two of his close friends from high school, Mitch Grassi and Kirstie Maldonado, decided to audition for The Sing Off. Hoying had heard about the show through friends in the the SoCal VoCals who had previously competed on it. He then began contemplating the start of an a cappella group of his own.
“I thought it would be cool to have a little group where we could go and belt it out, unlike most groups that have around 16 people,” Hoying said.
The group began with only three singers, but following the urgings of former VoCal, Ben Bram, Pentatonix added a bass and a beatboxer to its numbers. Finding a strong bass, Avi Kaplan, was relatively simple, but it longer to find the perfect beat boxer.
The group discovered Kevin Olusola online. Olusola had posted a viral video on YouTube where he showed off his beatboxing skills while simultaneously playing the cello.
“When we came across the video, we thought he was unbelievable. His musicianship was unreal,” Hoying said. “There was just something special about Kevin.”
After calling Olusola and offering to pay for his flight to Los Angeles for the show’s audition, the group was complete. Though some of them barely had time to get to know one another, the five singers came together musically in their audition, performing an interpretation of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.”
That one audition kicked off an adventure through the show that has led the a cappella group to even greater things. The group went on to win Season 3 of The Sing Off and has taken the world of a cappella by storm, releasing an EP, touring the country and producing a number of hit cover songs on YouTube.
“That investment in Kevin’s plane ticket ended up being worth it all because our experience was just incredible,” Hoying said.
During its time on the show, Pentatonix performed hit songs such as Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” Usher’s “OMG” and even a Britney Spears medley, but one highlight of the show that Hoying mentioned was performing “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine during the competition’s semifinals.
“In the week leading up the performance, we literally felt like we were at the end of our ropes,” Hoying said. “Our dress rehearsal was a total disaster, but in the actual performance, everything came together and it was the most magical moment.”
The group’s successful performance in the semifinal secured Pentatonix a slot in the finale and a chance to win the show’s grand prize: $200,000 and a recording contract with Sony.
“I’ll never forget it — it was our best performance on the show, the audience went wild and I knew we were going to the finale,” Hoying said.
Since its big win, Pentatonix has released two EP’s, PTX Volume 1 and PTXmas, appeared on various television shows, performed around the country during its sold-out fall 2012 tour and continued to post covers of hit songs on YouTube.
The group is now planning to kick off the new year with an even bigger tour lineup for 2013, adding bigger performance venues, set pieces, lights and choreography.
“The audience can expect a total upgrade to everything we have done in the past,” Hoying said. “We’re definitely taking things to the next level and it’s exciting.”
Along with its 2013 tour, the group is also working on its second EP, which will feature more original songs by various members of the group.
“Our goal is to transition from doing mostly covers to mostly originals with the occasional cover,” Hoying said.
Though no release date has been set, the album is projected to come out early in the year.
The upcoming Pentatonix tour will kick off Thursday, Jan. 24 with a concert at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood. After making its way through the rest of California, the group will be back performing in Southern California at the House of Blues in Anaheim on Jan. 30.
Before heading out onto the road, Hoying — still very much a Trojan — had an opportunity to return to USC and perform at USC Program Board’s Variety Hour last week.
As Pentatonix wowed the audience with a brief set, Hoying got the chance to reflect on where it all began for him.
“It’s so cool to come back and have all my friends at USC come support us and talk about memories,” Hoying said. “It means so much to know they are still supporting me, even though I don’t go to the school anymore.
Hoying and Pentatonix now have the world as their oyster, but Hoying said as he and his group continue to push the boundaries of a cappella music, he will never forget his Trojan family — a family who introduced him to a cappella and to opportunities that would change his life.