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Q&A with The Sing-Off’s Nick Lachey

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This week on NBC’s The Sing-Off, the remaining six groups from the second bracket of the competition will be singing “Radio Hits” and “60’s Classics” for judges, Sara Bareilles, Ben Folds, and Shawn Stockman. Nick Lachey - credit: NBC

The show’s host, Nick Lachey, recently did a question and answer session with various media outlets, where he spoke about aspects about the show, the judges and contestants, plus his love of acapella music.

What was the decision to expand the competition to 16 groups this season?

We were afforded the opportunity to have a longer season, 11 episodes this year opposed to the five we had last year. So, it just gave us an opportunity to expand the search and expand the audition process and ultimately have more groups compete, which I think is great.

You see, a real diversity between the groups, everything from high schoolers to our first ever rapper on the show, and the old doo-wop guys, North Shore. You’ve got a wide range of acapella represented. And think it’s great we’re able to expand it.

What does Sara bring to the table as a judge?

Sara has been such an absolute joy to around to work with. I think she’s such a brilliant songwriter and musician in her own right, and she brings a wealth of knowledge to the panel. I said this before and I’ll say it again, I think she’s the absolute perfect fit for The Sing-Off is and what The Sing-Off’s all about.

Although you’ve had a solo career after 98 Degrees, do you ever yearn to be a part of a group again after watching these talented acapella groups on The Sing-Off?

Sure, sure yes. It’s a contagious show to be a part of. And I think there’s a camaraderie that comes with being in a group of any kind or a band. And certainly that was true for 98 Degrees. There was a real kind of special brotherly kind of bond that we all shared.

And yes, I miss that. It’s fun to go through those experiences with other people and guys you care about. And so yes, there’s definitely something to be said for being part of a group like that.

How do you feel this year’s groups compare to the previous season’s?

Not to take anything away from previous seasons, but I think the groups this year have been just unbelievable. The talent level across the board is certainly improved this season. And as I said earlier, the diversity of the groups has really I think improved this season.

I think it’s just a testament to the show and it’s success and that’s created an awareness and an interest from singers out there and groups out there that want to be a part of what we’re doing. I couldn’t be happier with the level of talent and the level of execution that these groups have been bringing to the table this year.

How do you feel about members from past groups appearing again in different groups this season?

I think it says a great thing about competition; if you get knocked down, you get back up and you stay after it.

Obviously, those members were parts of groups that didn’t win, but they still want to pursue their dreams and pursue their passion and try again. And I think if it’s re-imagined in a different form, [then] I don’t have problem with it.

Have you ever been really disappointed or maybe had a problem with any of the decisions the judges have made?

Interesting question. I think there [are] certainly situations where my opinion differed from what the judges ultimately decided. But that’s kind of the beauty of my role. I don’t get a voice; I don’t have to make those tough decisions.

But, I think I’m probably not unlike anyone else watching at home who thinks, “Oh man, I can’t believe they were sent home. I was expecting some other group.”

As I’m sitting backstage waiting for the judges’ decision, sometimes when I ultimately see it and see who’s been sent home, it’s the same reaction. They certainly have their criteria and their method, if you will, and even I am not privy to that. So for me, I’m almost a spectator in that sense.

Would you rather be a judge or a contestant if you had the chance to participate in the show as not a host? Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles, Shawn Stockman - credit: NBC

It [would] obviously be fun to be a contestant and then be a part of a group competing, but at the same time I know how hard they have to work. I mean, this competition is a lot of singing in a very short amount of time and the competition is really stiff. And I can’t imagine how much pressure those groups are under.

But, at the same time it’s neat to see the kind of family bond that they all share together. I mean, they really do get a chance to bond together. And they really do pull for one another, so it’s a neat dynamic.

How have you been enjoying your time on the show? And can you say that you have learned anything from your overall experience that you may be able to interpret in your own career?

Great question. Yeah, I love being a part of the show. It’s such a fun show to be a part of and be around talented musicians every day and be a part of watching them grow and ultimately giving someone a chance to chase their dream and pursue their dream. It’s a great process to be a part of.

I’m blessed that I’m able to be the host of The Sing-Off. And yes, I think I learn something every day. I mean, it’s contagious to be around music and to be around great musicians.

So certainly, if nothing else, I think their passion is contagious. And when you’ve been in the business a while, sometimes you forget the passion and the excitement that you had when you first stepped into it. It’s refreshing to be around people who have that excitement and passion, so that’s certainly contagious.

As far as your career, when can we expect something else from you?

I just went back in the studio about two-three weeks ago to start a new project. So, hopefully the beginning of next year we’ll have some new music from myself.

Why do you think The Sing-Off is so popular?

I think it’s just people understand and appreciate and enjoy watching real talent. And I think that The Sing-Off certainly maybe showcases that better than any other show. With acapella music, there’s just nowhere to hide. So, you really get a feel for how talented these groups are.

And there’s just great performances. I think people gravitate to hearing great music and great music done well. And I think that we certainly do that on The Sing-Off. [I] just appreciate everyone out there who supported the show and continues to watch it, and continues to support what we’re doing.

I know that Boyz II Men has reunited on the show for the finale. Would you ever consider bringing 98 Degrees to The Sing-Off stage?

Sure. It’s something we’ve talked about in the past. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you see that happen at some point.

Would you ever consider expanding into reality shows that maybe weren’t necessarily music-oriented?

I don’t think I necessarily limited myself or try to limit myself to those. It’s just for me, I think that’s where my passion kind of originates from. And music’s something certainly that’s been very good to me in my life and my career.

So, it’s always been an opportunity to give back, so to speak, and be a part of watching other people realize their dreams. It’s always an exciting thing to be a part of. But, no I wouldn’t limit myself to doing just music-based reality shows, although that’s just kind of where I think my natural knowledge and interest lies.

Why do you think acapella’s having this moment in the pop-culture spotlight?

I think it’s in such an era of auto-tuning and effects and all this stuff. And I think it’s kind of come full circle to a point where people really appreciate that they are performing it’s rawest scene in it’s rawest sense. And that’s really what acapella is. You know, it’s talent showcased with no effects, nowhere to hide.

And I think people appreciate that, and it’s kind of come to a place where people are yearning for that. I think we’ve seen shows like Glee that certainly have played into it. And all the music shows obviously play into one another.

But, I think acapella’s gotten past the stereotype of it just being doo-wop or it just being barbershop, and people now realize that acapella can be anything, and it’s
really kind of expanded the opportunities for it. And people have kind of taken to that. So, I just think it’s people’s appreciation for the talent that it takes to pull it off.

Do you sense a difference in the level of ambition by the L.A. groups? Because certainly Kinfolk 9, you really sense that this is their chance. And obviously L.A. is a place where people’s showbiz dreams do tend to come true.

Yes. I think we see Sonos is another LA-based group. I think that when you live in L.A. and it’s what you’re doing actively all the time and maybe there is a little added sense of pressure as opposed to a group that’s prepared to go back to school or go back to their day jobs or whatever. But, I think all these groups realize that this is an opportunity to chase their dream and realize their dream, and get started in this business.

I do know what you’re saying. You know, for people who work in the industry, The Collective from Nashville, another group that’s really immersed in music there, maybe there’s a little added sense that, “Hey, this is our chance to make or break this opportunity.”

I, again, think all the groups on some level realize that the opportunity that’s in front of them and take it seriously.

How do you think the music industry has changed since you were a part of it with 98 Degrees?

Well, it’s certainly changed a lot. I mean, I think the biggest change is that the music business is struggling to be a business anymore.

You know, with downloading and the loss of record sales and all that, it’s cut the financial side of the business down to a place where everyone’s kind of having to scramble to make things work.

And that changes things across the board. So, I’d say that’s the biggest thing. Obviously music will always be a part of our lives and music will always be there. But, the way we’re getting our music and the way that we’re monetizing our music has certainly changed.

Aside from the addition of Sara Bareilles, is there anything new we could expect to see this season? And in particular, I’m wondering if TheThe Sing-Off - credit: NBC  Sing-Off is going to embrace social media as much as a show like The Voice has?

Yes, I think the biggest change is more groups, more episodes. But with that we’re also able to expand what we’re able to do somatically on the show.

We have our first ever country and western episode. We have our first ever hip-hop episode. Just having the opportunity to do more episodes gave us the chance to kind of break it open a little more.

And as far as social media, I mean, that’s something that obviously everyone across the board is trying to make more use of. And I think that we’re the same. I think Sara’s got over three million followers or something, so she’s certainly figured it out. I’m a little behind the eight ball on that. I’m trying to get a tweeter tutorial, so I can join the 21st Century, apparently.

We know that you’re pulling for all the groups, but are there any specific groups or individual performances that have made an impression on you this season?

Yes, I mean every episode there’s a handful of performances that just stand apart as being just unbelievable. I think we saw Delilah in the first episode do “Grenade” and just absolutely killed it. And I think really everyone kind of took notice of that. And so every episode, there’s someone that’s kind of stepping out and seems to take the lead for a second.

But, that’s the great thing about the show. It always seems that the next week someone else comes out and evens out the playing field. So, you know, it’s hard to pick a favorite or a front runner. They’re all great in their own ways. And ultimately, I’m just glad I don’t have to make that decision. The judges get to do that and then ultimately America gets to make the choice, so I just get to talk about it.

What makes you interested in the genre of acapella, since that really wasn’t your original niche in the music world?

Well it actually was kind of our original niche, believe it or not. I grew up singing acapella and sang in a barbershop quartet when I was in high school at Kings Island Amusement Park. And then when 98 Degrees first formed, we did all acapella. We’d go around town and sing for anyone. And then actually that’s how we got signed to Motown Records. We walked into the President’s office and sang an acapella medley for him.

So, I have a real appreciation for A, what it takes to pull off acapella and pull it off well, and B, what it’s meant to my career and to my life. So, it’s kind of a, I guess, in a way my chance to give back to the art form, if you will. So yes, when you become a boy-band, so to speak, you end up dancing and wearing goofy outfits, and all that stuff, you know, acapella takes a little bit of a back seat. But, it really was the thing that inspired us to get together and the thing that created our opportunity.

The great thing about acapella is it’s always going to be there. You know, just because you sing to track doesn’t mean you can’t do acapella. I think that’s certainly something even on every 98 Degrees album we always did an acapella song, because we always wanted to continue that kind of foundation.

Do you have any tips for young people who might want to get started in acapella music?

Yes. It’s much like other things in life, [it’s] really about practice. And in acapella, the blend is so important. And I think the only way you can really achieve that blend is by singing a lot together.

And you can certainly tell the groups that have performed a long time together, because it’s almost as if they sing as one voice. And that’s really what acapella [is] when it’s done well, it’s one voice.

I think that there’s no substitute or there’s no replacement for a lot of practice, a lot of time invested.

Is Ben as much fun in person as his music would suggest?

Ben is great. My favorite part of being a part of the show is the dress rehearsal with the judges where everyone’s just kind of improving and talking off the top of their head. And Ben always has some very witty and funny things to deliver during dress rehearsal. Some of it is not meant for network airtime. But yes, he’s great. It’s been a lot of fun to get to know him and get to know his sense of humor, because he’s certainly a funny guy.

Since all the judges’ music styles are very different, how do you think that adds to show and their chemistry?

I think that’s a great point and it’s a great reason why our judging panel is in my opinion the best on television, is they all come from such accomplished careers, but very different careers.

You know, certainly Shawn is in the most accomplished R&B group ever. Sara as a solo artist, who is I think one of the best songwriters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and an incredible performer. And then Ben who’s done the solo thing and the group thing. And everyone comes from a different place, but it’s very successful and established place. I think that’s why they bring so much knowledge and so much expertise to every comment they make.

You can catch Nick Lachey hosting The Sing-Off Monday nights on NBC at 8 p.m.

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About Kirsten Coachman

Kirsten Coachman is an Entertainment Writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has interviewed a variety of people from across the entertainment spectrum, including singer-songwriter/Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, Andrew Dost from the Grammy Award-winning band fun., singer-songwriter Christina Perri, and acclaimed writer-director Derek Cianfrance.