The Untold Truth Of Pentatonix

The music charts are crowded. Pop, rap, R&B, and rock acts regularly battle it out for sales and acclaim, which doesn't always leave room for everyone else. A capella music, for example, has a hard time finding a place; while it was popular in the early 2010s thanks to shows like "Glee," it didn't exactly last on the charts. Pentatonix, though, is the exception. "We're competing against the stigma that a cappella can't be successful," singer Scott Hoying told Rolling Stone in 2015. "Major labels and radio would be like, 'A cappella is gimmicky, it will never be a real thing.' Now we're like, 'It's going to be a real thing — watch!'"

Fans have certainly watched — and listened. Critics have taken notice, too. As of 2023, the five-part group has collected three Grammy Awards. At the ceremony in 2015, picking up an award for their arrangement of Daft Punk songs, Hoying spoke for them. "We recorded this in a bedroom closet. We filmed it in a kitchen. And now we're Grammy winners," he marveled.

The group has come a long way from their early days on "The Sing-Off," the reality show they won in 2011. In 2023, they even received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "It's such a staple, to be immortalized," Hoying told the Associated Press. While the group has made its mark on pop culture, fans may not know what goes into the band's fame. This is the untold truth of Pentatonix.

The group began as a trio in high school

Pentatonix has undergone a stunning transformation, but the group has pretty humble beginnings. It all began when three childhood friends from Arlington, Texas — Scott Hoying, Kirstin Maldonado, and Mitch Grassi — began creating a capella trios together. As Grassi explained to Go Pride Chicago, "We had been in choir for most of our high school careers." 

During the spring choir concert at their high school, the trio performed their a capella numbers while the choir changed formation. A filmed version of their cover of Lady Gaga's "Telephone" made its way to YouTube in 2010 and went viral — as of 2023, it has over 1.4 million views. As Grassi put it in a 2013 interview with Jake's Take, "It gained quite a bit of attention."

The friends also posted their version of "Telephone" on YouTube that year as part Kidd Kraddick's Kings of Gleeon Competition. From then, the group posted several other trio videos, including "Sweet Dreams" by Beyoncé and "Firework" by Katy Perry. 

In 2011, the group expanded to win The Sing-Off and shot to fame

After going viral in high school, Pentatonix members Scott Hoying, Kirstin Maldonado, and Mitch Grassi went their separate ways — that is, until they decided to get back together to audition for the third season of "The Sing-Off." At the time, Scott Hoying had been at college in California when a friend suggested he audition, and he got his two old friends involved. However, as Mitch Grassi explained in an interview with Jake's Take, the minimum number of contestants in a group was five. "Through that same friend, we found Avi Kaplan (our bass) and we found [our] beatboxer Kevin 'K.O.' Olusola on YouTube," Grassi recalled.

By the sounds of things, the group found their additional members just in time. As Olusola told The Hollywood Reporter, "Avi and I came in the day before the audition for the show, so that was very nerve-racking." Talk about leaving things to the last minute! Nevertheless, once the five singers started performing together, they never looked back. As Olsuola put it, "We had this musical synergy that I had never felt before."

They went on to win the show. As the singer-songwriter and judge Sara Bareilles said to Billboard at the time, "They're innovators, pushing boundaries in the right ways."

The members of Pentatonix became like family

Soon enough, the group of five had become way more than just a singing group — they'd become like a family. In 2014, Scott Hoying confessed to Entertainment Weekly, "We're like a family, to the point where we spend all our time together and sometimes we don't get along." Mitch Grassi clarified, "We get snappy." Nevertheless, it's clear that Pentatonix's clashes were rare. For the most part, Hoying said, they got along well.

According to Kevin Olusola, the family dynamic was something that happened naturally over time. As they barely knew each other when they started singing together, they sometimes had trouble understanding each other's ideas. "Now that we understand each other so well, we understand how to make things work because we know each person's dynamic and character," the beatboxer explained. And as the group joked, they've also learned to accept each other's energy after being in such "close quarters" all the time!

Pentatonix took French lessons for one of their covers

One thing's for sure — this group is always super dedicated to their craft. As the members of Pentatonix explained to Entertainment Weekly, they even went as far as to take French lessons for one of their songs. When they decided to do a cover of "Papaoutai" by Belgian singer Stromae, they knew they were stepping out of their comfort zone as the entire song was in French. Apparently, it wasn't an easy task for the fivesome. "It was so hard," Kirstin Maldonado confessed. Scott Hoying chimed in, "It started off a little rough," to which Mitch Grassi added, "It was tedious." Wow, sounds like the group worked super hard for this one song.

Hoying went on to explain that he managed to push through the lessons because of how "excited" he was about the song. Plus, as Grassi noted, they knew fans would be disappointed "if we didn't kill it." Listening to the song, it's clear those lessons totally paid off!

Pentatonix's initial trio discovered that the entertainment industry can be a small world

It turns out that everybody knows everybody in the entertainment industry. After leaving high school, Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, and Kirstin Maldonado went on to have incredibly successful careers with Pentatonix, and they probably never thought they'd come across their old high school classmates ... but that's just what happened when they made it to "Good Morning America."

In 2014, they ended up coming across an old friend when he produced an interview with them on "GMA." As Hoying explained to Entertainment Weekly, "[Mitch, Kirstin, and I] always talk about how we were a trio in high school, and he was probably the fourth to our group of friends. We were so close to him." Maldonado added: "He's living out his dream doing what he wants to do, too. It's like worlds colliding." Wow, what a small world — it's clear that high school in Arlington produced loads of talent. 

We bet Pentatonix didn't mind a reminder of their past!

Pentatonix has some interesting celebrity fans

Over the years, Pentatonix has amassed loads of fans. Their YouTube channel has over 20 million subscribers, and among their fans are a few familiar names. As they shared with Entertainment Weekly, their famous fans include Channing Tatum, Bonnie Hunt, Kelly Clarkson, Imogen Heap, and Christina Perri.

As the group confessed, they still get a little starstruck when meeting their famous fans. Scott Hoying explained that he had loved Clarkson since he was a kid. When he met her backstage at a concert, she apparently said, "I literally just watched every single one of your videos." Hoying told EW, "I never ask for pictures with celebrities, but I was like, I have to ask for a picture because I want the band to believe this story." The group even ended up touring with her! 

And for Kirstin Maldonado, seeing Tatum post their video of "Royals" was a huge moment. "I geeked out because I was like, 'He's seen us,'" she recalled. It's so cute how down-to-earth this group is despite all their fame!

Pentatonix has some bizarre warm-up routines

Because Pentatonix is an a capella group, they all rely on their voices for just about everything — with no instruments, there's not a lot to hide behind! It would be easy to assume that an a capella group would need to do some pretty intense warm-ups to keep their vocal cords in shape. As it turns out, the singers have some ... unusual routines. During a press conference in Manila, as reported by Rappler, the group revealed their bizarre habits.

Kirstin Maldonado confessed that her warm-up consisted of simply brushing her teeth. Scott Hoying claimed that all he needed was a Red Bull. And for Avi Kaplan? His warm-up routine is to have a nap! "It relaxes me, but it also makes my voice lower," the bassist explained. The group also said that before performing, they like to say a prayer together. Talk about some unusual warm-up techniques! Well, whatever they're doing, it seems to be working.

Pentatonix got dropped by their label in 2011

Pentatonix seems like one of those music groups that has always had amazing luck. From their first viral videos to their big win on "The Sing-Off," their rise to the top of their game looks pretty straightforward from an outsider's perspective. However, it turns out, they haven't always had it so easy.

In fact, their label dropped them unexpectedly, shortly after they won "The Sing-Offin 2011. As Scott Hoying revealed to Cincinnati Magazine, it was tough at first. The label contract was part of their prize for winning the show. The whole group had just moved to Los Angeles to start working on music full-time. "Then, when we ended up getting dropped, it was really, really, really sad," Hoying confessed. Nevertheless, the group tried to stay positive. 

In the end, it ended up being a pretty good thing. As Hoying put it, "Reality show contracts are pretty rough." So, when they got dropped, it gave them the chance to grow a following on YouTube. Soon, they had 8 million followers — and "got signed to a bigger, better label." What a great comeback story.

Pentatonix appeared in Pitch Perfect 2 as a cheesier version of themselves

The "Pitch Perfect" films arguably brought the world of a capella competition to the mainstream. The films followed a university team of misfits as they prepare for the a capella championships. Pentatonix seemed like an obvious group to include in the films. For the sequel in 2015, the singers did get a little cameo with an a capella mashup and, as Entertainment Weekly reported at the time, fans were thrilled. As Mitch Grassi explained, their song for the film was a bit of a throwback to their early days. "It isn't really something we would do in terms of style," he said. "It was very reminiscent of The Sing-Off, but it was kind of fun to go back to where we started and do it up a bit cheesier than usual."

Nevertheless, as Scott Hoying explained in a separate conversation with Entertainment Weekly, the producers of the film were pretty easygoing with what they created. "They were like, do your thing," Hoying said. "We arranged it, sent it, and they were like check, we love it."

Pentatonix used emerging social media platforms to solidify their fame

Despite getting a big boost from their appearance on "The Sing-Off," Pentatonix's fame really started to grow thanks to social media. After all, it was their viral YouTube videos that first got them noticed.

In an interview with Billboard, Scott Hoying and Kevin Olusola said that social media was their biggest "power move" as it helped them connect with fans and even secure a record deal with RCA. And looking back at their career, it's clear that social media has played a huge role in expanding their fan base. Mitch Grassi explained to Jake's Take, "Not only [is it] way easier to spread the word about new material, but it's a great way for our fans to keep up with our current activities, plus they get to know us on a more personal level."

Not only does social media help spread the word, but it also lets fans into their process. In 2016, bassist Avi Kaplan summed it up to "FaceCulture," saying, "I think social media is really the heart and soul of ... everything." As he explained, it allows them to show people what they're doing live, so they can see "what is so special about it."

Pentatonix admits that making Christmas music definitely helped them hit the big time

If you're a Pentatonix fan, you've probably got their Christmas tracks blasting all December long. Aside from maybe Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé, few artists have made as much of a splash from their Christmas music. Scott Hoying even laughingly told Billboard that making Christmas music might have been one of their smartest moves. He has a point. In 2019, their album, "The Best of Pentatonix Christmas," became the group's 10th top 10 album on the Billboard 200 Chart; half of those albums were Christmas records. They are certainly giving us plenty of festive cheer! 

In an interview for NOLA, Kirstin Maldonado explained that the group kept coming back to Christmas songs for a reason. "A capella and Christmas music really go well together. It feels in the spirit of Christmas, how jolly and fun Christmas songs are," she said. She went on to explain that she co-wrote one of Pentatonix's original Christmas songs, "Good to Be Bad." Apparently, it was pretty hard — after all, there are only so many Christmas-related words! 

In 2017, Avi left Pentatonix with a super emotional farewell

One of the saddest moments in the group's history came in 2017, when Avi Kaplan, the bassist, decided it was time to say goodbye. He announced his departure in a tearful Facebook video, alongside the other members of the group. "It's been one of the toughest decisions to make in my entire life," he began. He went on to reassure fans that his six years with the group had been incredible. However, as he explained, he had sometimes become overwhelmed by the pace of life that came with being part of the group. "I believe in what we do, and I believe in what they will do," he went on, asking fans to keep supporting the group without him.

In 2017, a new bassist, Matt Sallee, joined the group ahead of a new album and tour. Sallee, as it turned out, was a total Pentatonix fan. In an Instagram post, he wrote: "They have been nothing but the most humble and sweet human beings in the world and I'm so blessed and humbled to work with a group of people I have looked up to for such a long time. Dreams do come true people!"

Pentatonix totally loves Ariana Grande, and she loves them!

Ariana Grande means a lot to Pentatonix. Like ... a lot! Musically speaking, she's given the group a whole lot of great material. They covered her song "Problem" in 2014, and then in 2019, they did a viral chronological compilation of her music in honor of the complete evolution of Ariana Grande fittingly titled "The Evolution of Ariana Grande." Grande saw the video and posted a now-deleted message on X, formerly known as Twitter, writing: "This is so incredible my face has chills and the last minute made me sob." Pentatonix replied, "AHHH thank you @ArianaGrande for the kind words! We're so happy you enjoyed it!! We love you!"

In fact, the group talks about Grande so much that there's a five-minute-long video on YouTube composed of clips of them talking about her. And when asked by Billboard what their favorite album of 2018 was, the whole group agreed it had to be Grande's "Sweetener." As Scott Hoying said, "We're Ariana stans." Could there be a collaboration in the future? We can only hope so!

Pentatonix's Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying created Superfruit as a duo

Looking for even more music from Pentatonix? Well, you're in luck. Two of the members of the group, Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying, created a duo called Superfruit. As Grassi explained to Out in 2017, the duo project allows him to show his more "raunchy" side. "It's a little less G-rated," he admitted, "but the funny thing is there isn't a difference between Pentatonix and Superfruit as far as who we are, because Scott and I are being ourselves in both situations." He went on to explain that Superfruit comes across as "more gay-friendly and a lot more open, more sexual, more liberated."

In an interview for Paper, Hoying said that branching out from the main group was pretty easy thanks to some early rule-making. "We've always had a rule," he said. "Since everyone has their own solo project, even from the very beginning, our rule has been that everyone can do whatever they want but, Pentatonix always comes first." Sounds like we won't have to worry about Pentatonix breaking off into solo projects any time soon — if we're lucky, we may even get more spin-offs!

Several members have side projects

In addition to Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying's Superfruit side project, several members of Pentatonix release music on their own. Grassi himself, for example, records music under the moniker "Messer." He put out an EP, "Roses," in 2021. Grassi told Paper that the title track was meant to be "feel-good" and "hopeful." He explained, "To me, 'Roses' embodies sexual liberation, gratitude and the appreciation for beauty in the simplicity of human life."

Hoying also puts out solo music; he released an EP called "Parallel" in 2023. He reflected on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" that it's a difficult thing to step out on your own. "I think that, you know, being in Pentatonix, it's like, your best friends are up there with you, and you make stuff together," he said. "And I was just so scared to be vulnerable and tell my own story."

Kirstin Maldonado has released music as kirstin™, trademark symbol included. (Not so coincidentally, "T.M." are her middle and last initial). "Hopefully we can just stick to one name and people get it," she told People in 2017. Kevin Olusola, too, has put out a covers EP on his own. "I have loved every second I've spent putting my spin on these covers and I hope each of you love them as much as I do," he wrote on X in 2020. That's just about everyone, except for Matt Sallee — we're looking at you!

Pentatonix: The Next Generation?

Thanks to the band's 2017 lineup shakeup, there have been six people who have been part of Pentatonix. Besides the singers themselves, the Pentatonix family at large still keeps growing. In addition to numerous spouses and partners, two members are parents!

Kevin Olusola welcomed Kaia in 2021, as he revealed on Instagram. "I became a father this weekend," he wrote. In 2023, he shouted out his wife on Mother's Day, gushing, "When I see the bond you've created with our little one, it's clear to me that your truest calling by God was to be her mother, and she's been loved by you well." Olusola also shares humorous videos about fatherhood on TikTok, including one video of his little girl banging on a sound board ... or, should we say, making beats in the studio. "Yuuuuuup. This is definitely my child," he joked.

Kirstin Maldonado has a daughter, too. She announced on Instagram in 2022 that she had given birth to a girl named Elliana. On her first Mother's Day as a mom, she shared a photo of herself and her daughter in a field of flowers, writing: "You have brought immeasurable joy to my life. I love you with all my heart and soul." Maldonado has even brought her daughter on tour. "She loves meeting people and is super social," Maldonado told People, "so the tour has been a breeze for her." Look at that ... already a pro!

Pentatonix works with anti-bullying charities

On the finale of "The Sing-Off," Pentatonix visited The Trevor Project, a group that supports LGBTQ+ youth. While queer advocacy organizations praised the band for highlighting the important work that the charity does, the segment caused controversy for not explicitly naming the fact that it was an LGBTQ+-friendly charity. "As an LGBTQ youth-serving organization, at no time did the Trevor Project hide our work or the community that we serve," said David McFarland, Interim Executive Director and CEO of The Trevor Project, according to The Advocate.

Pentatonix has made up the difference in the years since they were on reality TV. In 2022, they performed at a Minneapolis charity event meant to combat bullying. "I think that anything we can do to put an end to bullying is something we want to do," Scott Hoying told the Star Tribune. "Bullying affects kids for their entire life and affects your future."

Hoying also joined Hilary Duff for a recreation of her iconic pro-gay PSA from the 2000s. In the original ad, Duff happens upon two girls who are using "gay" as an insult. Duff and Hoying recreated the clip for TikTok, with Hoying taking the place of the "girl wearing a skirt as a top" as they lip-synced the old audio. "14 years later -still holds up," Duff wrote.

Gee, we wonder who's under those sushi suits...

In 2023, a five-piece group dressed as "The California Roll" made it all the way to the semi-finals on "The Masked Singer." The suspicious sushi sang songs like "Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga and "Creep" by Radiohead, and those five-part harmonies were unmistakable. (Well, unless you're judge Nicole Scherzinger, who guessed that they were the cast of the Broadway musical "Hamilton.") It was, of course, Pentatonix.

Sallee told Entertainment Weekly that they considered switching off who would be singing at any given point, but they decided to do it all as a group instead. "We just have so much fun singing together and we really love building together," he said. Scott Hoying joked that they planned to bring their sushi stardom on tour with them. "They'll get our California Roll experience as well as the Pentatonix experience," he promised. "The California-tonix Experience."

Kevin Olusola particularly enjoyed the fact that they were given free reign to dance around the stage in ways they wouldn't normally during a Pentatonix concert. "[Producers] were very much encouraging in terms of go full out, live your life, have fun, be extra, be dramatic," he said. Kirstin Maldonado agreed, explaining on "The Jennifer Hudson Show" that she liked the freedom she felt behind the mask. "I feel like it was, like, a workshop in like, confidence," she said. "I felt free."

They solidified their Christmas domination in Candy Cane Lane

In 2023, the group seemingly decided they didn't just want to dominate the holiday music scene, and they got into Christmas movies, too. "Candy Cane Lane," a film starring Eddie Murphy, premiered on Amazon Prime Video in December 2023. Pentatonix plays a group of carolers in the movie, lifelike toys who can only communicate by singing Christmas songs — a fitting role for a band whose output is so holiday-heavy! 

Director Reginald Hudlin told About Amazon that casting the group just made sense. "When I read the script and saw reoccurring singing parts, I knew there was only one casting choice," he said. Hudlin got to be present while the group recorded music for the film, and he loved what he heard. "Working with them was so much fun and to experience their vocal mastery in person was pure joy," he gushed.

It seems that the group enjoyed their foray into holiday film-dom, too. "They all had fun, so that was my main thing," Hudlin told Covered Geekly. On Instagram, the band wrote, "We're SO thrilled to be a part of the #CandyCaneLaneMovie cast."

Matt Sallee has fit right in

Matt Sallee replaced Avi Kaplan in 2017. Understandably, Sallee has experienced quite the whirlwind since he was plucked from obscurity to be part of one of the most successful music groups in the world. "I landed in Los Angeles ... and recorded two songs the next morning," he told Southern Maryland News Net shortly after joining the band.

You'd think Sallee would be settled in by now, but that's not the case. "I'm still pinching myself," Sallee joked in a 2023 interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He told them that his first concert with the other members took place in Toronto. "I had done my homework. I knew every Pentatonix song," he recalled. Thankfully, he fit right in. "It went off fine," he said. "I was able to trust my training."

It seems that Sallee still has trouble thinking of himself as part of Pentatonix, even all these years into his career. He was particularly wowed by the reception the band experienced when they were awarded their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2023. "Just being there and seeing how inspiring they are to so many fans was incredible," he said. Notice how he still said "they" rather than "we?" You're a Pentatonix too now, Matt!

Matt and Kevin wear their religious influence on their sleeve

Though they are Christmas mainstays, Pentatonix considers themselves a secular band. That doesn't mean the members themselves are not religious, as Matt Sallee and Kevin Olusola told The Christian Post. In fact, Sallee and Olusola believe that their unique position in culture allows them to spread Christian teachings to their fans. Olusola compared them to the Biblical figure of David, explaining, "He goes into the culture, and he gets to infiltrate, but he also gets to stay true to the one true God." Sallee agreed, adding, "Whether we're in Madison Square Garden, whether we're at a children's hospital, God is everywhere, and He uses us."

To that end, Olusola co-hosts a podcast called "Imagine Faith Talk." According to the pod's website, "This is the podcast where we believe that faith in God is the key to unlocking everything you've been called to be." Launched in 2022, the podcast features episodes with titles like "What A Blessed Wife Looks Like" and "Does the Enemy Own the Industry?" 

Olusola told The Christian Beat that he hopes his podcast can help guide other entertainers. "As I came up through the music industry with my vocal group Pentatonix," he said, "I didn't have any Christians around to teach me how to stay true to my faith while finding success in the world."

Avi Kaplan's solo career is going well

After Avi Kaplan left the band, he kicked off a solo career. "I had just left a very successful career, and in general I had a lot of hurt and a lot of healing to do," he explained to Billboard, perhaps suggesting that his split from Pentatonix wasn't as friendly as the band made it seem. He even had doubts, wondering whether he'd made the right choice. Ultimately, Kaplan decided that, yes, this was the right move. "I knew I made the right decision, and at the end of the day it's up to me to get where I want to go," he said. Still, Kaplan acknowledges the difficulty inherent in leaving behind a sure thing. "It's a lot to take on," he said.

Kaplan turned that hurt and healing into music. Kaplan has put out a number of singles and several EPs in the years since he left Pentatonix. His debut album, "Floating On a Dream," was released in 2022. He told NPR that he enjoyed rising to the challenge of making music on his own, explaining, "I can do whatever I want creatively and artistically ... I had a beautiful time recording this and singing with myself."

"Floating On a Dream" hit #57 on Billboard's Top Album Sales chart, proving that Kaplan's fans are willing to follow him into the next stage of his career. As he told NPR, "It feels like I'm on the right path."

They don't just do covers

Pentatonix is primarily known for their covers; after all, that's how they won "The Sing-Off." The group doesn't just record their own versions of other people's songs, though; they put a lot of work into their original music, too. The group put out their first album of new songs in 2015, and Mitch Grassi told Time that they needed to lay some groundwork with covers first. "An original album was always a goal for us, but I think we just wanted to garner a fan base and work up to it slowly, because it's not an easy thing to tackle," he said. Scott Hoying added that radio programmers told them to make original music because they were hesitant to play covers on the radio. It worked, to an extent; "Can't Sleep Love," a single from their eponymous album of original music, managed to reach #99 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It took until 2021 for Pentatonix to put out another collection of songs they'd written themselves. The band told Atwood Magazine that it was important for them to take their time, living life so that they had experiences to write about. "We have dealt with some sad situations, but equally a plethora of very exciting and happy situations," Hoying explained. "It's kind of analyzing that and addressing it, taking the highs with the lows." Sadly, while many Pentatonix albums have reached the upper echelons of the Billboard 200, "The Lucky Ones" only hit #123.