The Stunning Transformation Of Pentatonix

The a cappella group Pentatonix have been making waves and shaking up the music scene for over ten years. After making their official debut on "The Sing-Off," the group has gone on to win numerous Grammys and change the face of a cappella music for generations of bands and groups that will come after them.

During that time, the group has also been through a lot. From their origins as a trio of high school friends to finally breaking out of only performing cover songs and producing their own original music to losing a longtime member in 2017, there have been some tremendous highs and inescapable lows.

These days, Pentatonix is doing well. The band embarked on a holiday tour in 2021, proving despite solo records and other projects, they're still very much together. Here's a look at one of the most successful mainstream a cappella groups of all time, and what they have been through to reach that incredibly impressive and one-time lofty goal. 

The three original members of Pentatonix met at school

As many longtime fans of Pentatonix know, the three founding members — Kirstin Maldonado, Scott Hoying, and Mitch Grassi — met when they were all in high school. Grassi told Go Pride that the three each shared an affinity for choir that would prove to be instrumental in their lives. Hoying has also shared a similar story, explaining to Entertainment.ie that the three "grew up together," and that he went on to develop a passion for a cappella music that he quickly shared with Maldonado and Grassi.

In fact, Grassi explained to Entertaintment.ie just how new a cappella was to each of them. Each of the members of the group had a longtime interest in musical theatre, classical music, and choir, but once Hoying learned about a cappella music it was a game changer. Grassi said, "So we all really loved music, but the a cappella thing wasn't really a main thing for any of us. When Scott went to college, he was in an a cappella group and that's when he started to get into it."

All of the members of Pentatonix have theatre and choral backgrounds

It's probably not a surprise to find out that all of the members of Pentatonix have a background in performing music in some way. While speaking to Entertainment.ie, Mitch Grassi explained exactly how far back each of their musical roots go. He told the publication that every member of the group embraced music and musical theatre from a pretty young age, saying, "I know Scott started really young, I started really young; Kirstie and I started doing musical theatre when we were about 9 or 10. Kevin had been studying classical music since he was really young, and Avi was in choirs since about 14."

Former Pentatonix member Avi Kaplan told Entertainment Weekly that when it comes to starting a music group, it's definitely important to do it with people who really love, well, music. After being asked what advice he would give to others who want to start their own group, Kaplan noted that finding people who feel the same way about music and performing that you do is important, explaining, "If you're going to start a group, make sure the people you're starting it with are in sync."

The group became a fivesome and tried out for The Sing-Off

In 2011, Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, and Kirstin Maldonado decided it was time to take their act to the next level. Hoying and Maldonado were in college when the former asked the rest of the group if they wanted to try out for "The Sing-Off." Luckily, they agreed, but then the trio was promptly confronted with a snag: they needed five people in their group to be on the show. Hoying told Entertaiment.ie that they solved the problem quickly, explaining, "I wanted to try out for The Sing Off with my two friends, Kirstie and Mitch, but you have to have at least five people. So we decided to add a bass and beatboxer."

The Hollywood Reporter has noted that things really came together for Pentatonix when they were down to the wire; it turns out that the quintet wasn't all the way formed until the day before they were due to audition. Kevin Olusola told the publication that things really were that hectic; he was panning to go to medical school before taking the leap to join the group. Clearly, it was meant to be. Olusola added, "I had no idea we could connect like that instantaneously. We had this musical synergy that I had never felt before."

In the end, Pentatonix ended up winning season three of the show, setting the group on a path toward a surreal degree of success.

Pentatonix was dropped by their label after The Sing-Off

The members of Pentatonix were surprised when they were unceremoniously dropped from their record label not too long after their "Sing-Off" win. In retrospect, Maldonado says the move wasn't that difficult to understand given the unusual nature of the group. She told TribLIVE.com, "They didn't know what to do with us, which is understandable because we are a cappella, which is not commonly mainstream."

Instead of giving up, the group decided to take matters into their owns and harness the power of social media and YouTube. Scott Hoying told Entertainment.ie that the YouTube channel was really the secret to everything. After explaining that the group was worried people's attention spans would move on quickly once the novelty of their "Sing-Off" win had worn off, he says that moving the show to the internet was the plan. He adds, "We thought 'People are gonna forget about us really fast' and our label had dropped us, so we thought 'OK, I guess we're on our own – let's start a YouTube channel.' And that's when it really took off."

The members of Pentatonix are like a family

Since the group Pentatonix has now been together for ten years, it's not surprising that they feel like a family. Scott Hoying told Entertainment Weekly that the group is so much like a family that they don't always gel with one another, with Mitch Grassi adding, "We get snappy." Hoying was quick to explain that while that's true, the group gets along "really well. And we're able to work together really well."

Hoying also told Entertainment.ie that if there's one thing that can test the group's bond, it's being out on the road. Understandably, the grind of performing each night and traveling each day can exhaust even the closest of friends and Hoying says that having to arrange music while doing so compounds that considerably. He explained, "We always have to arrange on tour, and write on tour – so whenever we have to double up on work – do shows and write and arrange before and after them – usually we're a little more tired and irritable."

Kirstin Maldonado and Scott Hoying dropped out of college for the group

While it's clear that each of the members of Pentatonix have been serious about the group since "The Sing-Off," Scott Hoying and Kirstin Maldonado had to prove their dedication in a big way. When it was time to do the show, they were each in their freshman years of college. In the end, they had to make a choice: stay in school or move to Los Angeles to pursue their dream.

Maldonado told Tulsa World that she had originally planned to move to New York to pursue a career in stage performance before taking a sharp turn westward instead. She says that the chance to be on the show together was too much to pass up, explaining, "We thought it would be a cool opportunity and take us to the next level where we all wanted to go individually."

The group Pentatonix has always been clear about their goals

If there's one thing to be said about Pentatonix, it's that the group has been very clear about their goals for their careers from early on. In an interview with Digital Spy, Pentatonix first explained that when it came to their first record, they had a few goals: making work their fans would love, making work that feels like them, and for their music to be able to be played on the radio. While the first two weren't too hard for the group to pull off, being an a cappella group on mainstream radio might have been.

Obviously, Pentatonix has been able to pull off mainstream success over and over again. Their first album of all-original material was released in 2015 and hit No. 1 on the Billboard top 200, a feat that Entertainment Weekly notes had not ever been pulled off by an a cappella group before Pentatonix.

The members of Pentatonix have diverse musical influences

It might be tempting to assume that the members of Pentatonix are so close they must all love the same music, but doing so would be a mistake. While speaking to Entertainment.ie, Scott Hoying explained that though each member is into something else, their common enthusiasm for harmonies is what ties the group together. He said, "Mitch loves tons of harmonies, I was always a big R&B guy; Avi loves choral music and Kevin loves classical music, so he's really big into counterpoint and technical things. Kristie [sic] loves singer-songwriters."

Hoying also says that these diverse influences and interests are what make the group stronger. Additionally, the fact that each member can draw from a different influence makes the music they work on and create together all the more powerful and enriched. 

When it was time to release the group's first original album, Mitch Grassi told Popdust that they drew inspiration from a variety of sources, including singers from the 1990s. He said, "The funny thing is, I feel like we pulled a lot of influence from either '90s singers (like Lauryn Hill) or people who are imitating her, like Tori Kelly."

Creating original music is important to the members of Pentatonix

Even though Pentatonix got their start by performing a cappella covers on "The Sing-Off" and on YouTube, the group had its sights set on producing their own original music, too. In an interview with Entertainment.ie from seven years ago, Mitch Grassi emphasized this point when he explained, "This next album that we're going to do is primarily original, so we're starting to work with writers and write on our own to kind of create our own sound."

That album ended up being their self-titled release that hit music stores, radio, and the internet in 2015. As reported by Billboard, the album hit No. 1 on the brand's top 200 chart, which was an incredibly impressive feat for an a cappella group. 

Scott Hoying told The Sun Chronicle that making the decision to create original music was pretty organic for the group: It was just time. He said, "I think we thought it was time (to focus on originals) because we had just done a bunch of covers and we had had success in that way." As he added, the group just felt like it was the right time to go for it, so they did.

Pentatonix won their first Grammy in 2015

Pentatonix had a lot to celebrate when the 2015 Grammys rolled around: the group won their first-ever award for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella. The group was understandably thrilled with the win, even updating their website with a statement celebrating their victory. They wrote, "More than 48 hours later, we are STILL feeling the Grammy buzz! This past weekend was one of the greatest of our entire lives and such a major moment for Pentatonix."

The group capitalized on their success almost immediately, heading out on a nationwide tour throughout the United States. As Riff Magazine notes, the band sold out nearly all of their dates. While speaking to the publication ahead of the Grammy awards, Scott Hoying put all his hopes out there: Pentatonix really wanted to win. He said that he felt like they had a strong shot, especially because of the unique nature of their group, explaining, "People want to see something new, refreshing, organic. I think there's something humble [and] super fun about a cappella."

Pentatonix changed their sound in 2014

When it comes to learning and growing, the members of Pentatonix have been focused on continuing to hone their craft and push themselves to try new sounds and arrangements. To that end, Kevin Olusola told Entertainment Weekly that the group has to ask themselves one question from time to time: how much more can they do when their only instruments are five voices? He explains that's why he keeps innovating, saying, "I just pray that there's not a limit. And that's why I know for myself, as a beatboxer, I'm continuously listening to more music, just to get more ideas for how I can make things sound."

Some members of the group also keep up with what college a cappella groups are up to as a personal interest, which has a side benefit of keeping Pentatonix on their toes and pushing toward evolving their own sound and style. Scott Hoying told Entertainment Weekly that the a cappella movement has continued to grow and improve, saying, "I am obsessed with college a cappella groups and there are some amazing groups out there."

The members of Pentatonix have a very collaborative songwriting method

When it comes to writing and arranging their own music, the members of Pentatonix really prefer to work together as much as possible. Scott Hoying told Cincinnati Magazine that typically, one member of the group will come up with an idea for a song or arrangement and explain how the other members can contribute to either original music or performing a cover of a song. Since he, Mitch Grassi, and Kirstin Maldonado all have different styles and voices, the group then begins collaborating on how to best make the song shine.

Hoying adds that when it comes to arranging a song there is often a lot of improvisation, but the end result is often the same: just a good time with people they each love. He explains, "By the time we're done arranging it, we have it learned and ready to perform. It's a really fun, organic process just making stuff up on the spot with your friends."

Harnessing the power of social media has been a game-changer for the group

As people who are all still quite young, it's not really surprising that the members of Pentatonix have been very adept at using the power of social media to build their brand and band. While speaking to Billboard in 2019, Scott Hoying was quick to credit social media with being their "biggest power move" as using the various platforms has allowed the band to directly interact with fans and build loyalty and even friendships. 

In fact, Pentatonix began as "The Trio" when they first started their YouTube channel, but just having a channel on the platform wasn't enough. As the author at Sonic Bids notes, there's a lot of work that goes into making something happen professionally through YouTube and other social media and sharing platforms. One way Pentatonix used YouTube to their full advantage was to really flesh out the description box of each video, adding links to their website, sites where fans can buy songs, and all of their social media pages and accounts. Fans were able to feel like they really had a bond with the band, which in turn made the fans keep coming back for more.

Founding member Avi Kaplan left the group in 2017

Fans were stunned when Avi Kaplan, who joined the group back in 2011 for "The Sing-Off," left Pentatonix in 2017. Kaplan announced his departure in an emotional video posted on Facebook, explaining that the decision wasn't one he made quickly or easily, but in the end Kaplan felt he wasn't able to stay connected to friends and family the way he wanted to as a member of the group.

Kaplan also added that he didn't want to do anything to stop the group's success, so he decided it was time to go. He explained, "I could never inhibit their success in any way. I would never, ever want that."

While fans were disappointed and upset, they were also thrilled when the band announced they had a replacement for Kaplan. Matt Sallee announced he had come onboard in October 2017, writing on Instagram that he already felt at home with the group. He said, "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."