Nick Lachey has been a singer longer than most of the contestants on NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” but he says he is still learning a lot from the contestants on the show, which he has been hosting since 2009. “The Sing-Off” is different from other singing contests on TV because all of the contestants (singing groups) must perform a cappella — no instruments, no backup singers and no musical backing tracks. The show’s grand prize consists of $200,000 cash and a record deal with Sony Music. The Season 3 winner of “The Sing-Off” will be announced on November 28, 2011.
In a telephone conference call with journalists, Lachey talked about what he’s enjoying most about this season and what he thinks about the big changes on the show. (Sara Bareilles replaced Nicole Scherzinger on “The Sing-Off” judging panel, since Scherzinger is now a judge on the U.S. edition of “The X Factor.” The other two “Sing-Off” judges are Shawn Stockman [of Boyz II Menhttp://www.boysiimen.com fame] and Ben Folds.) Lachey also revealed what his plans are for his next solo album and what he thinks about the possibility of doing a duet with Bareilles.
What does Sara Bareilles bring to the table as a judge on ‘The Sing-Off”?
Sara has been such an absolute joy to be around to work with. I think she’s such a brilliant songwriter and musician in her own right and she brings such 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 what “The Sing-Off” is and what “The Sing-Off” is all about. And she’s been just an absolute joy to have on the show.
What was behind the decision to expand the competition to 16 groups in Season 3 of “The Sing-Off”?
We were afforded the opportunity to have a longer season: 11 episodes this year, as opposed to the five that 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 this season between the groups: everything from high-schoolers to our first-ever rapper on the show and the old doo-wop guys North Shore. So you’ve got a real wide range of a cappella represented. And I think it’s great that we’re able to expand it.
Although you’ve had a solo career after 98 Degrees, do you ever yearn to be part of a group again after watching these talented a cappella 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 a part of a group like that.
How do you feel about this year’s groups compared to groups from the previous seasons?
Well, 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, I think, 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 its success that it’s created an awareness and an interest from singers out there and groups out there to be a part of what we’re doing. But 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 of past groups appearing again in different groups this season?
I think it says a great thing about competition is that 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 it again. And I think if it’s re-imagined in a different form I don’t have a 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 is 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 that 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 judge’s decision, sometimes when I ultimately see it and see who’s been sent home, it’s the same reaction. So 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.
So along those lines would you rather be a judge or a contestant if you had a chance to participate in the show as not a host?
It’d obviously to 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. 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. Oh gosh, that’s a tough one. I guess I’d want to be a contestant. Judging’s not my thing.
You don’t want to make the hard decisions?
Yes, I’m not good at it.
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. Yes, 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.
So 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. And it’s refreshing to be around people who have that excitement and passion so that’s certainly contagious.
As far as your singing 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 [me].
A lot of the judges and hosts from reality shows use the shows as a kind of a platform for re-launching their music career or going into movies or promoting something like that. You mentioned a new album. Are there any other projects in the works for you?
That’s the one I’m focusing on primarily right now. I do have a production company that I started with my brother. And we’re trying to develop a couple of ideas that hopefully you’ll see in the next couple years realize themselves on television. But for me, it’s really getting back into the studio and starting a new project. So I’m very excited about that and excited to get ultimately get back on the road and tour and get back to performing, which is what I truly love to do.
Why do you think that “The Sing-Off” is popular enough to have lasted this long?
What 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 a cappella music, there’s just nowhere to hide. So you really get a feel for how talented these groups are.
And there are 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” so just appreciate everyone out there who supported the show and continues to watch it and continues to support what we’re doing.
Boys II Men reunited on “The Sing-Off” for a season finale. Would you ever consider bringing 98 Degrees onto “The Sing-Off” stage?
Sure. It’s something we’ve talked about. We’ve talked about in the past. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you see that happen at some point.
Do you have any part in writing the funny puns that you seem to use to introduce the performances?
I have very little part in that. I can’t take much credit for those, although … they have their own cult following at this point. But yes, I know the writers are always looking for a chance to seek those in. And every time I read the script through before we do the show I’m always looking for what they’ve come up with this week. I’m glad you get a kick out of those. I do too.
You seem to have sort of a focus on being on music-themed reality shows, and a lot of them highlight the youth and the arts. Would you ever consider going back to doing a reality show that maybe isn’t necessarily music-orientated?
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 in my career.
And so it’s always 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. 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.
There’s an a cappella movie being developed in Hollywood called “Pitch Perfect.” Why do you think a cappella’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. 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 its rawest sense. And that’s really what a cappella is. It’s talent showcased, with no effects, nowhere to hide. And I think the 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 we’ve gotten past the stereotype of it just being doo-wop or it just being barbershop, and people now realize that a cappella can be anything and it’s really kind of expanded the opportunities for it. And people have really kind of taken to that. So I just I think it’s people’s appreciation for the talent it takes to pull it off.
Do you sense the difference in the level of ambition exhibited by the L.A. groups in Season 3 of “The Sing-Off”?
Yes. I think we see Sonos is another LA-based group. And 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 and an opportunity to chase their dream and realize their dream and get started in this business. So but I do know what you’re saying. Dor people who work in the industry — The Collective from Nashville, another group that’s really immersed in music there in a very music town, maybe there’s a little added sense that “Hey his is our chance to make or break this opportunity.” I think all the groups on some level, , realize that 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 think the biggest change is the music business is struggling to be a business. 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 that’s the biggest thing. Obviously, music will always be a part of our lives and music will always be there, but the way that we’re getting our music and the way that we’re monetizing our music has certainly changed.
What was the best advice you might have been given by someone that was on “The Sing-Off”?
Oh wow. I think it’s a kind of leading by example advice. As I said earlier to one of the questions, I think the best thing about the show for me is being around people who are so passionate and excited to be musicians and to be part of music. And again, sometimes you can become a little jaded and affected, having been in the business for however many years. So it’s refreshing to be a part of people who view it in such a fresh and innocent and excited way. I think that’s the best thing I’ve taken away from being a part of this.
Aside from the addition of Sara Bareilles, is there anything new we could expect to see this season? Is “The 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 we’re able to do thematically 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 bit more.
And as far as social media, I mean that’s something obviously that 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 3 million followers or something so certainly she’s figured it out. I’m a little behind the eight ball on that. I’m trying to get a Twitter 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 performances that just kind of 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 the playing field. So it’s hard to pick a favorite or a front runner. They’re all great in their own ways. And ultimately, as I said before, 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 a cappella?
Well, it actually was kind of our original niche believe it or not. I grew up singing a cappella 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 a cappella. 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 a cappella medley for him.
So I have a real appreciation for (a) what it takes to pull off a cappella and pull it off well and (b) what it’s meant to my career, meant to my life. So it’s kind of 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, and you end up dancing and wearing goofy outfits and all that stuff, a cappella 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 a cappella is it’s always going to be there. Just because you sing to track doesn’t mean you can’t do a cappella. And I think that’s certainly something even on every 98 Degree album we always did and a cappella 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 a cappella music?
Yes. It’s much like other things in life is really about practice. And in a cappella, 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 a cappella when it’s done well: It’s one voice. And so I think that there’s really no substitute or there’s no replacement for a lot of practice, a lot of time invested.
Is “The Sing-Off “ judge Ben Folds as much fun in person as his music would suggest?
Ben is, yes, Ben is great. My favorite part of being a part of the show is the dress rehearsal with the judges where everyone just kind of improv’ing and talking off the top of their head. And Ben always has some very witty and funny things to deliver in 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 of “The Sing-Off” judges music styles are very different how do you think that that adds to the show and their chemistry?
Yes, 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. Certainly Shawn [Stockman] is in the most accomplished R&B group ever. Sara as a solo artist, is I think one of the best songwriters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and an incredible performer.
And then Ben has done the solo thing and the group thing. And everyone comes from a different place but it’s a very successful and established place. And I think that that’s why they bring so much knowledge and so much expertise to every comment they make.
Will we be hearing maybe some music with you and Sara Bareilles? Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera from “The Voice” had success with the song “Moves Like Jagger” after working together on “The Voice.”
I’d be honored. If Sara will have me, I would thoroughly enjoy being able to do a project with her. I can’t say enough great things about her talent and who she is as a person. I think she’s awesome. And yes, I think we’d make a good team.
For more info: “The Sing-Off” website
RELATED LINKS ON knotmove.com:
Interview with Nick Lachey for “The Sing-Off,” 2009
Interview with Nick Lachey for “The Sing-Off,” 2010
Interview with Ben Folds and Sara Bareilles for “The Sing-Off,” 2011
Interview with Shawn Stockman for “The Sing-Off,” 2011
“The Sing-Off” news and reviews