Kirstie Maldonado- Interview With Pentatonix’ Lead Singer
I recently had the chance to chat with Kirstie Maldonado (bio below)- the female lead singer of the wildly popular acapella group Pentatonix. They’re about to launch a tour this February 2014 and I wanted to get Kirstie’s thoughts on a few subjects.
Dina: There are few groups with all guys and one female. What are the dynamics of the group like?
Kirstie: I’ve known Mitch since I was 8 years old. I was friends with Scott since high school so we’re all friends. It’s never really weird unless those times when there’s one dressing room. We’re all like one big family.
Dina: Take me back to your childhood. How did music come to be such a major part of your life?
Kirstie: My mom and I would be in the car all the time (my mom is a single parent). We were really big into music. I told her I wanted to be like the kids in the kids’ shows. She finally put me into voice lessons when I was 8 years old and I did a community theatre show, fell in love with it. In high school, I did all the school choirs. In college, I did Musical Theatre Performance major at University of Oklahoma. That was my plan- to be on Broadway one day. And then this opportunity came my way and it’s been amazing.
Dina: How many hours do you practice each day?
Kirstie: We generally meet every day. Some days are just 2 hours, some are 6 to 8 hours, depending on what’s going on.
Dina: Take me through a typical day’s schedule for you when you’re not on tour.
Kirstie: Right now, we’re in tour preparations. I woke up at 10, then had meetings through mid-day. Afternoon we have choreography practice. When we’re not going on tour, we won’t have that long of a rehearsal. Breaks in between are our personal time. On personal time I take online classes; I really want to go back and get my degree. I also sleep a lot (laughs).
Dina: You mention that getting a degree is important to you. Why is that?
Kirstie: For so long it was just my mom and me. How she raised me- it was just important to get good grades. It’s just something I value so much, especially after I didn’t have to do it (school) anymore.
Dina:As the group grows rapidly and more in the limelight, do you feel pressure in any way to look a particular way?
Kirstie: I dealt with a lot of self conscious issues coming out to LA because it happened so quickly. I lived in a dorm before and then got thrown out into the world a year later. Now I’ve found my place in the group and within myself. In the industry, it’s hard to pinpoint who you really are sometimes. I definitely want to give off good vibes and be a good role model.
Dina: I used to be in the industry years ago and encountered situations where I heard record execs tell girls to get plastic surgery to either get skinnier or completely alter their image. I had a similar thing happen to me where a record exec wanted to dress me up like a Barbie doll to completely revamp my image. Have you experienced that?
Kirstie: I’ve actually been told that. It wasn’t in the business; it was actually in school. It does suck; obviously you’re sad. In the industry especially, if you look a certain way it does make life a lot easier. Me- I’m not the most active person in the world and I can admit that. What I used to struggle with was letting all that consume you as opposed to focusing on the good reasons to improve yourself. Now I feel like I have a little more sense of my place. People always feel like they have to fit in to a cookie cutter image and copy the stars but you have to find who you are. Those stars are already famous for who they were. You have to find the best you.
Dina: With young girls looking at you as a role model, how do you want to be perceived by your fans as a young woman yourself?
Kirstie: A fan once said to me “I wish everyone could meet you ’cause you’re not that cool,” but she didn’t mean it in a bad way. We’re just normal people. I want people to see that we’re regular people just like everybody else. I want people to see that I’m just a girl who went for her dreams. I want to inspire people to tear down their walls, especially for teenage girls. So many people don’t believe in themselves; people are worth so much more than what social media shows.
Dina: Going forward, will the group be diving more into original music or continue with covers?
Kirstie: We’re definitely going to be doing more original music. I think we’ll always do some covers since that’s where we started and people love that but we’re not just a cover band. I think our next album will be mostly original music with a couple of covers.
Vocal sensations and winners of season 3 of NBC’s The Sing-Off, Pentatonix are taking instrument-free music far beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Named after the world’s most widely recognized five-note music scale, this quintet has transformed one of pop music’s purest and most soulful expressions into an exciting future, filled with limitless sonic possibility. From their original tracks to their intricate reimagining of pop hits and epically complex arrangements and medleys, Pentatonix have quickly developed a sound and style that is entirely unique and undeniably infectious.
Pentatonix is comprised of lead vocalists Scott Hoying (22), Kirstie Maldonado (22) and Mitch Grassi (21), vocal bass Avi Kaplan (24) and beatboxer Kevin “K.O.” Olusola (25) and, while the individuals would maintain that each of their fellow band members is irreplaceable, the fact remains that 24-hours before their audition for The Sing-Off they still hadn’t all officially met.
A freshman at The University of Southern California, Scott decided to audition for the show and enlisted childhood friends and fellow Arlington, Texas-natives Kirstie and Mitch. As a high school vocal trio, they had found success both locally and online thanks to their cover of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” Determined to add depth and a distinctive dynamic to the group, Scott set out to add more vocalists, first adding Avi, who’d built himself a reputation as one of the most talented vocal basses in Southern California, and eventually took to YouTube where he found the video for “Julie-O,” featuring Kevin’s cello-boxing (simultaneously beatboxing and performing the song on his cello).
Finally a fully formed group, Pentatonix perfected their sound (and their chemistry) throughout the season, naturally developing a signature style and a knack for arranging songs that pulled equally from the five individuals’ strengths. Despite drawing from a dizzyingly eclectic set of musical genres – the group cites pop, jazz, r&b, indie, folk, dubstep and electronica as just a few of their inspirations – the quintet seemed to mesh magically, evident in their modern interpretation of The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” or their epic adaptation of Florence and the Machines’ “The Dog Days Are Over.” Before long, Pentatonix had become a legitimate musical force, armed with a collective confidence and swagger that would eventually propel them to win the competition.
After The Sing Off, Pentatonix relocated to Los Angeles where they produced and released 2 EP’s – PTX Vol 1 & PTXmas (both via Madison Gate Records) – each time debuting on Billboard’s Top 200 and selling more than 125,000 albums. They have twice toured North America, regularly selling out venues that include New York City’s Best Buy Theater and San Francisco’s Warfield Theater and their first ever European Tour sold out in its entirety. The have performed for Quincy Jones at Atlanta’s Fox Theater and were a featured performer for Diana Ross at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl. Television appearances include performances on Ellen, The Tonight Show w/ Jay Leno, The Katie Couric Show, The Talk, The American Music Awards Red Carpet Show and Sesame Street. Pentatonix have also been regularly featured online by Perez Hilton, RyanSeacrest.com, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and The New York Times.
In addition to their live shows, the Pentatonix YouTube channel boasts more than 300 million views and 4.6 million subscribers, propelled by unparalleled performances of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” (18 million views) and Lorde’s “Royals,” (25 million) as well as the incomparable “Evolution Of Music,” a 4 minute, 36-song live journey through the history of music that has tallied more than 30 million views. The group’s cover collaboration with Lindsey Stirling for Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” has seen more than 50 million views over the two artists’ channels and won in the “Best Response Video” category at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards on November 3, 2013. The group also has more than 985,000 Facebook fans and 225,000 Twitter followers.
Pentatonix new album – PTX Vol 2 – will be released on November 5th via Madison Gate Records with 8 new tracks, including 3 original songs and a modern twist on the classic “Hit The Road Jack” with original lyrics. The group continues to create, arrange and perform new music, consistently testing any and every preconception of what vocal music is and just how big it can be.
Scott Hoying is a songwriter and pianist who has been performing since the age of 8. Following his graduation from Martin High School in Arlington, TX, Scott enrolled at USC where he joined the SoCal VoCals, a popular and accomplished campus a cappella group. Involved with a variety of musical projects, Scott has been a finalist on CBS’ Star Search and has performed the National Anthem and “God Bless America” at numerous professional and collegiate sporting events, including home games for the Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks.
Mitch Grassi is the youngest member of Pentatonix and a recent high school graduate (he was a high school senior when taping of The Sing-Off commenced). In addition to immersing himself in music theater in Arlington, TX, Mitch’s music tastes skew heavily toward underground club and electronic music. A veteran of many vocal and talent competitions, Mitch took first place at the Teen Talent Follies for his rendition of Scott Alan’s “Kiss the Air.” Mitch is honing his skills in production and DJ-ing while excelling as a lead vocalist for Pentatonix.
Kirstie Maldonado is a National Hispanic Scholar and was a sophomore Music Theater major at The University of Oklahoma before joining Pentatonix. She developed her vocal and performance skills during her eight years as a touring member at Theatre Arlington where she’d learned to sing eight-part harmonies. She began her classical training during high school and was a member of the Texas All State Choir for three years. A four-year show choir member and dance captain, Kirstie held numerous roles in local stage productions, performing at shows around the Metroplex, including Casa Manana and Bass Hall.
Avi Kaplan is a serious student of classical music who also plays guitar, composes and arranges music for both choral and a cappella. A Visalia, CA native, Avi moved to Walnut, CA in 2007 to attend Mt. San Antonio College, known worldwide for their strong choral and a cappella tradition. In 2008 he joined Fermata Nowhere, a high-energy male a cappella group that became the first community college a cappella entrants to win the prestigious ICCA. Avi won the competition’s award for “Best Rhythm Section,” the first year that this award had ever included a vocal bass (the award was called “Best Vocal Percussionist” before Avi’s victory prompted the language change). In his third year at Mt. San Antonio, Avi joined Sincopation, an award-winning jazz ensemble that won the Monterey Jazz Festival Competition in his first year. He has performed at venues worldwide, including New York City’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
Kevin “K.O.” Olusola grew up in the small town of Owensboro, Kentucky, the son of a Nigerian psychiatrist and a Grenadian nurse. At an early age, Kevin began learning piano, cello and saxophone. He performed at Carnegie Hall twice as soloist on the cello and saxophone and has appeared on NPR’s “From The Top.” After finishing high school at Phillips Academy Andover, Kevin enrolled in Yale University where he was pre-med and majored in East Asian Studies. He spent 18 months in Beijing becoming fluent in Chinese as a part of his Yale fellowship. While in college, Kevin began developing his “celloboxing” skills and in 2009, he won second place in the “Celebrate and Collaborate with Yo-Yo Ma” international competition. Ma would call Kevin’s celloboxing version of “Dona Nobis Pacem” both “inventive and unexpected.” In 2011, Kevin’s “Julie-O” celloboxing YouTube video was featured by CBS, AOL, Huffington Post and Washington Post, among others. Kevin was also named one of 100 “History Makers in the Making” by NBC’s TheGrio and was hand-chosen by Quincy Jones to represent him in concert at the 2012 Montreux Jazz Festival alongside Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea.