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USC Vocalists Make the Finals on NBC’s Sing-Off

USC Vocalists Make the Finals on NBC's Sing-Off
Front row: Jordan Pharoah; second row, from left: Thomas Henry '12, Rachel Saltzman '11, Catherine Ricafort '09, Courtney Jensen, Kelley Jakle '11, Joanna Jones, Eitan Nir '10, Kenton Chen '10; back row: Todd G. Levin '09

A cappella has proven to be more than an extracurricular activity for the group of USC students and young alumni performing on NBC’s five-episode special The Sing-Off.

Hosted by Nick Lachey, the show features 10 a cappella groups competing for a $100,000 prize and a Sony Epic Music recording contract. On Dec. 15, their group, the Backbeats, was one of four to advance to the finals. Now, they need the Trojan Family — and the general public — to vote for them.

Kenton Chen, a vocal jazz major from USC’s class of 2010 who helped create the Backbeats, explains that there are three ways people can vote. They can vote online at Or, they can call 877/-6-SING-03. Or, they can text “3” to 97979. Viewers are allowed to vote 10 times in each method. Voting continues through Dec. 19. The last episode airs on Dec. 20.

“The last episode is up to America,” Chen said. “So for the seven of us who are from USC, we’re going to really reach out to the Trojan Family and be like, ‘Hey, we need you to get everybody, literally everybody to vote!’

“For those of us that have been singing a cappella for such a long time, it’s been so gratifying to be on a show that really appreciates the difficulties of that and sees what we do as an actual art, rather than just this pastime that you do outside of academics,” said Chen, a former member of the on-campus group the SoCal VoCals.

Chen joined forces with Kelley Jakle, a senior communication major and fellow SoCal VoCal, to gather the best singers they knew. The resulting group includes Trojans Catherine Ricafort ’09, Todd G. Levin ’09, Eitan Nir ’10, Rachel Saltzman ’11 and Thomas Henry ’12. The other three members are Jordan Pharoah, Courtney Jensen (who previously was in Brigham Young University’s Noteworthy group and in The Sing-Off competition on season one) and Joanna Jones, who is in UCLA’s Awaken a capella group.

Their repertoire encompasses everything from “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce Knowles to “Love Shack” by the B-52s and “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi.

“We took a lot of the training that we got from being at USC and from being in different a cappella groups,” Chen said. “And a lot of the training that I got through the USC Thornton School of Music is a lot of what I drew from too.”

Their USC musical education has paid off so far. They already have sailed through the first four episodes with the support of the celebrity judges — Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, musician Ben Folds and Boyz II Men singer Shawn Stockman.

But even if the Backbeats don’t nab the grand prize, The Sing-Off has been the experience of a lifetime for its members.

“It’s been incredible — the friends that we have made on the show,” Chen said. “I could go anywhere in America now and call somebody up, and they would only be a few hours away at most, and I could hang out with them and make good music. It’s not even about the prize. It’s really about the experience that we’ve had with a group of incredibly talented colleagues that we’re all in awe of. And that, for me, has been the greatest part of the experience.”

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