Princeton’s very own a cappella group, the all-male Footnotes, will be launched into the national spotlight on Dec. 9 as they make their debut on NBC’s a cappella competition, “The Sing-Off.” After the announcement came on Monday that the Footnotes will be participating in the competition’s fourth season, Street sat down with group members Jonathan Schwartz ’14 and Ryan Fauber ’15 to talk about their experience on the show.
The Footnotes auditioned twice for previous seasons of “The Sing-Off” and, while receiving generally positive feedback from the producers and vocal coaches at the auditions, did not make it through. “We almost didn’t audition. We were kind of bitter from previous audition cycles,” Schwartz, the current president of the Footnotes, said. Ultimately, the group decided to audition one more time, and sent in a 10-minute video with footage that featured them singing and interviewing themselves. “We figured that it was 15 minutes of our time for this incredible opportunity, and we just had to take it no matter how frustrated we’d been in the past,” Schwartz said.
“We got the email and we all freaked out and texted each other,” Fauber said, describing the moment the Footnotes learned they had made it through the last stage of auditions.
“Nick Lachey has now joined the group,” Fauber joked when asked about the biggest change after being on the show. Lachey, a member of the boy band 98 Degrees, is the host of “The Sing Off.”
“There were a lot of 98 Degrees jokes,” Schwartz added. “Very few of them were actually funny.”
Since the show was pre-filmed, the group received a list of dos and don’ts of what they were allowed to talk about to the press, friends and family. Being on a televised show posed more challenges for the Footnotes, who had to adapt to a more professional and time-intensive setting than what they were used to at Princeton.
“We’re used to rehearsing, but we’re not used to waking up at 7 a.m. and rehearsing from 7 a.m. to like 12 a.m. the next day,” Fauber said. “The culture on campus is that you rehearse for a week, then you have an arch, and then you don’t have an arch for another two weeks. Whereas on ‘The Sing-Off,’ we’d be rehearsing all day every single day, building up to this thing that was weeks and weeks away. So we had to get used to always giving 100 percent, but making sure that didn’t affect our voices in a negative way.”
While the experience was rigorous, both Schwartz and Fauber agree that the intensive rehearsals and constant feedback, both positive and negative, helped the Footnotes improve as a group. “One of our strengths is that we’re all such good friends, and I think that shines through in our performances in terms of how exuberant and excited we are. But this environment was different in the sense that it was a very professional environment instead of an amateur semi-professional environment like it is on campus,” Schwartz said. “Rehearsals became more efficient and we definitely improved vocally because of it too.”
“When you’re on ‘The Sing-Off,’ you’re scrutinized by a whole slew of people figuring out what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, what you can improve on,” Fauber said. Vocal coaches would be present at the group’s rehearsals for the show, along with choreographers. “I think the greatest takeaway that we had was that we were just told upfront what we were good at and what we were bad at, and we learned to address those things without taking personal offense,” Fauber added. As a result, the group has seen a change in its dynamic on campus following its time on the show. “We learned to work together much better as a professional group,” Fauber said. “On campus we tend to work together a lot as a group of friends, which we obviously are, but we’ve also added this professional air to our rehearsals and to what we hope to accomplish.”
Being on television also meant adapting to situations that were often unusual. “We were chaperoned to the bathroom every time we had to go, which was kind of weird because we had to ask permission,” Fauber laughed. “[It was] because we were on the studio lot and there were other big projects being filmed. They’d have this chain of chaperones waiting for us.”
While the group was able to improve in terms of efficiency and vocals while on the show, they were also able to make friends with the other contestants. Schwartz puts this down to being able to bond over a mutual love of singing and performance. “I think what happens with these competition shows is that the first few days, everyone’s really delicate and shy and a little bit awkward, but after the first few days everyone became really friendly,” Schwartz said. “We hope that the show wasn’t the last time we performed with these groups.”
“I’m going to visit one of the groups during Thanksgiving, the Acousticats, because they’re only about six-hour drive and we have such a long time [for break],” Fauber added.
The show has been a challenging but highly rewarding endeavor for the group. “This is something the Footnotes really put their heart and souls into. We were rehearsing for so long for weeks and weeks and then you get to the first episode, and you just had this incredibly intense feeling rush over you when the cameras come on and they say ‘action,’ ” Fauber said.
“We put so much energy into it, and so when we finally got our first chance to perform and we went out in the first filming and did the opening number, and saw people in Princeton colors in the audience holding Footnotes signs, that was a really emotional time for us and an incredible thing to see,” Schwartz said.