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The Sing Off Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

The Sing Off

This is an interview with casting director Michelle McNulty on May 3, 2011 about the show The Sing Off. Casting for the best of the best acappella groups to audition for Season 3 of the hit series will commence this week in Boston before it heads to New York, Nashville, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The most talented acappella groups will have the opportunity to win a cash prize and a Sony music recording contract.

Question:
How is your approach to this season going to be different from the last two?

Michelle McNulty:
Last season's cast was unbelievable so we definitely have our work cut out for us. But we've really our outreach has started to go really well. We've got some amazing groups already booked to come to our auditions and I'm looking forward to seeing what these groups are going to do when they come out there. It's going to be a tough one to top but I have full confidence that we're going to be able to do it.

Question:
How tough is it to logistically handle casting calls for talent shows when they're so popular today?

Michelle McNulty:
I think the one great thing about our show is that it's acappella and it's not just an individual going out there and singing and performing, which is also amazing. You can't just go up there and sort of try and audition. You've got anywhere from 4 to 15 members in your group all trying to harmonize together to work the song so it actually sounds like the song. This is one of those shows where you don't just go up there and go and audition. There's skill and rehearsal, all of that going into this, into this show. So I think that's one of obviously the big differences with our show, with the Sing Off.

Remarkably when I first started the show I was slightly unfamiliar with the acappella world and now I've learned a lot about it. And there's quite a few groups out there that are unbelievable and that still are coming through to see us every year so it's great. So I don't think it's in our world just because it's there's a huge culture out there of acappella.

Question:
Do you find acappella to be different from region to region and city to city with different styles, or is it all the same?

Michelle McNulty:
No definitely I think it's different regionally. You've got the different styles, you have the barbershop, you have the Sweet Adelines like which was Maxx Factor on our first season, you have the collegiate groups which obviously is On the Rocks and the Beelzebubs that were on our first season as well. They've got a little bit more younger vibe and swag.

To doo-wop to the professional groups that have a lot of character and sort of are funny in their interpretations of some of these songs. So I think it's there's all different kinds and styles and then you go Nota who's got that little Latin flavor to them all. So sort of I definitely think there's a difference regionally and age wise as well.

Question:
When you're casting you take all that into account?

Michelle McNulty:
Oh absolutely, absolutely.

Question:
For groups that are interested in coming to the open auditions, how many songs should they be prepared to sing and do they need to have any sort of choreography with that?

Michelle McNulty:
The one thing that I tell groups is two songs is best. If they have a third song in their back pocket that's great, but we do like to see two songs. And one of them should be a pop or rock cover sort of a current one in the last like ten years and then the second song should definitely be within their own style.

If groups don't necessarily do choreography regularly that's okay. We don't want them to come out and start doing choreography because they see it on the show and then it kind of trips them up vocally. You know, there are people on the show that work with them and help them. So when they come to the audition I want to see them do what they do all the time and I want to see their best performance whatever that is.

So just if they don't do choreography absolutely I don't want it. It's not a requirement for these auditions. These auditions are focusing on their vocal ability.

Question:
Is there a minimum age for auditioning?

Michelle McNulty:
This year we opened it up. We had the high school group on last year, Eleventh Hour. So and they did such a great job and there is a bunch of high school groups out there that do acappella so we sort of lowered the age a little bit to 12 which sounds odd I think. But there are some really talented younger groups out there and we want to see them and we want to see what they're all about. And there's no age on the top end.

Question:
If a group were to audition and make the show, what timeframe would they need to be available to tape it?

Michelle McNulty:
It starts filming mid-July and if you're one of those final three groups you'd stay with us until September 1, so we shoot that in the summertime. It's in the summertime because the collegiate groups and summer is sort of a little easier for people. And then they would come back to us for the live finale which would be in December.

Question:
As a casting director when you cast a show that's not part of your background, what makes something pop for you? What do you look for when you say this would be a good contestant for my show, whatever show it happens to be?

Michelle McNulty:
The thing that we all talk about in this business is we all know that ???it??? factor, that thing that's sort of intangible. And I think it's the performance and when they come in here and how they're connecting with you. And I actually do have a bit of a performance background so these performance shows actually work very well for me.

So it's that confidence and that coming in there and really nailing that performance, connecting with the audience. You can tell the people that work and that train at what they do which is so important for the types of shows that I've been doing. It's not just sort of coming in and being a silly character and getting that 15 minutes of fame. We're looking for people that really train at what they do, whatever that is, whether it's dancing or whether it's singing and movie making on top of that. So it's that kind of intangible "it" factor thing that we always look for.

Question:
I notice you also cast for The Voice and I was just on a call with The Voice cast with some of them, including Frenchie. When you met Frenchie I guess you must have recognized her from American Idol. What was your thought process when she came into the auditions and you saw her?

Michelle McNulty:
We all do remember Frenchie and that big voice that she had that was just so it sort of captivates you in a way and give you those goose bumps when she sang, when she opens her mouth. And it was sort of sad to me that she didn't get eliminated because of singing, she got eliminated for something that she had done in her past.

And for me, when you're a performer you've got ups and downs and you train your whole life for this or you spent so many hours training for it, to sort of not get that shot that she sort of in my opinion kind of deserved, that was one of those things that I thought was sort of exciting about having her there and having her involved with the show. And that's again one of those things that is so important I think across the board with all of our shows, with all the shows that I'm sort of doing right now is these performers are training and working and this is their dream or their passion.

And when you see that when they walk in the room and then they give this great performance and you get goose bumps, it's one of the reasons why I love my job so much. I love it because you see that passion behind what they're doing. Whether it's acappella or dancing or singing, even boxing.

Question:
What are you looking for in a group? Is it a very strong lead singer will carry them in or is the blend really very important to you?

Michelle McNulty:
For me it's both to be quite honest with you. It's acappella so you've got to have it nailed all the way across the board from your harmony to your blends to that lead singer. You've got to have all of those things. And there's sometimes where a group can have multiple lead singers which is great. You know, the Backbeats had those multiple lead singers with Catherine and same thing with On the Rocks. First and foremost though it's that blend. Because if something is off you can hear it and it sort of catches you and you tweak a little bit. So it's so important all the way around because there is nothing that's sort of covering any of this up.

Question:
As far as casting, has it gotten easier now that people know what the show is and kind of what you're looking for?

Michelle McNulty:
It's still a tough one. It's still tough, it always is. You think it would get easier. People know the show now and they know and in the first season of the show the acappella community was a little worried that it was going to be not very positive for them. But they've seen how awesome the show is and the groups that we are looking for like across the board. Sometimes I remember last season watching, it was so hard, I was like who are they going to eliminate? They all just murdered it on stage. So they have been more receptive absolutely, groups have been more receptive for sure but it's still tough. I mean, we still we've got to get out there and talk to these groups and let them know that this is a great opportunity for them and it's such a fun show.

Question:
Were you also involved in casting the judges and will they all be returning?

Michelle McNulty:
I am just involved with finding the groups that are performing on the show so I don't know anything about the judges. They're all amazing and I hope they all come back for sure without a doubt.

Question:
Do you check in with the past winners at all and do you know how any of them are doing?

Michelle McNulty:
I actually just talked to Eric from the Beelzebubs and they're recording with Glee, the television show. Nota is constantly touring. Tommy and the boys from Committed were just singing at some festival, just recently were down at a jazz festival that was in the Bahamas. They're all doing amazing. They really, really are. Street Corner Symphony, they're down there performing and I know Jeremy also released a solo album of his own music which is great. They all had a wonderful time on the show and are still doing wonderfully.

Question:
Have you been surprised at the success of The Sing Off or did you see it from the beginning?

Michelle McNulty:
I was slightly unfamiliar with the acappella world when we first started and that first season and I remember probably city number two whichever city that was at that time and I sort of in my gut knew it was going to be great. But what these kids and what these groups can do vocally, it's tremendous. And so if you would have asked me first season, the first time I might have been a little hesitant but now going into it, it doesn't surprise me. It's just the groups are amazing, the show is so well produced, Joel does an incredible job, and it's just a fun, warming show and I'm not surprised at it anymore at all.

Question:
Do you have any advice that you would want to give to anyone coming out to audition?

Michelle McNulty:
I think the biggest thing is to just come in and do you. You know, obviously practice, practice, practice to make sure that your harmonies and your vocals are on point but the biggest thing is to just do you. Don't think of the show and think oh I've got to do choreography and that's not something that you normally do or oh I need to wear funny shiny suits, funny matching outfits if that's not what they normally do. Just come in and do you and the rest will be great.

Question:
As a casting director do you ever watch any of the other reality shows out there and sort of pick out contestants that you might think might be good for you in the future if they don't work out in the show that they're already on?

Michelle McNulty:
I absolutely love reality television, everything from Survivor which I still watch after all of these seasons to our show. I definitely watch American Idol. I don't necessarily when I'm watching shows though at home I'm sort of more of just watching as a viewer to be quite honest with you. And if there is somebody that sort of sparks my interest I think that's great. When I'm sitting at home watching television it's because I'm enjoying TV. But I do love reality.

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