Pentatonix on Its Rise From A Cappella Wonder to Hollywood Walk of Fame: A Star ‘Feels So Iconic’
Stars have been a theme throughout Pentatonix’s career. The a cappella group covered Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” early on, performed “Stars” from the musical “Finding Neverland,” and named their holiday television special “Christmas Under the Stars.”
So it’s only fitting that the group — comprised of Scott Hoying, Kirstin Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, Kevin Olusola and Matt Sallee — will be honored with their very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Feb. 21.
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More than a decade after forming, Pentatonix — a play on the pentatonic scale — became the first a cappella group to win a Grammy for arrangement with a sublime medley of Daft Punk songs in 2015. The group earned two more Grammys including 2016’s country duo/group performance for their duet with Dolly Parton on “Jolene,” and most recently, their album “Evergreen” was nominated for traditional pop vocal album at the 2023 awards.
“We love all of our album experiences, but something about this one was really special, because it was right at the end of lockdown and we were able to get together again for the first time in over a year,” Hoying says of “Evergreen.”
Believing their “Grammy days were done,” Hoying continues, “We went into a studio every single day and built the songs together and it had this beautiful, creative, visceral energy to it. … To reunite and make something so special and then see it be validated in this way is a reminder that it’s never pasture time. There’s always the possibility for new beginnings and epic moments.”
Since its inception, the group has sold more than 10 million albums from a catalog of 11 full-lengths, including six holiday collections. They’ve had two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart: 2015’s gold-certified self-titled album and the double platinum “That’s Christmas to Me.”
Pentatonix has received RIAA plaques for multi-platinum, platinum and gold certifications, and its YouTube Channel boasts more than 20 million subscribers. Additional accolades include a Daytime Emmy for musical performance, and appearances in various television shows and broadcast events, like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Kennedy Center Honors. Last year Disney+ aired the holiday special “Pentatonix: Around the World for the Holidays.” And the group recently participated in the “Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys” special, which will air on CBS at a later date.
“I feel like we keep being surprised by the things and opportunities that we are presented with,” says Hoying. “I didn’t think that we could top things we’ve done in the past, but the Hollywood Walk of Fame feels so iconic.”
Hoying first came to Hollywood as a pre-teen, competing in 2004 on “Star Search,” then hosted by Arsenio Hall. “We went and looked for his star. So that was the first star I took a picture of,” he remembers.
Maldonado, who fondly recalls photographing herself with Celine Dion’s star when she was just 15, marvels at Pentatonix’s future address. “We’re next to Etta James and Cole Porter,” she says. “It just feels so crazy special and obviously so iconic to be with all those incredible artists who you looked up to and you’ve been inspired by all these years.”
For Sallee — who joined the group in 2017 after original bass Avi Kaplan departed — being a part of the Hollywood tapestry is a dream come true. “There’s so many of them,” he says. “I think I walked the whole block because I was so excited.”
Pentatonix’s story is every theater kid’s dream come true. Hoying, Grassi and Maldonado all met in childhood and were classmates at Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. At the time, a new show called “Glee” debuted on television, and the teenagers got word of a radio contest asking groups to submit a song as an entry to meet the cast. With stars in their eyes, the teenagers recorded their version of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” — and lost.
“We didn’t end up winning, but that’s kind of why we started our little trio thing in the first place,” Maldonado says. “We were just doing it for fun.”
The friends went separate ways after graduation, but Hoying, then studying at USC, learned of a new show, “The Sing-Off,” from a member of the school’s a cappella group, now Pentatonix producer Ben Bram. He rang up Maldonado and Grassi, and through Bram’s advice, expanded to a five-piece, adding bass vocalist Kaplan and beat boxer Olusola, whom he discovered from YouTube videos.
Week after week, the group dominated, winning the show’s third season, and then the grand prize, which resulted in releasing an EP, “PTX Volume 1.”
“That was a crazy time, because we had won the show, we got a record contract and dropped from it,” Hoying says. “And then we moved to a different kind of label, for mainly soundtracks, temporarily.”
What got them through that trying period, Maldonado says, was YouTube, which helped them maintain relationships with the fanbase built by “The Sing-Off.”
“It was really important for us to engage with them, putting out videos, and talking to them on social media,” she says.
Hoying notes the songs chosen by Pentatonix often have striking, emotional qualities that “shine.” “It’s the combination of whatever we’re inspired by, or what’s currently trending at the time,” he says. “The five of us have such diverse and different music tastes, and so we all will bring in different songs or different ideas. I feel like that’s really cool and helps us span a lot.”
Continuous fan engagement along with creative interpretations of songs like “We Are Young” by Fun, went viral on YouTube, but it was the release of a Christmas EP, 2012’s “PTXmas,” that put the group on the holiday map, with covers of “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Carol of the Bells.”
Headlining tours, collaborations (such as one with violinist Lindsey Stirling) and several more viral moments led to a deal with RCA Records in 2014, with the EP “PTX Vol. III” debuting at No. 5 and a second full-length Christmas album, “That’s Christmas to Me,” spawning another holiday classic, “Mary Did You Know?”
“To be a part of people’s memories every Christmas and to hear those stories is so special,” Maldonado says. “I love that we got to do so many Christmas things and it definitely wasn’t the plan. We just thought a cappella and Christmas would go so well together.”
In 2017, Kaplan left the group, leaving an opening for another member to fulfill a dream. Sallee first met the group in a Pentatonix workshop with aspiring singers in Virginia, right after they concluded their run on “The Sing-Off.” “To be able to be able to join the group and sing with them has just been a dream,” he says. “We became family instantaneously and it was just so seamless to transition.”
Adds Maldonado: “There’s five of us with five different schedules, but we all want to not sacrifice the quality of things ever. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of opportunities and when we’re on tour, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in that. I am really proud of where we’re all at creatively, I feel like as long as we all set aside the time and are able to work on everything, it’s really limitless what we can do.”
Watch the livestream below:
WHAT: Pentatonix receives a star on the Walk of Fame.
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Feb. 21
WHERE: 7060 Hollywood Blvd.
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