What A Cappella Reality TV Is Really Like
Singing-based competition shows such as "The Voice," "American Idol," and "X-Factor" have been a reality TV staple for more than a decade now. So it was only a matter of time before the increasingly trendy world of a cappella (thanks, "Pitch Perfect!") earned its own niche.
For one semester in the spring of 2016, my a cappella group was filmed by the crew of Pop TV's "Sing It On," a reality show that follows college teams throughout the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella competition season--from auditions to rehearsals to finals and everything in between.
After a semi-successful first season of "Sing It On," Pop TV was eager to keep the show afloat for season two. That's where my group, One Note Stand, from the University of Texas at Austin comes into the picture.
As filming started, we thought our Southern charm and fresh blood were sure to keep people interested. At least that was the case until we were left for dead on the editing room floor after failing to make the ICCA finals. No hard feelings, though--our largely fabricated "humble underdog" plot line did not pack the same punch without a final victory. Although One Note Stand has still yet to make its small screen debut, we can now share our gritty, behind-the-scenes experiences from our time in the aca-reality TV world.
Singing On ScriptSurprisingly, the musical aspect of rehearsals was filmed with little interference. The "reality" spin came into play with just about everything else, from social interactions to locations. The showrunners rented trendy, pre-furnished Austin houses to use as sets in place of members' actual "shabby" apartment homes.
A "featured cast" of members was selected based on leadership positions, vocal solos, and personalities. For the sake of the show's coherency, few others were allowed to get a word in. Most on-camera interactions were semi-scripted or at least prompted by producers. Amid reminders for the non-featured members to simmer down, they frequently asked for certain sentences to be repeated or rephrased to perfection.
Even our seating arrangements on the bus to competition or in a member's rented living room were dictated by the producers in order to ensure the prominence of the featured members. The resulting shuffling away of background "characters" caused more than a little annoyance, but hey--less stress for the rest of us, eh?
Creating Aca-DramaMost of the excitement had to be fabricated for the cameras, because, let's face it, genuine a cappella group drama--such as someone forgetting their music binder two rehearsals in a row--is just not enough for reality TV audiences. The producers (unsuccessfully) requested that one member take another on a date for the sake of creating tension.
They spun a rivalry between two members. They invented a battle of opinions about ICCA outfit color schemes. They even bought one member a $100 bedazzled gold bra to bring a little pizzaz to wardrobe discussions. (We got quite a bit of off-screen enjoyment out of that one.)
For the most part, the group took these things in stride for the sake of smooth sailing. Understandably, stress levels occasionally maxed out during one-on-one "talking head" sessions, wherein individual featured members had to spill their proverbial guts for the camera, whether or not their words and emotions were genuine.
Back To RealityDespite our disappointment about being cut from the show and the irritation of some, the experience was not a wash. ONS got plenty of free rides, food, lodging, and inside jokes out of it all, as well as a great trump card to win "two truths and a lie."
We gained new experiences entirely thanks to the show, such as applying avocado masks, strip-dancing in a party bus, hosting a musical bake sale, and celebratorily spraying each other with champagne in a dimly lit parking lot. I personally benefitted from the voyeuristic thrill of watching people's personalities grow and change in front of the camera, especially members of competing groups at the ICCAs.
More importantly, we can all benefit from the second-hand ego boost of knowing people want to watch a show about the a cappella world we live in, no matter how much or how little reality it contains.