Pentatonix Sets Holiday Special at NBC

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Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson also will be featured in the Dec. 14 event.
Sony Music Entertainment
NBC is gifting viewers with a Pentatonix holiday special.The hourlong event — airing  Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. — will feature the Grammy-winning a cappella group singing its favorite Christmas classics.

Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson also will appear as special guests, with more to be announced. (Another addition could be Dolly Parton, who has a strong relationship with NBC and previously paired with the group for a “Jolene” cover.)

Pentatonix recently released its third holiday album A Pentatonix Christmas, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart. The album features the group’s arrangement of the Leonard Cohen classic, “Hallelujah,” which debuted at No. 6 on Billboard’s Top Digital Songs Chart.

This is the first-ever holiday network special for Pentatonix —the group first rose to fame on NBC’s competition series The Sing-Off.

Previous NBC holiday concert specials have featured Clarkson and Michael Buble, among others.

A Pentatonix Christmas Special is executive produced by Brad Lachman Productions, Inc. in collaboration with RCA Records and Pentatonix.

Inside Pentatonix, ‘Pitch Perfect’ and the Pop Culture Phenomenon of A Cappella Music

Alongside needle-moving, genre-defying priority releases on the RCA Records slate — Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun among them — is the new album by Pentatonix, highlighting one of the oldest musical forms: a cappella vocals.

But before you cry “Gregorian chant,” don’t call it a fad: Pentatonix — an electro-infused five-piece that formed for NBC’s The Sing-Off in 2011 (and won) and cut its teeth on cover songs before graduating to instrument-less videos of Lorde and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hits, original songs and brand alignments with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Oreo — has collected more than 520 million cumulative YouTube views and boasts more subscribers than Avicii and Beyonce. So for the group’s major-label debut, PTX Vol. 3, on Sept. 23, “we expect it to be a pull, not a push,” says RCA president/COO Tom Corson. Industry sources predict an opening week of 50,000-plus units (the act has sold 475,000 albums and 1.5 million downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan), which should be good for a top 10 debut on the Billboard 200.

Credit 2012’s Pitch Perfect, the hit movie about competing collegiate a cappella groups — complete with campy choreography and eye-rolling ballads — for destigmatizing the sound. (Pitch Perfect 2 is due out in May 2015.) Starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, the $17 million Universal rom-com would gross $113 million worldwide, spawn the top-­selling soundtrack of 2013 (1.1 million units to date) and land a hit with “Cups (When I’m Gone)” — Kendrick’s rendition of the 1931 Carter Family bluegrass track — which rose to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“No record executive would ever [think], ‘The biggest song from a movie in the past five years will be this old tune of a woman sitting onstage alone, flipping a plastic cup,’ ” jokes Deke Sharon, the film’s vocal director, who also produces The Sing-Off. That show was rebooted in 2013 by Mark Burnett in the wake of Pitch Perfect’s success and grew by 1.6 million total viewers after nearly two years off the air.

The numbers are undeniable, and it’s why Pentatonix’s holiday album, That’s Christmas to Me (Oct. 21), will be accompanied by a “TV blitz,” says Corson, that includes morning shows, prime-time programming, Christmas tree lightings and a long-form special. Also, “expect really gigantic retail plans, physical and digital [that] will push the Pentatonix brand into another stratosphere.” However, warns bandmember Mitch Grassi, the vetting process can’t be “too novelty … We want to come across as universal and family-friendly, but viewed as an actual band that’s serious about what we do.”

Indeed, the seriousness with which Pentatonix hones its craft has made a cappella an attractive booking for promoters, too. “It was challenging at first,” says manager Jonathan Kalter of handpicking seated and standing-room venues that could be calibrated to the act’s sound needs. “Once promoters understood that anywhere Pentatonix went, they’d sell tickets — which is all promoters care about — it was a matter of finding the room.”

The group just wrapped an international tour — including a North American leg that grossed $1.1 million (its top stop: New York’s seated Beacon Theatre, with more than $186,000 in ticket sales) — with a 90-minute set that included choreography, storytelling and solo moments for the singers. But can that live showmanship translate into a hit? Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying says it’s a matter of making “an a cappella sound that’s unique” without trying to emulate instruments. “It’s just five people singing, and it works.”

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