Ten friends at Indiana University formed an a cappella group in 1996. Nothing serious — they named it Straight No Chaser, like any college kids would.
Guys graduated, parted ways and faced the real world. In 2006, one of the original members, Randy Stine, posted a video to YouTube of a performance they did eight years prior of 12 Days, a humorous medley of Christmas carols, with a little bit of Toto's Africa cleverly peppered in.
It went viral, with millions of views.
The chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records was one of those views, and weeks later the group had signed a record deal.
After six albums, Straight No Chaser is bringing their tour to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Saturday, performing songs from their newest album Under the Influence as well as some holiday favorites. From the tour bus in Pensacola, we talked with one of the five original members, Jerome Collins, about touring with his buddies, his stint in theater and living the dream. Here are excerpts.
It seems like a whirlwind since you were signed by Atlantic. What was your mindset when you auditioned for Straight No Chaser in college?
All of this got bigger than any of us would have imagined when we first started this in college. This was just sort of this thing for girls and food. We just liked hanging out and singing together. We literally put this to bed 10 years ago. You know, this was something we wanted to come back to college and reminisce about and be nostalgic. But lo and behold because of that YouTube video, now we're living a dream.
You were in the cast of Lion King as Simba in Hong Kong.
Yeah, once we all went our separate ways a few of us stayed in music and the theater was something I've always wanted to do. I got the opportunity [to do] my favorite role of all time. I was getting ready to renew the contract when the call came through. The, "Hey, Jerome we have a wonderful opportunity to have a record deal." I immediately dropped what I was doing.
Your new album Under the Influence features some phenomenal performers like Elton John and Phil Collins.
We didn't even know this was going to come to fruition. We just basically put together a wishlist of artists we would like to work with. We did a studio session with Sara Bareilles, who is, first off just an amazing person, and a great singer. She did a cappella too in college. It was quite an experience to see the names of the people that were associated with this project.
With the amount of fame you have garnered, you all seem so down-to-earth and that comes across on stage. Your audience responds to that.
In the theater world, you don't break the fourth wall, but that's something that in this group we can do. This is not scripted. It's a lot more fun when you can go off the cuff, and you know, somebody comes late to the show and you can call them out. This is the better way to do it.
Straight No Chaser's story is being optioned as a movie. What's that process like?
It all came to us as a surprise. First off we have to pinch ourselves, it's just really cool. I think a lot of people are starting to understand and love the story, which is the all-American story, 10 guys, reliving their college dreams because of a video that went viral on YouTube.
You guys have albums With a Twist, Under the Influence, Six Pack. Do you have a list of future album names with drinking references?
Of course we were a college singing group, we were heavily influenced by being in college. That's why all of our albums have a shout-out to it, you know Under the Influence, we were not under the influence of alcohol, we were under the influence of other artists, so it's just a little pun to make sure that we never forget who we are and what we've come from.