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December 8, 2013.
Nick Lachey knows what
it's like to be a young aspiring a cappella singer with his eye
on stardom. That was him, once upon a time (well, okay, in the
way, way back 1990s).
He was originally a
student at the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts.
He also worked part-time as part of a barber shop quartet at the local
amusement park King's Island (which itself gained pop culture status a
couple of decades earlier for being the location of episodes of the
classic TV series The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family.)
Together with his brother Drew and friends Justin Jeffre and Jeff
Timmons, he formed the boy band 98 Degrees, of which Nick was lead
It was a time when this
type of group was huge Ė N'Sync and Backstreet Boys were also topping
the charts Ė and 98 Degrees was one of the biggest hits of the style.
They had eight Top 40 singles between 1997 and 2000, including "The
Hardest Thing," "Because of You," and "I Do (Cherish You)." The
band broke up in 2002, when Lachey decided to go for a solo career,
Television came calling
soon after, as Lachey and his first wife, pop star Jessica Simpson,
became pioneers in the now-burgeoning field of celebrity reality shows
with their hit MTV series Newlyweds. It was always obvious,
even back then, that Lachey was a bit more uncomfortable than his ex
with the privacy invasion of having cameras watching your every move.
While Lachey found television a fun and fascinating world, he decided in
the future to stick to more structured, less immersive roles.
Lachey started taking
more and more acting roles, having a recurring role on the TV series
Charmed and appearing on such shows as American Dreams, Hope &
Faith and One Tree Hill. He also dipped a toe into TV
hosting with the short-lived 2008 series Clash of the Choirs.
The year later, he was offered the hosting gig on a new series called
The Sing-Off, in which a cappella singers tried to impress
celebrity judges, who over three seasons have included Shawn Stockman of
Boyz II Men, Ben Folds, Nicole Scherzinger of Pussycat Dolls and Sara
While the show has a
lower profile than other singing contests like The Voice, American
Idol and X-Factor, it does have a strong following. The
third season winning vocal group, Pentatonix, has become a big touring
and recording group since their win almost two years ago. On the
same week that Pentatonix's latest disk roared up the charts, The
Sing-Off is returning to the air after an extended break. This
season the series will be running in a condensed rush, with episodes
covering the whole season airing every day or two for a little over two
This year Lachey and
his 98 Degrees bandmates reunited after a ten-year break, releasing
their first new album in over a decade, logically titled 2.0.
The group also hit the road for
a massive tour with fellow former boy bands New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men.
Right as he came off of
the tour, it was back into the studio to film the fourth season of
The Sing-Off, with Lachey, Folds and Stockman joined by new cast
member and judge Jewel.
couple of weeks before the fourth season premiere of The Sing-Off,
we were one of a few media outlets who were able to chat with Lachey about the
return of the show and his career.
You just recently turned 40 and youíve had such a great career. How have
things changed for you, now that you have turned 40?
hasnít changed at all. Itís just a number, as they say. Everything feels
the same. I feel the same. Life is the same. No groundbreaking moment
happened at 40, other than the fact that the number changed. Everything
else feels the same.
Reflect on the idea of
a cappella singing. When you were high school, when you
won Clash of the Choirs with "Flight of the Bumble Bee." How did a
cappella help you get a record deal in the first place?
Yes. Well, as you alluded to, a
cappella singing has meant a great deal to me throughout my life and
career. Itís why the show is so special for me to be a part of. I first
started singing a cappella in high school. I went to a performing
arts school. [I] spent my summers working at an amusement part in
Cincinnati called Kingís Island. I was in a barbershop quartet. I
started off singing a cappella barbershop music, walking around
the park and singing to guests. Then [I] continued to sing a cappella
with different groups, ultimately with 98 Degrees.
When we put our demo together we put two
different a cappella songs on the demo. In our audition for Motown
records, Andre Harrell, the president at the time, asked us to sing a
cappella in his office. We sang a Boyz II Men medley that we had
worked up. Thatís what convinced him to sign us. He signed us on the
spot. Thatís how we really got our start in the music business.
So a cappella singing is very,
very meaningful to me. A subplot of that is to be able to be on the show
Shawn [Stockman] from Boyz II Men. Having sung a Boyz II Men medley to
get signed to Motown, itís just kind of a surreal moment for me to be a
part of this show with Shawn. Itís given a lot to me. This is my way of
giving back to the genre of a cappella. I think it takes
incredible talent to do; incredible talent to pull off.
Oftentimes people take it for granted.
[They] donít realize how hard it is to do, which is why I feel like
The Sing-Off is so special. There are so many people out there that
are responding to it. A cappella is going through a resurgence
now; a renaissance, if you will. With all the attention that The
Sing-Off has brought to it, and success like [season three winner
turned recording artists] Pentatonix is having now. Their album just
debuted in the top ten on the top 200. The success that theyíve brought
to the genre. Movies like Pitch Perfect.
I think thereís just such a passion
right now out there for a cappella music. So [I'm] very proud to
be a part of The Sing-Off. Very proud of Pentatonix and all the
success that theyíve had. Also very proud to announce that theyíre going
to be performing on our season finale this year, on December 23.
Obviously, weíre all very proud of them here at the show and all the
success that theyíve had since winning season three, and very excited to
have them back this season.
You went back on the road with 98 Degrees this year. Was that fun and is
it interesting to balance your musical and TV careers now?
It was a lot of fun. First of all, to
get back together with those guys after more than a decade off. [To] be
able to go on the road with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men and be
a part of a sold out arena tour was very, very special. A great way to
come back and experience performing with those guys again. So, that was
To balance the two, obviously itís all
about scheduling. Shawn with Boyz II Men and I were both on the road as
part of the package tour. Literally we finished our last concert in
Indianapolis on August 4, and started The Sing-Off August 5. We
went right from one into the other. When youíre doing stuff that youíre
passionate about and itís exciting to you, then itís easy to rally and
summon the energy to move from one to the other. I feel very honored and
blessed to be able to do both. I know Shawn would say the same thing.
Itís been a great year; an exciting year. The tour was great and now
obviously very, very happy and proud to be a part of season four of
I right that it skipped last year? You didnít have a show in 2012?
You are correct. Yes, last year the show
was not on.
First of all did it come as a surprise to you when it did come back in
2013? And second of all, itís been in different forms. One year it was a
long form and lasted 11 weeks. This time itís going to be very quick and
itís going to be resolved with 15 days of viewing time. Which do you
We were all very cautiously optimistic
that the show would come back. It was put on the back burner there for a
moment. I really have to give a lot of credit to the very passionate
fans of the show for really petitioning and clamoring for it to come
back. Obviously when we all got the call that it was coming back to the
air, we were ecstatic. We all do the show because we love the genre of
a cappella and love the show and really believe in it. So, for
those of us Ė Ben [Folds], Shawn and I Ė who had been with the show from
the beginning, it was a very, very welcome call to hear that we were
coming back for season four.
Personally, I think the show works great
in the holiday season. We saw that in season two. Itís just such a
feel-good show and feel-good music. Itís the time of year when families
are really in the mood to sit down together and watch a great family
show, and thatís frankly what The Sing-Off is. So personally Iím
a fan of the holiday scheduling, which we have again this year. Also Iím
very excited about [the fact that] you get all the shows in a short
period of time. It keeps peopleís interest really honed in on the groups
and their favorite groups. Then you get the winner announced right there
at the end of it. Personally, I think this schedule works great for the
show, and excited NBC put it back there in the holiday season.
A cappella is obviously big in your
life. Is that something that youíre bringing into your home? Are you and
[his second wife, TV
hostess] Vanessa [Minnillo] singing to your little one now? Does he have a
favorite song; anything like that?
Well. music in general is big in our
home. Obviously Iím a musician and my wife is a passionate lover of
music, having worked at MTV for so many years. So thereís constantly
music on in our house. Yes, we sing to Camden every time we put him down
for a nap or put him down for the night. Yes, technically there is a
little a cappella happening in our house every day. Itís usually
in the lullaby form, but it is happening every day.
Does he have a favorite lullaby?
Well, Iíd like to think itís one of the
ones I wrote for him. I did a lullaby record for him that came out this
year called Fatherís Lullaby. Thereís a song on there called
"Sleepy Eyes." That was one that I wrote while he was still in the womb.
Thatís the one I sing to him every day before he goes down. Whether he
likes it or not, thatís really the only one he gets served up, so he has
to like it.
Now that the format is back to the holiday-condensed schedule, I
remember that the first two seasons had a lot of Christmas carols or
just holiday musical type numbers. Is that something that we can expect
this season, and will you be participating again?
There really was not too much of a
holiday theme in terms of the music involved in the show. You might see
a little bit of that in the finale, because I think thatís how it worked
in years past as well. But for the most part these are songs that
everyone will know. From this year and years past some really creative
themes like weíve had in the past. Chart toppers and we have a movie
theme night. So some of the shows have themes that really give them a
All in all, it is happening during the
holiday season, but itís not necessarily a holiday-music-themed show
entirely. Still, as I said earlier, itís just such a feel-good show, it
really does lend itself to the holiday season. One thing we have always
had a lot of fun with is myself and the judges being involved musically,
performing with some of the groups. I can neither confirm or deny that
will happen, but if history is any indication, thereís a good chance you
might see that.
Itís safe to say that any singer does a
show like The Sing-Off, or The
Voice, or Idol to turn it into a career afterwards. Weíve come
to realize that that exposure is pretty much not enough at this point.
What do you think an artist can do after a show like this, with the
exposure, to parlay it into a career?
Yes, thereís certainly no guarantee for
any of us in the music business anymore. (chuckles) Itís a tough,
tough business. The one great thing that does come out of a situation
like The Sing-Off is the exposure. You have the opportunity to
perform in front of millions and millions of people. It gives you an
instant platform and instant fan base. But there is a responsibility to
build on that after the show is done.
Youíve seen a group like Pentatonix do a
great job of that. Theyíve taken the baton and run with it. They won
season three and now theyíve parlayed that into millions and millions of
YouTube hits. As I said earlier, their album that just came out last
week debuted in the top ten of the top 200 on Billboard. For an
a cappella group... for any group... thatís a huge
accomplishment, but specifically for a cappella music that is a
huge, huge win. I give a lot of credit to those guys for first of all,
their outstanding work ethic. I think no matter what you do in life you
have to be willing to work hard at it.
Even those of us who got signed to
record deals conventionally, thereís a tendency to think: "Oh hey, weíve
made it." Thatís just not the case. In 98 Degrees we knew that even back
then, this is the first chapter in our journey. Thatís really the
beginning. You have to go from that point and continue to work as hard
as you can. Thatís the biggest thing. You have to have incredible work
ethic, use the opportunity and the platform that a show like The
Sing-Off gives you, but you also have to take the responsibility to
build on that. Certainly weíve seen Pentatonix do a great job of that.
host, how much do you get to interact with the groups? Have you been
able to get to know them or do you get to mentor them at all? Do you
have any specific anecdotes or favorite stories along those lines?
Well one of the cool things... I should
mention, we have a new production team in place on The Sing-Off
this year. Mark Burnett came on board and took over the show. He just
had a fresh take on what the show should be and really infused some new
energy into the show. One of the things that was changed, per Markís
request, was more interaction from both myself and the judges with the
Youíll see as the season progresses, all
of us taking a turn and mentoring and trying to give some guidance to
the groups as they go through this journey. Thereís a lot of information
theyíre trying to process. Taking all the judgesí comments and trying to
apply those to the next week or the next showís performance. It was a
really cool opportunity for us. Weíve all learned the hard way a lot of
times in this business, some valuable lessons. For us to be able to pass
those along to these groups was a really cool opportunity.
There was one group in particular that
reminded me of my own past history. They come from a performing arts
school in The Bay Area. So I had a soft spot in my heart for them,
coming from a performing arts high school myself. I really saw a lot of
myself in them. It was cool to be able to pass along a little bit of
knowledge and support. These are teenagers down here in LA on the big
stage with a lot of very, very talented people. To say they held their
own is a gross understatement. I was very proud of them and very, very
thankful to have the opportunity to give some insight to them, and all
the groups. It was just a great opportunity for us to interact with them
and mentor them a little bit.
Can you talk a little bit about "The Ultimate Sing Off," which is a new
twist thatís been added to the season?
Yes. Again, another cool new twist that
youíll see in season four. Iíve always felt like hey: if youíre going to
have a show called The Sing-Off, there should probably be a sing
off. Thatís something that we added this season, which was I thought a
great addition to the format. Basically you have the judges score all
the groups throughout the night. Your two lowest scoring groups then
have to go into what we call "The Ultimate Sing Off," where they duel
head-to-head, performing the same song against one another. Not only is
it great entertainment, I have to tell you some of the best performances
youíll see in the season come during that ultimate sing off. Itís a
really neat moment in the show.
We all have moment where we donít give
our best. We kind of lay an egg on stage. It gives those groups a chance
to redeem themselves for a bad performance. It doesnít necessarily take
them out of the running of the entire competition. They have a chance to
come back at the end of the show and prove that they still belong. So
then when the two low groups have the ultimate sing off, obviously the
judges have to then decide on one of them to continue on and one of them
to go home. A really cool, dramatic moment at the end of the show.
Cool. Can you talk a little bit about the addition of Jewel this year?
Jewel is fantastic. Iíve known Jewel
previous to us doing the show together, but I thought she was a perfect
fit for The Sing-Off. Sheís incredibly talented, first of all. We
all know that. Sheís so well spoken and so relatable. What really struck
me is how passionate and how caring she was about each and every group.
Each and every performer in the group. She really gave her all in trying
to nurture and walk them through this process. I just thought she was a
fantastic addition, incredibly knowledgeable. Certainly not at all hard
to look at, from my vantage point on stage. She made my night better
just sitting out there. I canít say enough wonderful things about Jewel.
She was perfect for our show and weíre so happy to have her.
The three judges all come from very different backgrounds. Jewel comes
from folk-country. Ben is more alt. rock/pop, and Shawn is R&B. How do
you think their diverse backgrounds help to find the best in your
Well I think their diversity is also
reflected in the diversity of the groups on stage. Itís very cool and
important, frankly, to have judges who come from different sensibilities
and have different musical backgrounds, to your point. I think the one
thing they do share in common is a love of a cappella and a real
knowledge of a cappella. Even though they may come from different
angles, they all have valuable insights that our groups really took to
heart and tried to apply to what they were doing. Personally, I think
itís the best thing that the show could have. You'd hate to see three
R&B judges up there. Or three rock. I think the diversity of the judges
is really a strength of what The Sing-Off is all about.
know youíve said that youíre not ready for baby number two yet. But if
you and Vanessa decide to expand on your family, do you think youíll be
hoping for a little brother or a little sister for Camden?
have no expectations on what baby number two will be. Nor do I have any
real hope or dreams either way. I think as a father itís cool to have a
son. We already have obviously taken care of that part so, whatever
comes number two, is a welcome addition to the family. Although I said
itís not going to happen any day eminently, we definitely do want more
kids. So if and when that day does happen, Iím sure we will be ecstatic
with a boy or a girl. It makes no difference.
You mentioned mentoring the groups. What do you think is the most
important piece of advice that you are able to give them or that you
would give to young students in high school or college hoping to succeed
cappella singing or just in the music industry in general.
Well I think I alluded to it earlier,
but it really frankly is hard work. Iíve said many times Iím not
necessarily convinced that 98 Degrees was the most talented group out
there, but we were certainly willing to work as hard, if not harder,
than any other group out there. There really is no replacement for that.
Work ethic and your desire to go the extra mile, that at times can
really set you apart and give you an advantage.
All the groups in our show, itís a lot
of singing in a very condensed amount of time with a lot of pressure.
Youíre on a national television stage and youíre singing against some of
the most talented singers in the country. You really have to be on your
game. You have to work hard. If youíre not willing to work hard, youíre
not going to do well on the show. Thatís just a fact. I think thatís
really true for any walk of life, but especially in the music business.
Itís a cutthroat business, now more than ever. You have to do something
to set yourself apart from the competition. Oftentimes a strong work
ethic and going that extra mile can be the deciding factor.
You were talking about working with Mark Burnett and his team taking
over. Can you talk a little bit about what that change was like just on
set with the creative team? Also, now that Pentatonix has won and is
debuting at the top of the charts, how is important is it to follow up
their win with another group that is commercially successful in pop
culture and not just the
a cappella world?
Yes. The first part of the question is
Iíve had the opportunity to work with Mark on shows previously. The one
thing Mark brings to every single thing he does is the intense passion
for a project. He does not get involve with things he does not believe
in. Weíre just lucky that he has a passion for our show and wanted to
take on our show.
Each and every thing he does and every
day he comes to work, he brings that passion with him. He doesnít want
anyone working on a project that doesnít have that same passion he does,
and itís contagious. Heís determined that heís going to have fun doing
what he does every day. Heís going to bring everything heís got. That
attitude and that work environment is contagious and we all fed off of
it. It was just a lot of fun. Obviously weíre here making a show and
trying to make the best show we can. At the end of the day this is
something we all believe in and we all love to do. That passion and that
love for it should be reflected in the way we do a show and it certainly
was with Mark. So I canít say enough good things about him and his team
and all the great attitude and energy they brought to the stage every
time we went to tape.
The second part of your question,
obviously weíre incredibly proud of Pentatonix as I said. Incredibly
happy to have them back on our finale this year. I think any show, itís
a real validation to the show when a group wins the title so to speak
and then goes on to have commercial success. I think that really
validates not only with a cappella music is about but also
validates what The Sing-Off is about.
So again, winning The Sing-Off is
great, but the journey doesnít end there, it really starts there. I give
a lot of credit and props to Pentatonix for really seeing that as the
start of their journey and for really working their tails off to make
the most of the opportunity that all the exposure gave to them. I could
not be more proud of them. I know them personally. Iíve seen them in
concert, and I can safely say that they are the real deal. There is no
weak link in that group. All the success that theyíve had and all the
recognition theyíve gotten is truly deserved. So yes, I hope the best
for this season as well, that our season four winners will see the same
opportunity and take the baton and run with it and make the most of it.
The fact that theyíve set the bar at a certain place now, did that
affect the judging at all, from your perspective?
No, because every season is different. I
think Pentatonix were incredible in their own way. They really brought a
sound to the show that we had never heard before. They pushed the edge
of the envelope in ways that maybe none of us even thought was possible.
Without sounding overly dramatic, they were just a really special group.
That was season three; this is season four. All the groups are different
and you canít try and replicate what Pentatonix did.
You have to create your own sound and
bring your own definition of what a cappella means to you to the
table. I think all our groups in season four really did. There wasnít
necessarily a Pentatonix-type sound but there were incredible sounds
from other groups. You canít try and be somebody else. You have to be
yourself. I think thatís really important in our industry as well. All
the groups in season four really did a great job of creating their own
know you guys just went on tour this summer with 98 Degrees, and Iím
wondering if you feel like you still have the "It" factor like you guys
did back then, and why or why not?
Well, of course. Youíve got to have the "It" factor. You canít get out
there on stage and perform in front of 18,000 screaming women if you
donít feel like youíve got the "It" factor still. So we definitely did.
We made an album we were very proud of. [We] couldnít have been more
proud to be on stage each and every night with Boyz II Men and New Kids
on the Block, and certainly had a great time doing it.
The music business has changed quite a
bit since our last time on stage, but I know we all couldnít be more
proud of what we did this year, and all the things weíve done throughout
our career. Weíve been truly blessed to have a long, long career and to
have a lot of success. Nothing but great memories and great moments this
year and all throughout our career.
was struck by when you were talking about the performing arts school in
The Bay Area going against singers from Princeton. Weíre in a time when
a lot of the schools cut back on arts entirely, and particularly they
donít have the performing art schools like you were able to go to. Why
is it important to have these performing arts programs in high school
and why is it particularly good when some can have a performing arts
Well I can speak for my experience
specifically. I know I would not be in this industry. I wouldnít have
had the courage to jump in my car and drive from Cincinnati, Ohio to LA
to sleep on the floor and try and get a record deal. The confidence that
going to a performing arts school gave to me was really the thing that
was able to get me to go for it. No matter what your passion is in life,
being able to pursue that passion and nurture that passion and those
talents at an early age, first of all itís a real motivating factor in
wanting to go to school every day. It gives you something to really look
forward to. I never wanted to miss a choir practice because I loved what
I was doing. I loved the guys I was singing with.
So whether itís football, baseball,
lacrosse, drama, theatre, choir; whatever it is, itís great to be able
to have a place to express yourself, especially as a teenager. Nurture
those talents and those interests. Iíve been a part of Save the Music
with VH1 for a long, long time. Iíve been on their board because I
really believe in it. Itís important to keep those programs alive. To
keep the exposure there for young people to be able to expand and
creatively express themselves. Itís a really powerful thing to be able
to do. Itís a shame that weíre having to fight to keep that in.
The first part of your question, talking
about teenagers going up against college students and even older, those
kids were so talented. Thereís no replacement for talent at whatever
age. [I'm] really proud of them and proud of all the groups for
bringing it each and every night. As I said earlier, you guys are going
to see some great performances this season. I was really blown away and
I know the judges were and I know America will be.
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