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The Filharmonic take a cappella all the way to a guest spot in 'Pitch Perfect 2'

by James Kim and Cameron Kell | The Frame

Members of the Filharmonic sing at KPCC. Mike Roe/KPCC

The new movie “Pitch Perfect 2” was in harmony with millions of moviegoers this weekend — the comedy sequel about a cappella singers opened to more than $70 million at the box office, which is more than the first “Pitch Perfect” took in over its entire theatrical release back in 2012. It’s the biggest debut ever for a movie musical.

Pitch Perfect 2 trailer

One of the bands featured in “Pitch Perfect 2” is the Filharmonic, a six-member group of singers from Los Angeles who are all Filipino-American. The group gained national attention when they competed on NBC’s “The Sing-Off” in 2013, where they got into the final four.

When VJ Rosales and Joe Caigoy of the Filharmonic joined us at the Frame studios, we asked them about their recent appearance on "The Late Late Show," their musical backgrounds and the ways in which a cappella is moving into the mainstream. They also brought the rest of the group in for two special performances.

Interview Highlights:

You've lived and thrived in the world of competitive a cappella singing, so does "Pitch Perfect 2" get it right?

Joe: It's pretty close. It's a movie, so it's super exaggerated and it's made to be more comical, but it's pretty close to what it is. The way that they act with each other is kind of how groups act with each other.

For people who haven't seen you sing, describe your act.

Joe: We're all Filipino, and when we first started we were inspired by the '90s throwback thing. So we like to do top 40 stuff, but we throw in some of that '90s flair, the stuff we grew up with — boy bands, R&B, hip-hop. Our show's colorful, fun...

VJ: A '90s-esque Filipino boy band.

Hear an exclusive performance from the Filharmonic delivering the Boyz II Men classic "Motown Philly": 

Where have you played recently? What have some of your gigs been like?

VJ: We just did "The Late Late Show" with James Corden, which was a huge, huge gig for us. We got to back Anna Kendrick and James and do a riff-off battle with them. We arranged the music and gave it to them and said, "OK, let's battle." It was the most amazing thing ever

James Corden riff-off

I want to talk a little about your musical training and background. VJ, why don't you start? Were you singing in the shower when you were 5 years old?

VJ: Actually, yes, that was me. I was also singing lots of karaoke — my parents would force me to sing karaoke.

Your parents would force you to sing karaoke?

VJ: That's right, yes. Filipinos were known for being professional karaoke singers. It's a good thing, it's totally a good thing, because it builds our ears while we're young. I ended up going to Cal State Long Beach for music, graduated with a degree in jazz studies.

And Joe, what about you?

Joe: Same. My mom was a singer on a cruise ship before I was born, so she always encouraged me to sing. I was in choir basically from kindergarten on, and I went to Michigan State University and studied vocal performance and music education. But I'm mostly opera-trained.

The Filharmonic: John Legend's "All Of Me"

In the final performance of "Pitch Perfect 2," the Bellas do an original song, which seems unusual. Is there a bias against originality in a cappella in favor of remixes and covers?

VJ: Yeah, it's hard to come out with an original, because people don't know who you are or what kind of sound you're going for. When you do a cover, it's like, "OK, cool, I know that song," because it's so familiar. But I think it's important to have original music and to create music like that, so one day the Filharmonic will come out with an album full of original music.

Joe: Yeah, and I think a cappella in general — it's like they say in the movie, "Covers are our schtick," like that's what a cappella groups do. But now a cappella's coming more to the forefront, it's part of pop culture, and I think it's more acceptable now to do originals. Pentatonix has a whole bunch of originals and everyone loves them.

Now that a cappella groups are getting more media attention, what do you think about the idea that people are respecting a cappella groups? 

VJ: For me, it's groundbreaking because no one's ever really done this with a cappella before. You had doo-wop in the past and now, all of a sudden, it's become this mainstream phenomenon, which is awesome, just using your voices to make music. So I think it's awesome and I think we're on the forefront of something big. 

Joe: A cappella is where music started and it kind of went away. People wanted to edit it and add crazy sound effects to make it sound cool, and now it's going back to where music started and people are enjoying this more natural sound. 

The Filharmonic with Chrissie Fit: Ginuwine's "Pony"

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