The first thing I notice when Kenton Chen sits down is how bubbly and gleeful he seems. “Hold on one second, I have an idea for a song,” he says as he turns on a recording device and starts humming a few notes. The powerful voice that emanates from the Irvine native, coupled with an endless dedication to his craft, is the reason why, at age twenty-two, he has already recorded an album and is on the BR!NK of competing on NBC’s hit reality series, The Sing Off, with the a cappella group he founded, The Backbeats. Before putting on an extraordinary show for the likes of Nicole Scherzinger, Nick Lachey, and millions of Americans in front of their television sets, Kenton sits down with us and discusses his career plans, ambitions, influences, and what winning could mean for the future.
While America will know all about you guys in just a couple of weeks, tell us who The Backbeats are.
The Backbeats are a hodge-podge motley crew, per se. [laughs] More seriously, The Backbeats are an eclectic a cappella group of undergrads and recent grads, all somehow related to California. After I fell in love with The Sing-Off last season, I decided to form a group in order to compete.
What is The Sing-Off?
The Sing-Off is an a cappella reality competition show on NBC hosted by Nick Lachey. Season two will start on Monday, December 6 at 8 pm, and the judges will be Shawn Stockman, Nicole Scherzinger, and Ben Folds.
Congratulations on being selected! I know you have quite the experience in the world of a cappella, so you deserve it.
It’s going to be crazy. The groups are in-cre-di-ble! [laughs] If I could say inappropriate things to describe them, I would. They’re amazing. My experience, on this show, is that you don’t need instruments to sound great.
What does the winning group get?
You get $100,000 and a Sony music-recording contract. So this is big. If we make it to the finale – knock on wood – then we have a really good shot at changing our lives forever. As of now, all of us are somehow in the performing arts, and we’re all struggling…
Artists? Struggling? You don’t say…
[laughs] What a foreign concept, right? Anyway, not only would this be great for us as a group, but as individuals: we could really set ourselves up for a career in music.
How did the audition process go?
It was terrifying. We auditioned, and there were so many other groups that were so good… Some groups we had known about for a very long time – it was like, “What are we doing here?” I thought we were crazy! We were a group that had just formed, and once we got on The Sing-Off, we realized that we had a lot of work to do to prove the judges that they had made the right decision.
What is it about this sudden popular interest in a cappella?
I think a lot of it has to do with Glee. The number one song on iTunes right now is, “Teenage Dream,” sung by one the alums of The Sing-Off (The Tufts Beelzebubs) last season. But a cappella has been around for a while.
I just love your bubbly personality. If you had to describe Kenton Chen, what would you say?
I’m just your run-of-the-mill, artsy, can’t-see-correctly-until-I’m-tilted-at-a-35.7-degree-angle type of person. I think I have a different perspective on the world than most people… and that’s a good thing. My voice is between this African-American gospel singer and a middle-aged white Celtic woman, and I’m a short Asian boy!
In the midst of all that excitement, you’ve found the time to release your own album.
Something About Love is the culmination of hard work from my college years and was heavily influenced by my jazz training. I’m also releasing two new songs in December, where I’m going back to my pop roots.
What current hit could easily become an a capella hit?
I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff lately. But I do think that “Firework,” the Katy Perry song, has great potential for a cappella. If we get to the finale, who knows, the Backbeats might perform it.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Personally, subscribe to all that social media stuff I’m trying to juggle – Facebook, Twitter… Also, the best thing you can do is to become a fan of The Backbeats and check out our updates. We’ll need all the votes we can get if we make it to the finale, since the last episode is up to America!