Vocalists on ‘The Sing-Off’ have roots in area
MINNEAPOLIS — In the episodes that have aired so far, the Home Free vocal band has sailed through NBC’s “The Sing-Off” competition with nary a criticism from the judges.
Will the Minneapolis-based group continue to shine in episodes that air tonight, Thursday and Saturday and make it to Monday’s finale?
Home Free’s fate on the TV show is of special interest to some southwest Minnesota residents, where two of the band’s members have roots. Adam Rupp and Chris Rupp grew up in Mankato, but their parents, Steve and Cindy Rupp, are originally from Slayton and Westbrook, respectively; grandma Betty Rupp still lives in Westbrook; and they have other assorted relatives living throughout the region.“Adam and I started the group 13 years ago when I was in college,” explained Chris Rupp during a phone interview fit into the band’s busy holiday touring schedule. “Over the years it just grew and grew and became much less a hobby and more of a full-time job. Now we are touring all over the country and doing cruise ship work internationally.”Chris is Home Free’s baritone, while brother Adam is the group’s vocal percussionist, providing the only accompaniment with his beat-boxing skills. The other members of the group are: Austin Brown, tenor; Rob Lundquist, tenor; and Tim Foust, bass.
Home Free originally performed an eclectic mix of musical styles, but more recently the band members have branded themselves as a country a cappella group.“We started to transition into a country sound, because there’s not much a capella country,” explained Chris. “It’s a good fit. It’s surprised us how good it works for us.”Chris believes Home Free’s new sound helped secure a spot on “The Sing-Off.”“We auditioned previous years, but they didn’t put us on the show until this year,” he said. “Now our world has just blown up with emails and Facebook and Twitters. It’s incredible what’s happened.”The latest season of “The Sing-Off” — its fourth —kicked off on Dec. 9 and is being run as a holiday special with seven episodes airing over the course of two weeks. But shows were actually filmed last summer in Los Angeles.Hosted by Nick Lachey, “The Sing-Off” has three celebrity judges: Ben Folds (Ben Folds Five). Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) and singer-songwriter Jewel. Ten a cappella groups are competing for a prize package that includes a recording contract and $100,000. Each episode, at least one group is eliminated from the competition via a “sing-off” between the two lowest-scoring groups that week.“The show itself — I guess surreal is the best word to describe it,” shared Chris. “You’re working seven days a week, 12-hour days, and it’s just incredible. Each time you’re singing in front of an audience of 400 people, but you know in the back of your head that it’s going to be 7, 8, 9 million people in a couple of months. And there’s all the pressure of the competition, but at the same time the camaraderie. When someone gets kicked off, it’s always very tough.”By the time the final footage was shot, Chris and his musical cohorts were ready to trade their California hotel room for the RV in which they usually tour.“We were ready for it to be done,” Chris admitted. “Now we’re reaping all the benefits of the work.”With months having lapsed between taping and airing, the Home Free singers are now enjoying watching the end result of their labors.“The first episode, we had a little party in Minneapolis for friends and family,” Chris said. “The second episode, we had a show that night, so we’d checked our phones during a break to watch the Twitter feed blow up.“Three of us went to a Christmas show yesterday by a different group, and we got recognized in the theater,” added Chris about their increasing notoriety. “During intermission, people came up to us, wanting to get pictures taken with us.”Home Free is currently in the midst of its fourth Christmas tour.“It’s something we’ve developed over the years, and it’s gotten pretty darn good, if I do say so myself,” said Chris. “We’ve got quite a light show, and the production values are very high — we’ve got a snow machine, things like that. It’s two acts, 45 minutes apiece or so.”Tickets are still available for Thursday’s show in Sioux Falls, S.D. (7 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater; www.ticketmaster.com). Shows on Saturday in Springfield and Sunday in Mankato are already sold out. After Christmas, Home Free sets sail on several cruise ship performances, and a new CD will be released in the not-so-distant future.But at the moment, the Home Free vocalists are, like their fans, focused on the upcoming episodes of “The Sing-Off,” even though they already know the outcome. The program airs at 7 p.m. today, Thursday and Monday on NBC, with a repeat episode at 7 p.m. Saturday.“It’s very good stuff,” hinted Chris about what’s yet to come. “As the groups get whittled down, the competition increases. I can’t wait to watch the rest of it.”For more information on Home Free, go to www.homefreevocalband.com.