It’s hard to believe that two years of preparation comes down to a 12-minute set. It’s also difficult to imagine a group more into a cappella than DoubleTake, but this would be a weekend full of surprises.
The afternoon information meeting for the International Championship of Collegiate A cappella looks more like a beauty pageant than a singing competition. All the girls in the only all-girl ensemble are nervously biting their nails with their hair still in curlers.
Six other groups are already in Aycock Auditorium at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro when the members of DoubleTake take their seats. Varsity Vocals, the company running the event, begins roll call, and each group loudly cheers after their name.
A member of the Spartones, the a cappella group hosting the competition at UNC-G, takes the microphone.
“First off, there’s an after-party.”
Someone from the crowd screams, “That’s all that matters.”
Lindsay Howerton, director of Varsity Vocals, announces the first semifinal event of this year’s competition. “You should be proud you got this far.”
Member of DoubleTake Barret Armbruster ’10, however, is quietly worrying about the stage setup, saying, “The condenser microphones are in the middle, which doesn’t bode well for us since we are usually in a straight line.”
Condenser microphones pick up sound from many directions, compared to dynamic microphones, which only pick up what is right in front of them.
The groups intently listen as the emcee emcee discusses how the sound system works. After he repeats “worst case scenario” enough times to make DoubleTake sufficiently nervous, it is time to draw timeslots for the show.
David Boyd, the Spartones host assigned to DoubleTake, explains the procedure of choosing performance order as groups send representatives to draw their number.
“You want to go after the intermission so you’re fresh in the judges’ mind.” DoubleTake draws sixth, the first group after intermission, which marks a good start to the competition.
Back in the dressing room, the members are a little on edge. Two members are absent due to a spring break service trip, including the soloist for their first song, Alix Bendicksen ’12. Juliet Sabol ’12 will be filling in, but the new setup is unfamiliar to the group.
“Missing two people is hitting us hard,” Lauren Harrington ’13 comments later over dinner.
“Fist of breath, biddies,” Jake Nelson ’11 says, beginning warm-ups by telling the group to blow air into their fists to engage the diaphragm. “We should do some gentle exercises since some people feel under the weather.”
Dan Lefler ’12 is carrying a gallon of water, his face contorting as he fights against a high fever and aching stomach. Several other group members are recovering from illness that plagued their spring break.
Director Ben McVety ’10 takes the reins with his pitch pipe.
“You need to be uncomfortably rubbing up against the person next to you,” he says regarding to the stage setup, adding some advice after their final run-through. “Look like we are having fun. Come in confident; don’t hesitate. Engage the judges and the audience so they see your emotion on your face. Show them our hard work.”
The show opens with a Lady Gaga medley by Florida State University’s All-Night Yahtzee, who have won nationals in the past. Their choreography is flawless and they put on a near-perfect performance. The next three groups don’t seem to have the creativity or coordination needed to take first place. The first half of the competition closes with the University of Georgia’s Accidentals. With their black tuxedo vests and red ties, unsettlingly similar to DoubleTake’s uniform, they belt out an almost perfect 12-minute set. When the house lights come up, DoubleTake is understandably nervous. Even with six enthusiastic alumni screaming from the balcony’s front row, there just isn’t enough energy to inspire the group.
During their introduction, the emcee forgets DoubleTake’s name — hopefully the judges won’t. While there are no obvious mistakes or missed entrances, the confidence and attitude that normally set DoubleTake apart from other groups on campus just isn’t there. They’ve let their nerves get the best of them and, while they don’t deliver their best performance, DoubleTake walks off the stage with their heads held high.
After the judges deliberate, Howerton holds the sacred envelope in her hand as groups embrace each other, clasp their hands in prayer or start tearing up. All-Night Yahtzee takes a surprising third, but what clearly upsets all groups on-stage is the all-male group Tigeroar from Clemson University placing second. Their lackluster choreography and simple arrangements make groups look at each other in confusion and outrage. Thankfully, only first place advances to nationals, which is deservingly awarded to The Accidentals.
Members of DoubleTake sift through the judges’ comments upon returning to the dressing room and their voices overlap.
“They said our background vocals were luscious there? What does that even mean?”
“We went flat, I knew it.”
“They loved the arrangement though — said we pulled it off.”
DoubleTake continues to discuss their performance at their hotel later that night. Packed into a single room at the Days Inn with alumni, they drink and reminisce about previous years of competition. Despite the enforcement of quiet hours by a hotel employee around 1 a.m., there is a brief minute of hushed whispering and they continue their conversation.
“Are you proud of DoubleTake? What did you think?” Chelsea Reba ’12 asks former DoubleTake member Ryan Miller ’09.
“You want to do well, you want to have fun,” Miller says. “Who cares about winning? These are gonna be the times you remember anyways.”
An a cappella tradition at parties is to have new members sing their audition songs. Ian Arthur ’11 belts out “How Deep Is Your Love” as alumni listen, clearly impressed.
When I wander into the lobby at 2 a.m. in a futile attempt to locate late-night food, an older guest in his pajamas is complaining loudly at the front desk.
“There’s no sleeping in this hotel tonight with that party on the third floor. I’d be better off going to bed in my truck.”
I want to tell him about the ten-hour drives, the weekly performances, the endless hours of practice, or the fact that DoubleTake is spending their spring break in a crummy hotel.
Instead, I just ask the hotel to order some Domino’s.