Late in 2013 a half-dozen Filipino guys from Los Angeles who call themselves The Filharmonic astounded millions of TV viewers on “The Sing-Off.” The Filharmonic continued their streak with a memorable performance in the summer sequel, Pitch Perfect 2. Today, with fame within vocal range, doubt has set in for this refreshing group of talented singers.
“We’re coming to a crossroads. Do we quit our jobs to go the full one hundred percent with The Filharmonic? We will, I hope, make the right decision,” states member V.J. Rosales, thinking aloud about his future and that of his five friends two years after they first appeared on “The Sing-Off.”
The Filharmonic is a boy band without instrumental accompaniment behind the curtain. Ranging in age from 22 to 26, its members are V.J., leader Jules Cruz, beat boxer Nico del Rey, Joe Caigoy, Barry Fortgang and Trace Gaynor. Jules, Joe and Nico were friends at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, California, before bringing Barry, Trace and V.J. on board to compete on “The Sing-Off.”
Let’s Stay Together
Breaking up is not really an option for V.J., who had already experienced solo success on “The Voice,” also on NBC, before coming to The Filharmonic.
“It’s not a question of if we are going to make a full commitment to The Filharmonic but when,” explains Trace. Known as the baby face in the sextet, Trace sings and keeps the group relevant on social media.
When the members finally give up their day jobs, their financial sacrifice could be as real as the new Mercedes Benz parked in front of the Los Angeles area home of manager, Rose Buado, where they practice for three hours, three days every week.
Jules remembers, “There were so many moments when we were afraid this might be the last time we’re together, but there was always something that followed.”
Their biggest break was a performance in the a cappella comedy Pitch Perfect 2, which opened at No. 1 in the U.S. the weekend of May 15, 2015, and has gone on to gross almost $184 million domestically and over $284 worldwide.
“It’s still a top movie in the Philippines, and ‘Flashlight’ is a top ten song there,” Trace refers to the pivotal song in Pitch Perfect 2. “The role opened so many doors for us. We get so much love from our new Filipino fans on Twitter and Facebook and our YouTube subscribers.”
Actor-director Elizabeth Banks impressed Nico. He praised her ability to keep the atmosphere light while making sure the group completed their work within a tight three-day visit to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “When we showed up on the set, she gave us a big hug. Right when she sat down in the director’s chair she became extremely focused. But whenever she was off the set, she joked with us,” he says.
At the time of the interview for this story, the group had just returned from teaching music workshops at three children’s summer camps in Ohio. In September, they start a tour of the Northeast and will release an extended “Deluxe” version of their April 2015 album, “Motown Fillie.”
Born to Audition
“I was at Michigan State University the spring semester when Jules and Nico messaged me about auditioning for the summer show,” recalls Joe. “I thought it would be just a summer experience. I had planned to be back in L.A. for the summer anyway.”
The Filharmonic came together for the first taping of the show on August 8, 2013. “Once the show aired, we had lots of gigs lined up,” Joe adds. “Then ‘The Sing-Off Tour’ happened, so I decided to put college on hold.”
They Can Also Dance
As the beat boxer, Nico sets the tone for the music. His voice can imitate a hip-hop DJ scratching vinyl, but the core of his talent is his ability to sound like drums. When asked what he can do that a drum kit can’t, “This,” he replies swerving his hips.
Barry acknowledges the influence of “Sing-Off” choreographer Kristin Denehy for the group’s body rolls and intricate step touching. “We don’t do any crazy dancing,” he says of their synchronized movements.
Barry compares the body rolls to a breakdancing standard. “It’s like doing the worm standing up.” It’s easier to comprehend step touching, which is a combination of side steps with a slight bounce from the knees.
Their choice for a name puts their Filipino heritage front and center. “We felt it was going to be a Filipino group from the start,” says Jules. “It was an opportunity to show off our culture. We also thought of other Filipino names like Manila Ice.”
To Barry, the way The Filharmonic interprets songs is more distinctly Filipino than the dancing. In their cover of “Flashlight,” their most popular video with nearly 2 million views on YouTube, the camera stays on their faces and ignores their feet.
“The style of our music is uniquely Filipino,” Barry says of the Filipino tendency to favor R&B without rough edges. A polished sound is pitch perfect for a cappella, which emphasizes unadorned vocal talent without instrumental support.
Shedding the Covers
Now that it’s settled that the group is staying together, The Filharmonic sees an opportunity to take a cappella to the next stage. Trace says, “We’ve gone beyond the image of a cappella being the music of geeky college kids,” says Trace, former Music Director of USC’s Troy Tones. “Our music is strictly covers. The next step is to make a cappella a genre of original music. We would like to have a Top 40 hit on the radio.”
For the time being, my family can attest that The Filharmonic’s cover skills are exquisite. In Rose’s living room, we had the honor of a private performance of “Sugar.” Like the hit’s music video of Maroon 5 crashing wedding receptions throughout Los Angeles, The Filharmonic is poised to leave connoisseurs of mellifluous harmony awestruck.
Visit The Filharmonic website for tour dates and news.
Anthony Maddela is regular contributor to Positively Filipino. He likes the Mariners, swimming and Taco Bell.
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