By Amanda Dyslin
---- — An all-male a cappella group with roots planted firmly in the Mankato music scene soon will be competing on a national NBC singing competition.
Home Free is one of 10 groups vying for the title of best a cappella group, a Sony Music recording contract, and $100,000 on the fourth season of “The Sing-Off,” which kicks off 8 p.m. Monday. The two-week, seven-episode season will be hosted by Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees fame, and the winning group will be determined during a two-hour finale on Dec. 23.
“We thought, 'This can't actually be happening, can it?'” said Home Free co-founder Chris Rupp. “(We were) super excited.”
In the season pre-taped in July and August, the groups performed for celebrity judges Jewel, Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men. In a new twist this season, the bottom two groups determined by the judges competed in an “Ultimate Sing-Off” to determine which of the two goes home.
The journey to this point for Home Free has been a steady climb since 2000, when then-Mankato teens Matt Atwood and Chris and Adam Rupp sang together to compete in Hosanna Lutheran Church's annual talent contest.
Group members have come and gone over the years, with the Rupps remaining as the only original members. The current lineup also includes Rob Lundquist from Brooklyn Park; Tim Foust, originally from Nederland, Texas; and Austin Brown, a native of south Georgia.
Beginning as a small local group that performed at house parties and charities, Home Free now tours nationally and has sang for Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Norwegian Cruise Lines. But they still do plenty of small local shows, including a holiday concert in Le Sueur Friday night.
With a foundation of barbershop style, the vocal band featured two tenors, a baritone and a bass, as well as Chris Rupp’s nationally recognized beat-boxing skills. And their repertoire included original material, doo-wop classics and contemporary hits.
But with the addition of two southern singers, Chris Rupp said Home Free is now a country act, a genre they adopted during their audition in May for “The Sing-Off.” Chris Rupp said the group has auditioned for every season of the show, and the country flair helped finally land them a spot in the competition.
“We're embracing it,” he said. “We're a country group now.”
Home Free has been posting links and comments about “The Sing-Off” for the past couple of weeks on its Facebook page, and their fans have shown a great deal of support.
Heidi DeRuyter wrote, “I have enjoyed listening to you guys perform for years. I am so thrilled that there is now a national audience that is lucky enough to know you. Congratulations on making the show!”
Home Free's holiday concert touring schedule still includes shows in Springfield on Dec. 21 and at Hosanna in Mankato on Dec. 22. Chris Rupp said the NBC show will likely cause bigger crowds than ever at their concerts. He hopes the national TV exposure — with about 10 million people expected to tune in — will be the final push into the big time for the group.
“If this doesn't do it, what else possibly could?” he said.
“The Sing-Off” will air Dec. 9, 11, 12, 16, 18, 19 and 23.
Home Free will be competing against the following acts: Acoustikats of a Lexington, Ky.; Calle Sol of Puerto Rico; Element of New York City; The Filharmonic of Los Angeles; The Princeton Footnotes of Princeton, N.J.; Street Corner Renaissance of L.A.; Ten of Dallas; Vocal Rush of Oakland, Cal.; and Voiceplay of Orlando, Fla.
For more information about Home Free, including video and audio of their music, visit http://www.homefreevocalband.com. For more information about “The Sing-Off,” visit www.nbc.com/sing-off/.