No Comment sings it on new reality show


By Lillian Barkley

It starts with a pitch. Then sound bursts out of 15 vocalists, layering and melding to form instrumentals and harmonies as stage lights blind the singers to all but the first few rows of the packed auditorium.

The thrill of the competition is nothing new to University a cappella group No Comment, but this time each move and missed note will be captured on film and broadcast for the nation to see.

“We all tried to dress a little better and put on a little bigger of a smile,” said Lizzie Jassin, sophomore in Media, No Comment member and Illini Media employee. “It did push us to try to be better.”

No Comment was one of five featured a cappella groups on “Sing It On,” a documentary-style reality television show which follows collegiate groups on their journey to the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella finals in New York. The series, executive produced by John Legend, premiered May 13 on Pop TV and airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

No Comment member Micah Tryba, senior in ACES, was a sophomore when she transferred to the University for the 2012-2013 competition season, when No Comment made it to finals before being eliminated.

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“I just assumed, ‘Oh, you compete in ICCA, and you win the whole thing,’” she said. “Later on, I learned that’s not quite how it goes.”

According to Tryba, the group was contacted by Pop in fall 2013, following their semifinals win. Varsity Vocals, which runs ICCA, recommended some groups to the “Sing It On” production company, Tryba said.

After a series of Skype calls, in-person interviews and contract negotiations, No Comment was officially on the show.

“We just had no idea what to expect,” Jassin said. “We were thinking when it’s all said and done, it’ll be so awesome to have a set of DVDs in our family room.”

The film crew would film for short stints on-location at the University before leaving for months to film the other four groups, Tryba said.

“It was definitely more of a time commitment this year with the cameras being there,” she said. “But they understood that we were students first.”

The crew and students had a mutual understanding that the show needed footage, but finals and studying were a priority over getting another take of rehearsal, Tryba said.

“People didn’t act more outlandish; they actually pulled back a little bit,” she said of the group’s reaction to having cameras constantly filming, adding that the students tended to censor themselves more.

Though some swears and out-of-context comments were used, Tryba said the group was portrayed in an accurate, positive light overall.

“A lot of the drama that the other groups have isn’t fictionalized at all,” said Jessica Clark, No Comment’s musical director and senior in ACES.

While drama has been frequent in the series, Jassin said the crew never pushed them to create conflict.

“You guys are still going to be best friends when the show’s over,” Jassin said, paraphrasing what they were told by the crew. “We’re just trying to show the world what a cappella is.”

Clark, Jassin and Tryba were all featured members of the show. The group was told early in production that certain members would be highlighted, Tryba said.

“I had all of my issues with my solo and that was the big hump that NoCo had to get over,” she said.

Jassin was surprised she was featured, since she is a younger member of the group with no solos, though she said her role on the show makes more sense to her now.

“I say a ton of funny stuff throughout the series,” she said. “I play the comedic relief for the show because it is really serious, and there’s tears, and there’s drama.”

The focus of the show is the competition, which is a breeding ground for turbulent emotions. ICCA was adamant that Pop had no hand in competition results, however.

“After quarterfinals, we got a ton of backlash,” Tryba said. “People were talking mad sh*t about us.”

No Comment went five seconds over the time limit. According to ICCA rules, going over time results in docking the team by one place, but the group was still awarded first.

ICCA released a statement to resolve the conflict, assuring competitors that due to unforeseen circumstances, such as excessive audience applause, groups frequently go five seconds over and are not penalized.

Of course, the hands-off requirement also means that the featured groups are not guaranteed a win, as No Comment experienced when they did not advance after semifinals.

“Because we were happy with our set, we didn’t feel as much regret,” Jassin said. “We’re moving towards the direction of wanting to be more competition-focused.”

Even though they are no longer in the competition, the group was eligible to film a submission for the “Wildcard” slot, which would allow them to enter finals again.

They are also featured in a spring break episode with All-Night Yahtzee, one of the “Sing It On” groups from Florida State University.

“It’s not the end of No Comment on the show yet,” Tryba said.

The group is also using their exposure on the show to benefit the University’s entire a cappella community, she said.

University a cappella groups have created a fundraiser to get new microphones, because adjusting to different microphones during competition can have a negative effect on performance, Tryba said. She added that many successful a cappella groups with the same musical talent have an advantage because of high-quality microphones.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be on that same caliber as well,” she said.

July 1 is the “Sing It On” finale, and though the group has heard rumors, Tryba said they have not signed for a second season.

“It was a fantastic year,” she said. “We had a fantastic season, and the whole ‘Sing It On’ experience has been nothing but a blessing and a really good time.”

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