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YouTube sensation Straight No Chaser becomes hit

  • Story Highlights
  • Straight No Chaser formed at Indiana University in 1990s
  • Band had broken up, but posting of '98 video on YouTube had huge success
  • A cappella group now has record contract, hopes for bigger things
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By Shanon Cook
CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- What started as a college a cappella pastime became a ticket to the big time for 10 Indiana University graduates.

Straight No Chaser broke up years ago, but success on YouTube brought the band back together.

Straight No Chaser broke up years ago, but success on YouTube brought the band back together.

Last year a member of the disbanded group -- called Straight No Chaser -- posted a video of a quirky 1998 performance of "The 12 Days of Christmas" on YouTube. It got more than 8 million hits. And one of the people watching was Craig Kallman, chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records.

Kallman summoned a couple of the troupe members to Los Angeles, where he offered them a record deal. Straight up. The boys (now men, of course) got back together and within 10 months -- and almost 10 years after graduation -- had a debut album neatly tied with a bow.

And you thought your college reunion was exciting. Video Watch Straight No Chaser blend their voices »

"Holiday Spirits" mostly features festive covers such as "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Silent Night," all sung in the a cappella tradition but with creative and entertaining tweaks. (They do a stirring Christmas-infused rendition of Toto's "Africa.")

Members of Straight No Chaser sang for CNN in New York recently, talked about their surprising career turn and where it leaves their day jobs.

CNN: What is it like then to actually become a YouTube sensation?

Randy Stine: Well, [Jerome] got recognized on the street in Hong Kong.

Jerome Collins: A person walked up to me and said, "Hey, I know this may be out of line, but you look like this guy on this video I just saw." I called [Randy] and I was like, "We officially made it. We're being recognized in Hong Kong by some random person on the street." So it was kind of cool, and that's when I knew that [it] was on a bigger scale than we thought.

CNN: What went through your mind when you got the call from Atlantic Records?

Stine: I was half believing it was a prank. I got the call from Craig, and while I'm talking to him the first time, I'm on the computer Googling his name to read his bio. It was just kind of a dream phone call. And I kept thinking, "Is this really happening?" It was pretty amazing.

CNN: You all have day jobs, don't you?

Stine: Yeah. I was actually in Chicago doing IT sales, wishing I was still in music. We're all spread across the country. We've got guys in Chicago, Vegas, Atlanta, here in New York. Jerome was actually in Hong Kong when all this started, and he moved back from Hong Kong to be a part of this.

CNN: What were you doing in Hong Kong?

Collins: I was doing a festival of "The Lion King," and I was Simba. We have one guy selling medical devices, another guy a reporter for ABC, one guy working at a bank, another guy a teacher. ... You name it, we have it.

CNN: And how do you arrange rehearsing or performances if you are scattered throughout the country?

Stine: That's probably one of the big challenges. We all have to fly in from whatever city we're in to New York, to Chicago, L.A., wherever we have to meet up to rehearse or record. But when we get together it's like no time has passed.

CNN: Are you going to keep your day jobs?

Collins: There's no chance that I'm going to be keeping my day job. I obviously gave it up to try and do this so I know for a fact that I'm not going to be going back. I hope they didn't hear that. This is it. This is what I dreamed to do as a kid. This is what I want my day job to be.

Stine: I quit my job in July. I had to get enough time off to record but couldn't do it. I have one shot at this. I know there are tons of other musicians out there who would cut off a limb to have this opportunity so I couldn't pass it up.

Collins: We're going to force the other guys to make sure they quit their jobs. With the scheduling and the touring some of them may not have a job to go back to. So that's what we're hoping may happen.

CNN: That's what you're hoping? You're hoping that they will get fired? That's nice!

Stine: Yeah, we'll make the phone calls on their behalf. Like, "he's not coming into work today" [Stine and Collins laugh.]

CNN: Now that you have your debut album in the can, are you thinking ahead to other projects?

Collins: Well, that's the whole point. We hope that that momentum -- not only with YouTube, but with our album -- keeps going so we can get right back in the studio and come out with some fresh new music that's not holiday. We don't want to pigeonhole ourselves. We do all genres, all types of music.

CNN: Part of your appeal seems to be that you don't really take yourselves too seriously, do you? You have a lot of fun with it.

Collins: It's really fun singing with your best friends onstage. We have fun. Outside of this business, we are still friends; we all go do things together; we all still hang out. We still fight like brothers. So essentially ... I hope that never changes because that's what made us who we are today.

CNN: What about your personalities ... have you all changed a little since you were at school together?

Stine: I think all of us are pretty much the same, just maybe more opinionated.

Collins: Some of us have wives. That's the only thing that's changed.

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CNN: Why are you called Straight No Chaser?

Stine: We basically came up with the name from Thelonious Monk, his jazz album and song. And we just thought it really tied in well to our mentality of voices, no instruments. And of course it ties in to college and visiting the bars late at night.

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