When Therry Thomas talks about the music his vocal group Committed has been singing since winning the second season of NBC's Sony-produced music competition show, "The Sing-Off," he calls it "positive thought music." While still rooted in the music that the a cappella sextet sang as students at Oakwood University, a historically black Seventh-Day Adventist school in Huntsville, Ala., the collection that appears on the group's self-titled Epic Records debut (due Aug. 30) leans toward the secular.
Video: Committed sings Michael Jackson's "Hold My Hand"
"I don't think it's that much of stretch," says Thomas, the third of four tenors in the group, of the shift away from the spiritual. "We're still inspiring people. These are songs about love and heartbreak, issues that are downplayed in gospel, but Christians have heartbreak and experience love. We have our spirituals -- 'Soon It Will Be Done' -- but our goal is to inspire through music."
Committed arrives as part of the "Sing-Off" prize package, which included $100,000 and a trophy, in addition to a Sony recording contract. Only one number, the Al Green hit "Let's Stay Together," made it from the show and onto the album, which includes a cappella versions of Stevie Wonder's "As," Maxwell's "Pretty Wings" and Chris Brown's "Forever." The first single is the spiritual-leaning "Break Free," an original song that Thomas co-wrote.
The group -- Thomas, Dennis Baptiste, Tommy Gervais, Geston Pierre, Robert Pressley and Maurice Staple -- began singing together in 2003, inspired by another a cappella group that originated at Oakwood, Take 6. (Committed covers two Take 6 songs on the new album.) Thomas and Pressley say Take 6's smooth and soaring harmonies and gospel roots have influenced them their entire lives, and in recent years members of Take 6 have become mentors to the group as well. Although Committed's members are often asked about the connective tissue among Oakwood, their faith, Take 6 and their sound, they struggle to explain it thoroughly.
"It's just a normal thing for us -- nothing specific," Thomas says. "Singing is a big part of our worship, hymns and spirituals, and we sing in sextets and quartets and choirs. It plays a big role in our worship. Now we're striving to get more knowledge, studying more about music [in general]."
Gervais studied music theory and composition in college and arranged most of the album's 13 tracks, which were selected one song at a time through group votes. Producer Deke Sharon and co-producer Ed Boyer, both of whom worked on the "Sing-Off" tracks and recorded the band in Connecticut, Nashville and Atlanta, brought songs to the group's attention, as did Epic A&R executive Jim Edmunds.
"We wanted it to be a clean album," says Pressley, the "tenor four" and vocal percussionist, "and we went through the pop songs that we thought would be good."
Once the members recorded the tracks they had to figure out how they would perform them live. "There's a lot of [vocal] stacking, so there's more than just six voices on some of the songs," Pressley says. "We have live versions of them all -- the sound is more organic."