Credit 2012's Pitch Perfect, the hit movie about competing collegiate a cappella groups -- complete with campy choreography and eye-rolling ballads -- for destigmatizing the sound. (Pitch Perfect 2 is due out in May 2015.) Starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, the $17 million Universal rom-com would gross $113 million worldwide (according to Box Office Mojo), spawn the top-selling soundtrack of 2013 (1.1 million units to date) and land a hit with "Cups (When I'm Gone)" -- Kendrick's rendition of the 1931 Carter Family bluegrass track -- which rose to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Anna Kendrick's 'Cups' Timeline: How Her 'Pitch Perfect' Song Became a Top 10 Hit
"No record executive would ever [think], 'The biggest song from a movie in the past five years will be this old tune of a woman sitting onstage alone, flipping a plastic cup,'" jokes Deke Sharon, the film's vocal director, who also produces The Sing-Off. That show was rebooted in 2013 by Mark Burnett in the wake of Pitch Perfect's success and grew by 1.6 million total viewers after nearly two years off the air.
The numbers are undeniable, and it's why Pentatonix's holiday album, That's Christmas to Me (Oct. 21), will be accompanied by a "TV blitz," says Corson, that includes morning shows, prime-time programming, Christmas tree lightings and a long-form special. Also, "expect really gigantic retail plans, physical and digital [that] will push the Pentatonix brand into another stratosphere." However, warns bandmember Mitch Grassi, the vetting process can't be "too novelty ... We want to come across as universal and family-friendly, but viewed as an actual band that's serious about what we do."
Pentatonix Sets 'Vol. 3' Release Date, Second Holiday Album
Indeed, the seriousness with which Pentatonix hones its craft has made a cappella an attractive booking for promoters, too. "It was challenging at first," says manager Jonathan Kalter of handpicking seated and standing-room venues that could be calibrated to the act's sound needs. "Once promoters understood that anywhere Pentatonix went, they'd sell tickets -- which is all promoters care about -- it was a matter of finding the room."
The group just wrapped an international tour -- including a North American leg that grossed $1.1 million (its top stop: New York's seated Beacon Theatre, with more than $186,000 in ticket sales) -- with a 90-minute set that included choreography, storytelling and solo moments for the singers. But can that live showmanship translate into a hit? Pentatonix's Scott Hoying says it's a matter of making "an a cappella sound that's unique" without trying to emulate instruments. "It's just five people singing, and it works."
This story orginally appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of Billboard.