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Woodbury native Daniel Ellsworth, left, is featured on this season of "The Sing Off" with his group The Collective.

WHS grad looking for a 'Collective' achievement on hit show

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WHS grad looking for a 'Collective' achievement on hit show
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Music has always been a part of Woodbury native Daniel Ellsworth's life, whether that is in school or with his band. But this year an opportunity presented itself to Ellsworth to experience something completely new to him - a cappella.


Ellsworth, a 2002 Woodbury High School graduate, is hoping to perfect his a cappella skills as a contestant on the current season of the NBC music competition series "The Sing Off."

Ellsworth, 27, is competing with his group The Collective.

A cappella is vocal performance without any accompanying background music.

"A cappella is something so different," he said. "With it you have nothing to rely on except your voice - you can't hide behind an instrument. It's so raw, it's so bare bones."

The Collective has made it into the top eight groups.

Hand-picked for a cappella group

"The Sing Off," which is now in its third season, airs Monday nights on NBC and pits singing groups against one another.

The current season premiered Sept. 19.

The season began with 16 groups and then the show's three judges Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman and Sara Bareilles, eliminate acts each week leading up to the final three which will then be voted on by viewers during the live season finale Nov. 28.

It was thanks to a former contestant, Jeremy Lister, that Ellsworth, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., and The Collective even auditioned.

Lister put together a group of nine Nashville-area musicians to compete on the show as The Collective.

In order to audition, The Collective had to submit a video to the show. The Collective is unique compared to other groups in the competition, because none of the musicians in the group have past experience in a cappella groups, Ellsworth said. Ellsworth is the lead singer in the Nashville-based band Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes. Many of the other members of The Collective have similar experience with music.

"We really don't know a lot about that world," he said. "So, we wanted to take this opportunity to go out there and learn."

Since "The Sing Off" is pre-taped, except for the finale, Ellsworth knows how things play out.

"Any one of these groups can win this whole show," he said. "Even though at the end of the day the show is a competition, you don't feel like it is because everyone supports each other."

Becoming one

Ellsworth said the biggest challenge for himself, and the Collective, was to assimilate to a cappella since it is so unique when compared to other styles of music. In addition to not having any backup music, groups must learn to sing in unison for the backup vocals.

"Everyone in our group is a great singer, that's what every one does," Ellsworth said. "But, we had to figure out how to adjust to that and make it sound like one voice."

Ellsworth said he and The Collective spend between 10 and 14 hours arranging songs and rehearsing for each episode.

"We tried to do songs that spoke to what music we like and enjoy," he said. "We spend a lot of time working on the arrangement for each week.

"If it doesn't worth the first time, we take it apart and destroy it and rebuild it because we're trying to take the original and make it our own and make it personal for us."

Making their Collective television debut

When "The Sing Off" premiered on Sept. 19, Ellsworth said he wasn't expecting The Collective to be a favorite right out of the gate since they had so little experience compared to other groups. However, their rendition of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" received considerable praise from the judges.

"For all of us we didn't expect to come out of the gate being everyone's favorite group," he said. "It's been really awesome to see the response and see how many people generally love music."

When it comes to criticism, Ellsworth said it comes down remembering that the judges know what they are talking about.

"There's so much talent on the show," he said, "and not everybody is going to like what you do."

Ellsworth said he has greatly enjoyed his experience with "The Sing Off" and is an experience he will always remember.

"It's really unique from what I do every day playing in a band," he said. "It's something that's outside of the box."

"The Sing Off" airs Monday's at 7 p.m. on NBC.

Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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