The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella quarterfinals marked the first time Evangeline had seen an a cappella competition. There was something strange about the experience of it—watching the first three groups perform, all college students all of whom, like The Acopacalypse, had traveled to perform for 12 minutes on that stage.
Evangeline wasn’t much for musical nuance—she preferred to take in the big picture of a performance, and wondered if the judges would ultimately determine results the same way, or if, on an unconscious level, there was any difference at all.
She knew that Josh was all about scores, going so far as to draw a mock scoring sheet on the chalkboard during one of their rehearsals, and email a PDF version to everyone afterward to stress the importance of tuning, and smiling, and enunciating, and so on, and so on, and so on.
The first group to perform, an all-female group in teal tops and black slacks look petrified to be on stage. The Indian girl with the first solo looked like she might burst in tears on the first verse, and they all looked self-conscious when they did their little touch-steps and waves of their hands. Evangeline wondered how the judges would respond to that—if their discomfort was as evident to them as it was to Evangeline, and if it mattered as much as she thought that the group didn’t seem to have any fun at all.
She thought of the fun she had had with her own group—the night she hooked up with Russ, the night she took Amanda out for coffee to lower her guard as the assistant director, and gossip like girlfriends. She thought the a cappella group was one of her more worthwhile pursuits in her years at SCC, and it was a part of why she didn’t mind that she would spend an extra semester at the school to finish up her studies the following fall. Ultimately, she didn’t care all that much how the group did in competition, aside from how happy it would make Josh, Amanda and Katie—maybe Andrew, too. As far as she was concerned, it was just another show.
An all-male group took the stage next, and they looked especially young. They could sing, though—they could sing really well, and Evangeline wondered if they were objectively better than The Acapocalypse. There was something about them she didn’t like. The smiles that seemed waxed onto every member’s face for the duration of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” The cheesy, if unabashed choreography. The show tune sound of the second song. They just seemed utterly fake to her, acting as much as they were singing. Maybe that was the nature of competition, but although Evangeline was all for stage presence, she had little interest in theatrics.
By the last song of the second set, Evangeline noticed Katie had her arms crossed tightly around herself, fingers nails pressing into her own skin. She wanted to say something to her, to try to comfort her somehow. Katie hadn’t spoken to her any more than she had to since the party, though. After a while, Andrew reached out and sort of awkwardly rested a hand on one of her forearms.
The Grand Standers closed the first half of the show. There was something strange about Josh’s relationship with or perception of the group. When he first formed The Acapocalypse he talked a lot about The Grand Standers—how great they were, and lessons their own group could take from them. As competition neared, and particularly after it was announced they would be competing at the same show, Josh stopped mentioning the other group at all. And indeed, when they came on to perform, he whispered something to Amanda, got up and walked out of the auditorium.
Whatever his reasons, Josh missed a hell of a show. The group demonstrated none of the nerves of the first group, and though she felt their personas were as much put on as the second’s, they carried out the act better—looked more natural, found their notes and their positions on stage after each reconfiguration without pause or visible effort. That, and when they all lined up across the front of the stage to sing the final chorus, they produced a bigger sound than Evangeline could ever recall having heard from pure human voices.
Good as they were, Evangeline had a sense she could see the strings to their performance. In The Grand Standers she saw a collection of people who made a cappella their life—for whom it was so much more than pastime and social outlet. They probably beatboxed in the shower, harmonized with songs on the radio, heard the syllables of a guitar riff. It was all well and good for them, and she could see why someone like Josh would be drawn to them. It’s not what a cappella would ever be for her, though.
At intermission, Amanda led the group backstage, where Josh was waiting for them. He didn’t fidget or shake, but there was something upright and rigid about him that belied his confidence. Evangeline smiled—not putting anything on, feeling as loose as she looked. She slugged his arm. “The Grand Standers sucked. We’re going to show them how it’s done.”