Interview: The Wash U Stereotypes, Best A Cappella Group in the Midwest

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Stereotypes singing an arrangement of "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler. - JAE CHOE
  • Jae Choe
  • Stereotypes singing an arrangement of "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler.

Thanks to Glee, singing groups are getting a lot more attention these days. However, a lot of St. Louisans might not realize the singing talent right under our noses -- Washington University alone is home to more than a dozen a cappella groups, one of which recently won a Midwest semifinal competition and is now headed to the finals in New York City on April 16.

The group calls themselves the Stereotypes, and it typically performs highly energetic, highly creative singing and dancing routines while clad in brightly colored ties that, when put together, form a rainbow. Michael Schwartz and Michael Shabot, two of the Stereotypes, took some time to talk to A to Z about the competition, helping their friend propose to his girlfriend in song and their favorite part of collegiate life -- the Stereotypes.

*The Stereotypes performing "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars Chrissy Wilmes: First and foremost, how many a cappella groups are there at Wash. U.? Michael Shabot: There are thirteen.

Wow! I had no idea there were that many. What differentiates the groups? Michael Schwartz: Each group has their own focus. You have your coed groups, your all-male groups, your all-female groups, and you have some groups that specialize in certain areas. Like, we have a group that focuses only on Jewish music, Christian group, a Disney group, a classical group, an all-Asian group...

Shabot: ...an all-Indian group.

Which of these does the Stereotypes fit? Shabot: The Stereotypes is an all-male group, and we really just try to push ourselves as performers and [to] really interact with ourselves and also with the audience, and putting on a meaningful show.

Schwartz: One of the reasons that we're called the Stereotypes is because we try to not fit the stereotype of an a cappella group. We sing from all genres, from musical theater to R&B to classical to rap.

How long has the Stereotypes group been around? Shabot: We're celebrating our ten-year anniversary on April 30 in Graham Chapel at Wash. U. So it's been ten years, since 2001.

How long have you been singing with a cappella groups? Shabot: There are members of all sorts in the group. There are some people that joined the group and this is the first time that they've ever sung, there are people that have been singing since they were five years old. We definitely have a mix within the group. A lot of the older members had never done anything close to what collegiate a cappella is.

Schwartz: And we have people in our group who have literally never sang in an organized music group until college.

As far as competing goes, I know you guys are going on to the finals, and congratulations! That's awesome. Schwartz and Shabot: Thank you!

For those of us who are maybe not as as familiar with a cappella as we are with other collegiate competitions, can you tell us a little bit about the competition? Shabot: There are five regions in the U.S.: the South, the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic, the West and the Midwest. Within the Midwest, I know there's an application process to get even into the quarterfinals, which is the first performance round. And they weed through different groups and decide on the best. There were 38 groups in ours; typically it ranges from 38-48 groups.

Schwartz: There's one semifinal per region, and it's the top two groups from the quarterfinal form that region. And then the top one, the first place from each regional semifinal, moves on to the final in New York City. So, we took first place at that Midwest semifinal.

Are the finals always in New York City? Shabot: They've been in New York City the past few years, ever since the renovations were completed at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Is the competition televised, or is there anywhere that we can watch online? Schwartz: I don't think so, no.

Shabot: A lot of the videos will probably be posted afterwards on YouTube.

Where can we catch you performing in St. Louis? Schwartz: Our spring concert is April 30 at Graham Chapel at Wash. U. It's actually our ten-year anniversary concert, so we're bringing back a lot of alumni, including the founding members of the group who are coming back to sing with us. I saw that you guys had the opportunity to help one of the alumnus propose to his girlfriend... Schwartz: Tim graduated last year with his girlfriend. They met at Wash. U. their freshman year. Tim graduated last year from the Stereotypes, and the song "Slide," [by the Goo Goo Dolls] the Stereotypes sang his freshman year. So I guess the song had sentimental value for them. We relearned the song for Tim at his request and sang it with him soloing for his girlfriend. She thought it was a surprise party for their mutual friend. They'd both come to Wash. U. for the semifinals. She didn't know that he was coming to St. Louis. She thought we were performing as a surprise for the friend, but as soon as we started singing, [the mutual friend] got out of the chair that she was in and put Amy [the fiancée] in the chair. She was so confused, she didn't know what was going on, why we were singing for her. And then when the solo began, Tim walked in to the room and started singing it. The look on her face was priceless. Singing with a bunch of your best friends, helping one of your best friends propose to his girlfriend was really cool. After we stopped singing, they had a little embrace, and he proposed to her, and she said yes.

Is there anything else you guys would like to add? Shabot: If people want to find out more information about us or book us, they can go to our website which is www.thestereotypes.org.

Schwartz: We go on tour sometimes, so over our spring break two weeks ago we toured the South. We have a couple guys who live there. We sang at great places, and we sang at the Arkansas State Capitol.

Shabot: The Stereotypes is my favorite thing about Wash. U. I like It because we consider ourselves one big family. I sing with my best friends in the group, and that's something that I really value. Before we went onstage for the semifinal competition, we all went around in a circle, and we all said one nice thing about the person to our left. It's a really nice way to kinda show that we love each other. And win or lose the competition, we're going to have a great time and make the most of it.

Do you know who you're up against? Shabot: We know four of the five; the fifth is a wildcard pick. So any of the people who got second or third at their semifinal are up on a YouTube competition for that spot right now. So that one hasn't been picked yet. From the Northeast, we're up against Berkeley's Pitch Slapped; from the South it's FSU (Florida State University) a cappella; from the West it's Brigham Young University's Vocal Point; and from the mid-Atlantic region it's the Buffalo Chips.

I do have one more question: How has Glee affected how people think about a cappela and singing groups? Michael Shabot: it's really helped us blossom as an industry. People are much more interested in having us at birthday parties and anniversaries, and adding us to see a good performance added to their event. It's definitely added excitement.

*The Stereotypes performing an encore after winning the semifinals this year

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