5C a cappella group wins 'Sing for Survivors' contest and will perform at the White House

An a cappella singing group called the “After School Specials” made up of students from the five colleges, took top honors winning the “’Til It Happens to You: Sing for Survivors” vocal contest, and now the group has been invited to sing at the White House on Thursday, April 14.

The group’s cover performance of the Oscar nominated Lady Gaga/Diane Warren anthem “'Til It Happens To You” was picked as the winner over finalists from Syracuse University and Hobart and William Smith colleges. There were 14 semifinalists before the three finalists were selected via an online public vote with the winner picked by a panel of judges including including LL Cool J, Pentatonix, Cynthia Germanotta, David Foster, Catherine Hardwicke, Trudy Green, Bonnie Greenberg and Diane Warren.

The contest was part of an effort to foster awareness of the problem of sexual abuse on college campuses.

The group of 16 students includes six singers from CMC: Co-president of the After School Specials, Alex Hwung '16, Parker Lalonde '17, Kai Kellerman '18, Russel Salazar '18, Brendan Suh '19 and Celeste Terni '19.

“The instant we found out that we won the ‘Sing for Survivors’ contest, my heart stopped,” Terni says. “Since we all have different schedules, all the group members were dispersed throughout the 5C's, but I can say with confidence that we were all smiling hysterically or crying in disbelief. It was a flood of relief, excitement, and a bunch of adrenaline.”

The After School Specials were organized in 2005 (although under a different name) with the winning group performing together for about a year. “It wasn't really until two years ago that we started more ambitious projects like recording music videos and participating in competitions,” says Hwung. 

The group was contacted about the “Sing for Survivors” competition last semester and was asked to record a video to kick off the campaign as well as spread the word to get other groups involved. “We recorded the video on all five campuses,” Kellerman says, “and then submitted it to the contest judges when it went live a couple months ago.”

The competition was designed specifically with the song "Til It Happens to You" in mind. The song was written for the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which is about sexual assault on college campuses. The ensuing competition was sponsored via the movie to raise awareness for the rise of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses, and how these cases are handled by various administrations. All of the groups in the competition sang the same song. 

“We had already been thinking about recording another music video this year, and when the ‘Sing for Survivors’ contest was announced, the group knew that it would be the perfect song to perform,” Hwung says. “Not only was it a chance to feature every one of our amazing soloists, but the song itself conveys a message that we all hope to spread. We knew that the video would have a positive effect on our community, and we knew that each live performance would be part of a larger movement to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault.”

According to Kellerman, the group, practically en masse “freaked out “when they found they’d won. “We knew what day the decision would come out but not the time, so we found out via our group text chat, and we all started screaming on our phones,” he says.

The call from the White House came about through the It's On Us Foundation. On April 14, the White House is hosting a “Champions of Change” function to recognize outstanding students who are making an impact in combating sexual assault on college campuses, and after their win, the group was contacted to perform their winning rendition of “’Til It Happens to You.” Although President Obama’s attendance is a “maybe,” Vice President Biden has confirmed that he will be at the performance.

“I was immediately in denial after the White House call came in,” says Terni. “Never did we think that this eclectic group of rowdy young adults would be invited to perform at such a prestigious event, especially since we consider a cappella our hobby.”

According to Terni the group boasts a total of zero music majors in the group, which, she says, speaks to how multi-faceted all of our members really have to be in order to successfully pursue challenging careers while enjoying their collective passion for music.

“So as soon as we got the invitation, we really couldn't believe how far we've come,” Terni says. “We had acknowledged that the group is at its peak this year and that you really can't get better than the White House. It really is a dream come true. It's going to be surreal forever!”


Read the earlier article: After School Specials win #TIHTY Sing for Survivors a cappella contest

Watch the video "The After School Specials | Til It Happens to You (Lady Gaga Cover)"