“Sing Song is our life,” said Caroline Nikolaus.
And there’s proof in their after-hours practicing.
It is the Saturday before final rehearsal week, the last night of freedom and eight hours of sleep. But these six can’t get enough of Sing Song, or each other. Instead of a night spent in singing-recess and solitude, they are together, tapping routines and belting songs drilled into memory and movement since December.
Tryouts for the coveted spots were in October, with two rounds of auditions to elect an elite group of performers responsible for carrying the show in-between the 17, three-and-a-half-minute acts.
For a few, being a Sing Song host or hostess has always been the dream.
“When I was a freshman, I had no idea what Sing Song was,” said Emily Dixon. “But when I saw the hosts and hostesses on that stage, I said, ‘That. I want that.'”
“When I was 11-years-old, I came to see my sister perform in Sing Song,” said Chelsea Emberlin. Ever since then, it has been a dream of mine.”
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Trey Wrape. “When I set foot on campus four years ago, I knew Sing Song host was for me.”
And when at first they did not succeed, Dixon, Nikolaus and Chris Balsly tried out again.
“When I didn’t make it last year, I viewed it as a learning experience and pushed myself to try out again this year. This has been a perfect way to end my last year at ACU,” Balsly said.
“I ended up co-directing the junior class act instead,” Nikolaus said. “Senior year, I knew I definitely wanted to go for hostess again, except this time, I got it.”
Each host and hostess was chosen based on individual talent, but the group’s cohesion is essential for Sing Song success. And this year’s ensemble is no exception. Atypical of years past, none of the six are musical theatre or vocal performance majors.
“This group is a particularly close-knit group,” said Kristin Ward, their singing coach. “They have such unique individual styles, but when they get together, their blend is amazing.”
The hosts and hostesses will be the first to say credit is due to those backstage.
“There’s a lot that goes on that we don’t see,” Dixon said. “I’ve never had someone start stripping my clothes off and changing my hair, jewelry and makeup the second I walk in somewhere.”
With stylists, makeup artists, a choreographer and singing coach, several individuals are in charge of keeping the group’s gears running.
Where the hostesses are, Ward is there also. Every day she meets with the group, running through the music, perfecting harmonies and arrangements.
“She’s like our Sing Song momma,” Emberlin said.
“Kristin’s been a phenomenal vocal coach who worked around the clock,” Balsly said. “She’s had tremendous patience with us in the learning process.”
“Sing Song is for real,” Wrape said. “It’s so professional, and there are so many moving parts, but that’s why we have awesome co-chairs and directors who make it happen.”
For all the moving, Amanda Clary is there to marshal. The senior marketing major from Denton and downstage co-chair handles the jam-packed agenda.
From rehearsal-schedulings, outfit-arrangings, meeting-attendings, costume-fittings and rehearsal-remindings, Clary keeps the group on schedule.
“In a sense, I am the hosts and hostesses’ manager or agent to all six of them,” she said. “I spend a ton of time with them.”
But time is the one thing the hosts and hostesses have in short supply.
At auditions, hosting contenders were forewarned of the time demands of Sing Song.
“We were told we had to keep certain dates open, like the Sing Song Retreat after finals in December, and meetings and rehearsals before the spring semester starts,” Nikolaus said. “We could not sign up for classes from 12-1 p.m. because that is our rehearsal time.”
“I had to cut back on the amount of hours I was planning on taking this semester,” Emberlin said. “I also had to get an hour of my work shift covered two days a week until Sing Song is over.”
Rehearsing and choreography can take up to 17 hours each week, and costume fittings and meetings add five to seven additional hours.
All the go-go-go can take a toll, which is why keeping hosts and hostesses healthy is everyone’s top priority.
“First and foremost, we don’t keep them out late at night,” said Sing Song Director Tom Craig. “We try to wrap up our dancing practices by 10 p.m. We give them plenty of opportunity to sleep, encourage them to eat healthy, and encourage them to stay on top of their studies. We also encourage them to take advantage of the on-campus flu shots.”
Emergen-C tablets, Zicam, hand sanitizer, flu and steroid shots, water, sleep, more water and even more sleep are their cited prescriptions.
“Not to mention, we have had constant prayers going up for our overall health from many different people throughout this entire process,” Emberlin said.
“They have to pay extra attention to health, sleep, eating well and not pushing themselves,” Ward said. “When you have to sing 17 songs a night for a week and twice on Saturday, it is important to protect their voices.”
But it is Amber Peck who is in charge of the primping. For seven years she has styled the host and hostesses. Once chosen, she meets with them to take measurements, talk through visions for their part and get a feel for each hosts’ personalities.
“Before I go shopping, I listen to the music that’s been chosen over and over,” Peck said. “From there I develop a plan to purchase off-the-rack or maybe tailor something special for a specific number. I work closely with Tom Craig and get any visions he may have for individual numbers.”
Clothes are not the most important part, Peck said, but costumes are an enhancement to the music and staging of the show.
“My job is to make sure they look good, no matter what they have on,” she said. “When you look good, you sound good.”
No matter how good they look, with near sold-out Saturday crowds, the hosts and hostesses naturally have some nerves.
“Dancing scares me the most,” Balsly said.
The same fear is echoed by his fellow performers.
“I am way more nervous about the dancing than I am the singing,” said Rodney Johnson.
“I’ve always been a singer, but am very rhythmically challenged,” Balsly said. “I’m also nervous about forgetting lyrics or choreography.”
“Trying not to fall in heels – that is the worst,” Nikolaus said.
“I’m kind of clumsy, I have long legs and some of the shoes I am wearing are at least four inches tall,” Emberlin said.
Regardless of costume discomfort, with this year’s Sing Song theme centered on love, comfort levels within the group are crucial.
“We are portraying the journey through love and relationship with one another,” Emberlin said. “In order to be convincing, it helps that we have really gotten to know each other to the point of being open with each other onstage and offstage.”
“When you have dance partners, you cant be shy about getting up close and personal,” Balsly said. “There are times when I have to lift Caroline up in one of our songs. There has to be a mutual trust and respect between us because we are so interactive.”
The level of complete transparency between each other makes this group unique.
“We are very real with each other, about what is going on in our lives, so there are many times we encourage and spend time in prayer with each other.”
The hosting experience is an odd one, they said.
“I got the flu shot solely for Sing Song,” Nikolaus said.
“We’re not supposed to drink an hour before bed,” Dixon said. “Something about the stomach producing acid and when you lay down, the acid sits on your vocal chords and burns them.”
“We tan,” Wrape said. “Up until Sing Song, I had never indoor tanned, and honestly, it’s pretty relaxing.”
“I seemed to be the only one that got burnt every time,” Balsly said.
But the experience is repaying the cracked voices and blistered feet tenfold.
“I will come away changed and challenged, understanding my gifts, my faith and myself more fully, and with lasting friendships,” Nikolaus said. “Worth it.”
“It’s been so much more than just singing and performing,” Dixon said.
The competition between acts is matched only by the camaraderie between the hosts and hostesses on stage. But on the Saturday night before Moody rehearsals, the group gave no sign that all performances would be over within a week.
Because the teasing and inside-joking between the six did not resemble that of individual, singing divas bound together for Sing Song’s sake.
“Brothers and sisters,” Wrape said.