When the NIU Huskie Hunks a capella group drew the 10th and final performance slot for the Jan. 24 International Championship of Collegiate A Capella Quarter Finals at the University of Chicago, they took it as a good omen.
They figured that fate had decided to save the best for last.
As it turns out, they were second best, but that earned them a spot in the ICCA semi-finals in St. Louis in mid-March, and cemented their status as one of the top collegiate a capella groups in the nation. All teams in the competition are completely student-directed arranging all of their own music and designing their own choreography.
“When we launched the group in the fall of 2011, I don’t think we ever dreamed that we would get this far this fast,” said Adam McNeil of Woodstock, Huskie Hunks president and senior communication major.
“But this year everything sort of clicked. We quickly realized that we not only had great talent, but there was tremendous chemistry from the very start. We asked everyone to commit to the group, and we demanded a lot from them.”
Those demands included six hours a week of rehearsals and multiple performances during the first semester. All 12 members were back on campus a week early this semester, for a boot camp – five days of five hour rehearsals – and they upped their weekly practices to 10 hours total.
The importance of that preparation was clear when they got to Mendell Hall at the University of Chicago and started watching the competition, which included teams from not only the home school, but also from the University of Illinois, Illinois State, Loyola, Truman State and four groups from Ball State.
After each of those schools had performed, the Huskie Hunks hit the stage with a three-song set themed “For the Ladies.” The tongue-in-cheek medley roared out of the gate with their rendition of the dance-club anthem “It’s Raining Men,” and then shifted gears for a radically rearranged rendition of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” that turned the Cyndi Lauper hit into a hymn.
For their final number, the Hunks stayed with the retro-theme, closing with their take on the high-energy 2002 pop-hit “Hey, Juliet.”
Before the final note finished echoing, the group knew they had nailed it. “That was the best run-through of the performance we ever had, and that was our goal: to put our best out there on stage,” McNeil said.
The note-perfect performance was on par with any of the night. What set the Hunks apart, however, was their choreography. In fact, three of the five judges gave the group perfect scores in that category, and gave a special award to choreographers Billy Kokinis and Hunks co-founder Trent Snyder for best choreography.
Moments later, the whole group found out that they were first runners-up to No Comment from the University of Illinois (a national powerhouse on the collegiate a capella circuit).
“It was an incredible feeling when they called our name,” McNeil said. “It just goes to show what you can accomplish when you can get 12 people to commit to a common goal.”
In addition to McNeil, Kokinis and Snyder, the Huskie Hunks are comprised of Jared Ortega, Jason Forby, Anthony Benda, Joel Daebelliehn, Luke Young, Will Kirby, Bobby Truong, Mick Gehr and Dustin King.
The group already is working on polishing their performance for the March 14 competition in St. Louis, where they will battle for a spot in the finals in New York City while simultaneously gearing up to host an ICCA Quarterfinal event Saturday, March 7, at DeKalb High School. Among the contestants there will be their fellow Huskie a capella group, The Northern Sound, hoping to join the Hunks in St. Louis. The competition will be fierce, with three groups from the University of Nebraska, two from U of I, as well as prominent teams from the University of Wisconsin and Northwestern.
Tickets for the DeKalb ICCA event, and the semi-finals in St. Louis, are available online.