The members of the a cappella group Noteworthy have always set their sights high. But the BYU students didn't really think they'd be appearing on an NBC television show.
"At the beginning of the year, we always set down a list of goals that we want to accomplish. And things that we think we want to do," said Courtney Jensen, director and one of the members of the nine-woman group. "And being on network television has never been on that list. It doesn't seem like something very feasible."
And yet Noteworthy is one of eight a cappella groups competing in "The Sing Off." Not only will they perform on national TV, but they'll have a shot at winning a $100,000 prize and a recording contract.
"Coming into this year, we knew that something big was going to happen. We didn't know what it was going to be, but this was it," Jensen said. "So we're really excited for the opportunity."
Hosted by Nick Lachey, the four-night "Sing Off" event will be judged by Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) and a rotating third judge.
"The Sing Off" is sort of "American Idol" for the a cappella crowd. "With a cappella music, unlike other shows where you have a band behind you, there's really nowhere to hide," Lachey said. "It's all about the talent, and it's all about the performance and the preparation."
Pre-taped episodes of "The Sing Off" air Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5. Judges will eliminate five of the groups in the first three episodes; viewers will select the winner from among three finalists. That winner will be announced in a "live" (tape-delayed in this time zone) episode that airs Monday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m.
It's a big deal for the nine BYU students who range in age from 18 to 23 — Jensen, from Sacramento, Calif; Siri Alemany, Draper; Amber Catherall, Yorba Linda, Calif; Cassie Crabb, South Pasadena, Calif; Lizzy Early, Lake Oswego, Ore.; Katie Jensen, Sacramento, Calif.; Kelsey Raps, Wrightwood, Calif.; Laina Walker, Sandy; and Amy Whitcomb, Longwood, Fla.
The groups were recruited for the show. Executive producer Joel Gallen said between 2,500 and 3,000 groups were looked at in a "meticulous process to weed it down and to find the eight that we have."
And the fact that these are LDS women from BYU will absolutely be part of the show. Talking to TV critics, Gallen pointed to Noteworthy as "an all-girl group from Brigham Young University made up of nine Mormon girls and incredible singers."
"The fact that our main goal is to kind of spread that message of hope and love definitely sets us apart from a lot of the other groups," Courtney Jensen said. "It's a big part of who we are."
Group members had to juggle school and the show. The first three episodes taped Dec. 3, 6 and 13 — so the women had to study for finals while spending long hours rehearsing and performing.
"We're here in L.A., missing weeks and weeks of school. But we talked to all of our professors, and they were very, very awesome and willing to work with us," Jensen said. "But it's been really, really intense working out school with this whole traveling situation.
"We have finals the days that the show actually airs," she said with a laugh.
Appearing on the show has been an eye-opener.
"Just being in the studio, it's so surreal being around all the production aspects of it," Jensen said. "And seeing how many people it takes. It's completely amazing how it all works together."
In 2007, Noteworthy won the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella
"Being able to go to New York and sing on the Lincoln Center stage and ending up taking home the prize, it was amazing," said Jensen, the only remaining member of that group. "But this experience is something completely different, because it's going to be watched on national television. It's hard to describe."
But they're not just happy to be there. They want to win.
"I think we'll surprise a lot of people," Jensen said. "Like, nine white Mormon girls getting on stage and really, really bringing it. I think it will be a little surprising for people to see what we can do.
"We're working hard. …We're pushing ourselves because we want to be able to not only represent Noteworthy in the best light possible, but also represent BYU and the (LDS) Church, as well. We want to be the best we can be so that we can prove that not only is women's a cappella good, but that we can do just as much as any of the other groups on the show."