Back in December 2009, when Nick Lachey did a telephone conference call with journalists to promote his reality-TV a capella singing competition "The Sing-Off," the assembled reporters were told in advance that personal questions to Lachey were not allowed. At the time there were rumors that Lachey’s on-again/off-again relationship with TV host/actress Vanessa Minnillo had hit a rough patch. Now, almost a year later, Lachey and Minnillo are engaged, and Lachey had no problem taking personal questions during a conference call to promote the return of "The Sing-Off" for a second season.
The conference call happened to take place the day after Lachey’s ex-wife, Jessica Simpson, announced that she got engaged to former NFL football player Eric Johnson. But during the interview, Lachey didn’t shy away from addressing that issue either. As for "The Sing-Off," the show’s second season airs on NBC on December 6, December 8, December 13, December 15 and December 20. (Check local listings for air times.) Here is what Lachey said during the Q&A session.
What's your reaction to Jessica Simpson’s engagement?
I'll say the same thing I’ve always said, which is that I wish her the very best.
What do you think is going to be different for this season of "The Sing-Off" versus what we saw last year?
From the singer's point of view I think that one of things that I noticed — and this is not to take anything away from the talent level of Season 1 — but the groups on Season 2 are just phenomenal.
The talent level, just being in some of the rehearsals and seeing, is exceptional. And I think it's clearly stepped up a notch from what Season 1 was. And I was blown away by Season 1. So that just speaks to the exceptional talents of the groups you'll see in Season 2.
As the host, do you ever get the feeling after watching these guys, that you want to get back out on stage again?
It’s a bit of a throwback for me to see these groups , harmonizing on stage. It does take me back obviously to where I got my start 98 Degrees and some of the a cappella that we that we did together.
So yes, I think if you're a musician at all, watching them and the passion they have for music and hearing the exceptional performances, it does make you kind of itch to perform. And I think that's just if you're a musician, that's just kind of human nature. But it's exciting to be around music and certainly exciting to be around music done so well.
You have to be unbiased as the host but are you keeping a special eye on Eleventh Hour because they're from your home state of Ohio?
I am. Actually coincidentally, they went to my father's high school in Kettering, Ohio. And so there is a little bit of a connection there. And yes, it’s exciting to see the state of Ohio represented in this competition. There's a lot of great musicians who have come from there. Certainly the Home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [is in Ohio]. So to see the state represented , is an exciting thing.
What was it about the premise of the show that made you want you to be part of it?
I think, obviously, my start was in music and still actively in the music business. And specifically with 98 Degrees, we really took a lot of pride in being able to a cappella and do it well. And, quite frankly that's how we got signed was the opportunity to sing a cappella in a room for Motown Records. So a cappella music has always been very near and dear, just to my heart. And I love to see it celebrated in any way, shape or form it can be. And this show obviously does a great job of that. So for me, it was clearly something I was passionate about. And I thank Joel [Gallen, executive producer of "The Sing-Off"] and NBC for the opportunity to be a part of it.
Are you a pretty harsh critic of the different acts because you do know your way around this?
Well I'm blessed that as far as "The Sing-Off" goes I'm the unbiased and objective host, so I'm not put in a position where I do any judging. But I think anyone who's been a part of an a cappella group, or who's performed a cappella, you certainly kind of know what to listen for and you can recognize when it's done well and not done as well. And again, thankfully, I'd say that the majority of the time on "The Sing-Off" it's done extremely well. So there's not too much pain on the ears.
You talked about how you first started learning this at the High School for the Performing Arts in Cincinnati and so forth. What was the high school experience, like for you and learning to sing this kind of music and so on?
Well it was incredible for me. I think for anyone who enjoys performing and enjoys singing , the Performing Arts School in Cincinnati was a great opportunity to kind of nurture those interests and those talents. And I think it's especially exciting for me because it seems as if a cappella music has really blown up. And we've seen so much more interest in what it was, it's not just the barber shop, or it's not just the kind of classic forms of a cappella anymore; we're seeing a cappella music done in really new and in innovative and exciting ways.
And I think that that's what "The Sing-Off" does such a great job of celebrating. These are songs that people wouldn't think of as necessarily as being a cappella, but these groups are charged with the range you need to perform in new and exciting ways. And that's what's so exciting and fun about the show.
So for me, school was a great opportunity to get to know a cappella music, to practice it, study it, ultimately perform it. And that's why I think I have such an appreciation for what these groups are able to do on national television.
Do you wish there were more arts emphasis and more of these schools for the performing arts in different places?
Yes, well it was phenomenal. I think every student, especially at the high school level, you go and you can obviously your academics but it's those little intangibles, it's those other interests that make us well-rounded people and that make us excited to go to school every day. And for me it was performing. It was singing. It was acting. For some people it's playing football, it's basketball or whatever.
So, as I said, for someone who's interested in performing, going to school every day and having the opportunity to learn and kind of cut your teeth in that world, in that business, it was a very unique and special opportunity. And certainly I don't think I'd be in this business had I not been exposed to that at an early age.
Nick, as the host coming back, how do you help the contestants backstage to deal with those emotions and being able to channel their energy?
I think it's encouragement. I don't think you need to try and emphasize the importance of performing on national television. I think all the groups understand that, and they recognize the pressure of that. And quite frankly, I've been blown away by how poised and composed they are given that given the stakes.
But I think you got to trust what got you there. You got to trust your rehearsal and the old phrase, "Practice like you play," I think it rings true in this case; you've got to trust that what you did in rehearsal, you're going to do out there on live television. And that's the beauty of my role, I think, I get to support all the groups equally, and just get to be a kind of an encouraging voice and supportive voice backstage. So it's an exciting and fun thing for me to be able to do for them.
With everything you have going on with your show and all your guest appearances on "Charmed" and "One Tree Hill" how do have time for your fiancée, Vanessa Minnillo?
Well I think anyone who balances their professional and personal life knows that you have make time for both. No matter what your profession, or your personal life, it's always a balance and a fine line we all get to walk.
When you were hosting, have you ever listened to one of the groups out there and you just cringe and think, "Oh my God, they blew that"? Or, "Wow, I didn't expect that."
As I said earlier, I've been blown away [on] Season 1, and I expect to be equally blown away Season 2 by just the level of performances. And having been in a group that's performed on national television, I know how daunting that can be.
And these are amateur singers from all walks of life, from all over the country. And to see how poised and composed they are and how great they sound, I expected high things. And was even blown away.
You can certainly hear a progression throughout, from the rehearsal process to when they first start rehearsing a song to when they perform it. There's certainly a growth curve so to speak with that, but that's true for any group. It's exciting actually to see it grow and kind of evolve into what you hear on national television. So I'd say that for the most part I'm just completely in awe and blown away by the talent of these men and women.
What is the main piece of advice you would give to the groups out there as they're performing?
I was just going to say that as a performer I think that the biggest thing that I try to remind them of — and the biggest thing I try to remind myself of, quite frankly, when I step out on stage — is to have a good time. Obviously, the voices matter, the music matters, the notes matter. You've got to trust in your preparation as far as all that goes.
But when you step on that stage and the cameras are rolling and it's live television, I think the biggest thing you have to remind yourself of is to have a good time because you want the audience watching to have a good time, and the only way they feel like they can is if they see that joy in you.
So go out there and lay it all on the line. Don't leave anything backstage, but when you go out there have a great time. Enjoy what you do and show the love and the passion you have for the music you're performing so that everyone watching can feel that and enjoy it with you.
Are you or any of your former band members going to perform on the show this season?
You'll have to tune in and see. Small chance to perform a little bit last year which was fun. And you saw some of the judges perform with some of the groups as well. So it wouldn’t surprise me if we see something similar to that. But we can't give too much away. We want everybody to tune in and check it out.
Do you think shows like "The Sing-Off" will remind people of this kind of music and bring it more into the spotlight? Do you hope this kind of melody and harmonizing comes back into music in a bigger way?
It’s why for me it's great to do a show with Shawn Stockman. Boyz II Men was a huge influence on my group. And I think they, along with Take 6, kind of brought the a cappella sound back into the mainstream.
And I think that all the groups, whether it's ours, or Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync, we all took pride in being able to do a cappella and do it well. And so it’s nice to see it celebrated and I certainly think there’s music for everybody. And you mentioned more rhythmic music now, that's just become kind of more mainstream. That's great, but it's also great to see , to see harmony and a cappella celebrated like it is on "The Sing-Off." And again, that's why the show was so interesting to me and why we're back doing Season 2, because it clearly is interesting to people across the country.
With the holidays coming up, what are your Christmas traditions?
For me it's just family. I think no matter what else is going on, it's the one time of year where it's really important to be with your family and celebrate your year together. So that's always been my tradition.
Just at home or is there anywhere special you go?
Location doesn't really much matter to me. I think as long as you're with the people you love and you're together, that's always the most important thing.
Congrats on your engagement. What took you so long?
All things have their appropriate time. But thank you.
Why did you decide to join "The Sing-Off"?
Well I love the idea of the show, the premise of the show …. A cappella was always a real passion for myself and for my group. And I've always appreciated the art form. And it's great to see it celebrated on national television. It was a show that certainly I was passionate about. I think I can speak for Shawn [Stockman] and Ben [Folds] and Nicole [Scherzinger], our judges, and just say they're equally passionate about it. And it's just great to be a part of something that celebrates real musicians who are out there, doing a very, very difficult form of singing and doing it very well. So it's a great show.
Have you and Vanessa set a date or a timeframe yet for your wedding?
No, we're still basking in the glow of our very recent engagement and enjoying that. And I'm sure we'll get on to all the other planning and whatnot shortly. But right now we're just enjoying this experience.
You've done a few projects that have involved finding new talent. Can you talk a little bit about why these types of shows are important to you?
Well, I think for me, I remember that moment when we got discovered, when you got your opportunity. And certainly there are countless talented people around the world, across the country. And it's exciting to see people who truly love a cappella singing, who love music. It's exciting to see them get that opportunity to step out and make their dreams come true so to speak. And have the chance, the opportunity to win a competition like this. And make it a career potentially. So this is the genuine love and excitement that's contagious with all these talented people.
In terms of your career going forward, are you going to be releasing any more albums or are you planning to focus more on acting?
Music will always be my passion, and kind of my home base so to speak. So yes, I'm actually getting back into the studio here right now to start a new record. I'm now independent.
Drive Records and I — we've decided just to part ways, which is exciting because the music business has changed so much over the last few years. There are a lot of new opportunities and ways to go about being in the music. So it's kind of an exciting rebirth for me to attack from a different angle and get a new perspective.
But yes, music will always be something that is very meaningful to me. And I can't ever imagine not doing this in some capacity. So very excited to get some new music together and get a new album out there for everyone to hear.
Are there any actual plans for a 98 Degrees reunion to go out on tour — like Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block have done?
We remain in contact with each other constantly, and kind of throw that idea out there every now and then. I don't think there are any imminent plans to get back together. But it's certainly something we've all kept the door wide open on. And given the right timing, the right opportunity; yes I can certainly see that happening. But for right now there's no imminent plan to go out on tour or do anything together.
You said you're the sort of impartial host. But do you sort of pick out a favorite and root for somebody?
They all come from different kind of backgrounds and maybe have different strong suits in terms of their experience in a cappella. And that's I think, the beauty of the show is we get to see these groups challenged along the way and thrown some curveballs with the judge's choice, and have to prepare and perform songs that maybe outside of their typical wheelhouse so to speak.
So just when you think you've heard it all, "Oh, that's the group that's way out front," the next week someone else comes along. I remember the first season, Voices of Lee, I think in one of the earlier episodes maybe they were on the brink of not making it to the next show. And then they grew and they got better, and they were right there as one of the final groups in the competition.
So you never know, it can all come unraveled in one performance, or you can elevate yourself, dramatically with one performance. That's the beauty of performing on national television; you never know how it's going to play out. So there's really no way to predict, with any accuracy, who's going to win and who's going to lose.
What are some of your favorite go-to romantic songs?
There are obviously countless songs that fall into that category. I could probably most easily answer it this way: Aside from all 98 Degree songs … Sade is my favorite kind of romantic artist out there. There's no better concert I've ever been to in terms of romance and vibe than the Sade concert. So pretty much anything she sings, especially live, would fall into that category.
Is there any chance you might pick one of the a capella groups to perform at your wedding?
I haven't gotten so far … into the planning stages of that. But yes, you know what? I'd be honored. They're all incredibly talented … And so yes, not a bad suggestion. I might take that one.
With all your various projects, do you find it difficult finding time to work out? Do you have any fitness secrets that you could share with our readers?
That's the one thing that more than anything helps me clear my head. I tend to do my best thinking, which isn't saying too much, when I'm running. Yes, it's something I always find a way to work in.
What qualities do you think the judges look for when they're actually voting for members?
It’s a lot of different things … There's a lot of different factors that I think all play into what makes a great performance. And I think that those factors are all weighed in there. You know, everything from the arrangement to the blend to the intonation to the performance, the visual performance — I think those things are all factor in. And as I said earlier, I'm thankful that I don't have to make those decisions because I can only imagine how difficult they are based on the talent we have here in Season 2.
You mentioned auditioning a capella with 98 Degrees in front of Motown. What was that experience like?
It was nerve racking to say the least, just to step into the president of Motown's office and just say, "Hey go." And have to perform, and knowing what was at stake. But I think that is also the very same reason why we did a capella and did ... It's the one kind of music where there's nowhere to hide. There's no one to hide behind. One single member drops the ball and the whole thing comes derailed.
So we always feel like, "Hey, if we can walk in and sing a capella and just at the drop of a hat start snapping our fingers and do what we do, that's the way we'll be able to show our true talent." And I think it clearly worked. They were impressed enough that they signed us based on that audition. I think Boyz II Men did a very similar thing when they sang for Michael Bivins, and it was Bell Biv Devoe back in the day.
There's really nowhere to hide with a capella. You either have the talent and the chops and the work ethic to pull it off well — and all these groups on the show do — or you don't. And that becomes very apparent and very quickly.
Is your fiancée Vanessa a fan of "The Sing-Off" Does she sing at all?
Yes. I mean definitely she was a fan of the show and had a chance to come and witness first hand, the sound of these groups. And I've never met anyone really, quite frankly, in my life that loves music so much as she does. And having worked as a VJ at MTV for years and years, she is exposed to music constantly and she loves it.
And she does sing, although I think she'd be the first to admit, not especially well. That's not her strong suit. But she does love music more than anyone I know. So she's a huge fan of the show.
And how does it feel in general, to be engaged?
It's very exciting. We're obviously extremely happy and looking forward to everything that the future brings for us. So very excited and just enjoying the moment.