When Deke Sharon, the internationally known a cappella arranger, producer and music director, pitched the idea of a "Sing-Off" tour that involved 56 tour stops in 63 days, the female singers said no, thank you.
"The guys all said, 'That sounds great,' they'll do it," said Sharon. "Women are just too sane."
According to Sharon, sleeping on buses and driving to a new city every day for more than two months didn't appeal to the female participants of "The Sing-Off," the popular NBC singing competition.
"Not as many women want to make a career out of a cappella, or at least they're more sensible about it," Sharon said. "Men are more willing to ... vocally panhandle their way across America."
As if to bear out his words, one of Sharon's frequent collaborators, Straight No Chaser — 10 dapper gentlemen who met at Indiana University — are set to visit Madison's Overture Hall on April 7.
This Friday, coming to Crystal Grand Music Theatre in the Wisconsin Dells will be three all-male ensembles from "The Sing-Off." The show launched in 2009 to pit collegiate a cappella groups against amateurs and professional ensembles from around the country. It aired its fifth "season," actually a two-hour holiday special, in December 2014.
Set to perform on this tour is VoicePlay, a quintet from Orlando who competed on season four of "The Sing-Off" with guest lead singer Honey LaRochelle. Street Corner Symphony is six guys from Nashville who competed on "The Sing-Off" season two.
Finally, The Cat's Pajamas, an ensemble from Branson, will be special guests.
This is the second year for a "Sing-Off" tour, an especially wide-ranging one at that.
It capitalizes on the growing nationwide love of everything a cappella, from "Glee" to, closer to home, the MadHatters, the University of Wisconsin-Madison men's group that routinely sells hundreds of tickets to their concerts.
"When I was younger, I loved this kind of music so much," Sharon said. "I thought if people only knew about it they would love it, too. Everyone told me I was crazy. ... 20 years later, my lifelong bet on a cappella has turned out to be right."
It's only a minor exaggeration to say that Sharon's life is a cappella. In addition to working on Straight No Chaser's albums and the 2009 PBS special that launched their career, Sharon served as music director and arranger for both "Pitch Perfect" and "Pitch Perfect 2" films, the second of which is set to be released in May.
Sharon is currently working with Lifetime to create a new cable show about high school a cappella groups, one that will let viewers "see the mechanics behind the scenes ... of bringing a song to life."
On "The Sing-Off," Sharon said, he does "whatever it takes," including choosing songs and coaching groups. After a few are chosen to tour, Sharon helps each one craft an individual set and choose opening and closing numbers.
"The entire show as a singular unit is cohesive and exciting and unexpected and fun," Sharon said.
Next January, Overture Center will host another Sharon project called "Vocalosity," a traveling a cappella show with 12 singers.
"It's a brand new show," Sharon said, to be cast with "people handpicked from 'Pitch Perfect,' 'The Sing-Off' and Broadway."
In Sharon's view, it took the internet — specifically, YouTube — to launch a cappella into the mainstream. Singing without instrumentation is as old as chants and madrigals, but it doesn't fit the structure of radio.
"Anytime you sing a cappella on a street corner, at a county fair, you draw an enormous crowd," Sharon said. "Radio play isn't a benefit to the current sound of a cappella ... you sound like guitars, you sound like drums, you sound like bass.
"Having people see as well as hear what you're doing, that's the way you have people understand and fall in love with contemporary a cappella."
Will there be a "Sing-Off" season six? Sharon hopes so, but the station gives him little warning.
"NBC, every single time, has told us at the last minute," he said. "It's basically like, 'OK, we need to start production in a month, go find groups.'"
That doesn't mean NBC hasn't capitalized on enthusiasm for the show, however.
"I just flew back from South Africa to kick off 'Sing-Off' South Africa, which is our fourth continent," Sharon said.
As for "Pitch Perfect 3," Sharon seems to think that's a sure thing.
"I can't wait for people to see the second movie, which is incredible," he said. "The first movie was a tiny little movie and I thought, 'Gee, I hope anybody will watch it.' And then we had a platinum album."
With the third in a series, Sharon said, they'll have to get creative, to "continue to give people the elements of what they want in the movie and yet tell a different story."
"People will still want a riff-off, so you gotta have a riff-off," he said. "It's a true joy to be able to have an opportunity to both expose a lot of people to a cappella and make fun of ourselves at the same time."
And yet, somewhat ironically, the center of "Pitch Perfect" is what one rarely sees on the road: an all-female a cappella group.
"Fewer women are willing to throw themselves into a crazy rock and roll lifestyle," Sharon said. "You have that in all forms of popular music. Yes, you have your Beyonces and Mariah Careys. But when it comes to groups, bands ... who go out and play the clubs, it's almost all guys."
One of Sharon's goals is to "find more ways to inspire more women to sing," he said, beyond their choirs in high school and college. Ideally, they'll become a bigger part of Sharon's a cappella revolution.
"Everything is processed, everything is tuned and snapped to a grid," he said. "There's incredible mechanization in music and much less humanity in it. A cappella is the antidote."