Group Gets Record Deal From YouTube

10-year-old video clip turns a group of college pals into a recording sensation.

December 8, 2008, 3:33 PM

Dec. 8, 2008— -- When they graduated from Indiana University a decade ago, 10 members of the a cappella group Straight, No Chaser thought they had closed the book on their dreams of making it big in the music industry.

"We put this to bed a long time ago," group member Ryan Ahlwardt said.

Little did he know that a decade after college, he and his college buddies would be playing packed houses in major cities around the United States and watching their newly released Christmas CD, "Holiday Spirits," climb the charts.

"It's been a wild turn of events," Ahlwardt said. "This whole year has been crazy."

Their newfound fame came by accident. Randy Stine, an original member of the vocal group, found an old video clip of the group performing and posted it on the Web.

"I just loaded it up to YouTube, just for the guys to see, just for fun," Stine said.

In their quirky version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" the group infused humor into the classic Christmas carol, interjecting songs like "I Have a Little Dreidel" and Toto's hit "Africa." (Watch here).

Click here to listen to more of Straight, No Chaser's music.

To Stine's surprise, 8 million people watched the video, one of whom was Atlantic records chairman Craig Kallman. He saw something special in the holiday Internet hit, so Atlantic offered the group a five-record deal and concert tour.

"I thought it was a joke. I thought, you can't be offering me, all of us, this amazing opportunity off a video on YouTube," said Michael Itkoff, a married dad who now lives in Atlanta. "Does he realize we're 30?"

The group reunited, taking a leap of faith to fulfill their dreams and working around the clock to record a Christmas album.

"All of this prospect of leaving all of this stability that I had spent many, many years building for myself and my family to do this music thing was kind of a tough thing to comprehend," Itkoff said. "We were able to rehearse and record the album on weekends so that everyone who had a job could work Monday through Friday. And weekends we rehearsed and recorded the album."

The group picked up where it had left off, enjoying time with college friends, reminiscing about college and telling the same jokes.

"We are not more mature. It's pretty much like we're back in college. It's like nothing has ever changed," founding member Dan Ponce said.

"I want this to go huge. I would love this to be my career," Itkoff said.

But the members of Straight, No Chaser can't afford to quit their day jobs yet. Ponce is a reporter for ABC News affiliate WLS-TV in Chicago. Itkoff is juggling a medical sales job, a young family and his touring schedule. His wife, Cindy, has rearranged the family schedule, and flew in grandparents to babysit so she could join her husband on tour.

"The day the album came out, we went down to our local store and brought out the CD and took pictures with it," she said.

"I don't know what a rock star wife is going to be like," she added, laughing.

While the members of Straight, No Chaser are busy playing soldout shows and signing autographs for adoring fans, they are certain they're not rock stars.

"There's something a little quirky, a little cheesy about 10 guys singing together. We know it," Ponce said. "We love what we do, and we just try to give our audience a really fun time."

The group's growing number of fans seem enthralled with its soaring harmonies, enthusiastic performances and offbeat humor.

Straight, No Chaser kicked off its tour to promote its new album at the Morse Theater in Chicago last week. Their tour continues to New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco; the group will also be singing in some of the ESPN holiday football coverage.

If all goes well, they could have another CD in stores by Mother's Day.

"I'm really looking forward to what happens next," Ponce said.