The four women of Maxx Factor make beautiful music together. That's a given, and it explains why the Sweet Adelines quartet from Baltimore was chosen to compete on "The Sing-Off," an a cappella music competition debuting on NBC Monday night.
But maybe that's not the whole story. Given that the four members of Maxx Factor are all in their 30s or older, while their competition comes primarily from kids who are teenagers or only slightly older, maybe the producers hoped the four Baltimore-area women could provide something of a calming influence.
"We are definitely the oldest group here," bass Valerie Hadfield-Rasnake, 40, says with a laugh over the phone from Los Angeles, where the group spent much of last week taping the competition. "But what are you going to do? It is what it is. We could be their mothers."
It's a role they apparently welcome, however. Not that they don't want to win - the four women are used to the fight, winning a National Harmony Sweepstakes competition in California this year and routinely entering national and international Sweet Adelines competitions. But when they're up against a room full of kids who could be their sons and daughters - well, maybe the edge comes off the competitive drive just a little bit.
"We actually do try to mother them," says tenor Molly Plummer, 51. "A lot of times, we'll see them in the lobby doing their homework, we're making sure they're eating right and patting them on the back. You can't help it."
Maxx Factor - the others in the quartet are Leslie Wodday, 48, and baritone Kim Hudson, at 34 the baby of the group - has been together four years; the current lineup, with Wodday handling lead vocals, has been together since 2007. Members of the Pride of Baltimore Chorus, part of a worldwide Sweet Adelines organization some 25,000 strong, the group practices weekly and performs at least twice a month.
Beginning Monday night, however, the group sings on its biggest stage yet. And the performers promise they're ready.
"We couldn't believe it when we were chosen for the show," says Hadfield-Rasnake. "We drove to New York to try out, and I think we had to wait, like, three hours, even though we had an appointment. We sang two songs, and then we had to scoot out, because we had a show that evening.
"After a while, we had pretty much forgotten about it, but then, like a month later, they called us up and said, 'Hey, congratulations, you made the final eight.' We had figured they're not going to pick a Sweet Adelines quartet, but the next thing we know, they called us up and said we were in."
The show's casting director, Michelle McNulty, counts herself among Maxx Factor's biggest fans. "They are so unbelievable at blending, the way they sing together, the parts that they take, the harmonies that they do," she says during a break in taping. "And they could not have been more charming and endearing and delightful, on top of their singing. I have nothing but love for these ladies."
The women aren't allowed to say much about the competition, other than that it has been enjoyable and that all the groups are getting along just fine. They can't even say what songs they've performed. For their audition, the women sang "Don't Break the Heart that Loves You" and "Grow Old With You," the song Adam Sandler's character sings to Drew Barrymore's in "The Wedding Singer."
An Adam Sandler song hardly seems like traditional barbershop-quartet music, but the women of Maxx Factor aren't into limiting themselves. "We do a lot of different types of music, everything from Frank Sinatra to even more modern songs," Hadfield-Rasnake says. "We can pretty much take any song and arrange it in the barbershop style."
Regardless of what happens on TV, the group's members say they're looking forward to returning to Baltimore, where maybe even bigger things await.
"One of our big goals is, we really want to sing the national anthem for the Baltimore Ravens," Plummer says. "We're hoping that maybe that will happen this year or, if they see us on TV, maybe next year."
"The Sing-Off," with host Nick Lachey, premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on WBAL, Channel 11. The competition continues Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with the live finale set for Dec. 21.