This article originally appeared in August-September ’17 issue of Owensboro Living Magazine.
Now a three-time Grammy winning artist, Kevin Olusola, was honored in June on the ROMP stage. Pentatonix rose to fame after winning the 2011 TV show competition “The Sing Off.” Six years later, the group has sold more than 6 million albums in the U.S. alone, and performed for hundreds of thousands of fans at their sold-out shows across the globe. Their YouTube channel has 13 million subscribers, yielding over 2 billion views.
Owensboro Living sat down with Kevin after his sound check before his big performance on the ROMP stage. We talked about his album, the band, his three Grammy wins, Kentucky bar-b-q, and growth in Owensboro.
You were chosen to receive a plaque on the Owensboro Walk of Fame. How does it feel being honored like this?
I am so honored and shocked that they chose me. I mean you look at the other people that are on the walk of fame, and they have done such incredible things with their lives, as well. And I’m so young, I’m not even 30 yet. To know that I could receive this honor… it’s very humbling and exciting. More than anything, I think it’s a testament to Owensboro, because Owensboro is the place that raised me. This is the place that gave me the values that I have, so that I could have this type of success in the industry. And to know that people that I grew up with, some of my classmates, are going to be in the audience, that’s such a… it’s come full circle. That’s really, really exciting. It’s such an honor that I will never forget.
When was the last time you were back in Owensboro?
It’s good to be back. Last time I was here was probably about two years ago. I probably hadn’t been back at that time in four years. So I wanted to come back and see a couple of old friends and my old cello teacher, Dr. Mack, who is still here. It was good to be back, but this time is definitely a more momentous occasion.
Are you excited about being at ROMP?
I am excited to be here. Bluegrass is such a big part of this state, of this city. So to be able to experience this for the first time is really exciting, especially as a performer. There are so many things I want to do while I am here, so I am really excited to be back. Especially to get some bar-b-q. Man, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten some good ol’ Kentucky bar-b-q.
How does it feel to take the stage in your hometown?
It is going to be very, very fun! Because I’ve learned so much as a performer in these past six years with Pentatonix, so I am excited to show the things that I have learned and be able to play for the people that raised me. Some of my teachers are going to be out there, some of the people that heard me when I was younger and just starting to learn these instruments. I am really excited. I think people are really going to enjoy it!
When you were growing up here, did you ever imagine that you would have this in store?
I can tell you I never imagined that this would be the life that I would be living. I grew up thinking I would be pre-med. I went to college at Yale, I was a pre-med student, so the fact that it took a turn to this when I didn’t expect it, it’s a huge blessing and an honor.
What makes Owensboro home?
I feel rooted here. The people that I know here, the people that I grew up with here… there’s just something about the Southern core values when it comes to, for example, Christianity, when it comes to the kindness of people, it’s something that I really love about this city and I feel it every single time I come. And you know, I’ve only been here twice since graduating college and being on “The Sing Off,” but every single time it’s the same feeling. I miss it a lot. And I’m so thankful that I get to experience it one more time.
And it has changed a lot. I heard 54 is booming right now. I used to live in Hillcrest Oaks. I couldn’t believe how much they’ve said it’s been expanding.
Last time we talked, Pentatonix had just been nominated for your first Grammy. How has life changed since winning three Grammys?
That’s funny that you say that. The day before I got here, I was picking up the Grammy and putting it in my house. It’s crazy to know that so much can change in such a small period of time. And you know, after three Grammys, I bought a house. I never thought I would be able to do that before I am 30. I feel so blessed and honored that all these things would happen to a guy like me. But once again, this town raised me to be able to be that kind of person. The people here, the arts program here, it’s incredible here.
I know this is a tangent, but it’s funny because so many places are cutting their arts programs. I live in Los Angeles, and their arts program is nowhere near what Owensboro has. Nowhere near. I really attribute a lot of my success, even though I wasn’t thinking about going into music as a career, but to have that basis here, it’s been a huge part of me.
We talked last time about not taking your mom to your prom, but your promise to take her to the Grammys. What was it like to fulfill that promise?
First of all, the call. Calling my mom when I got the news that we got nominated for a Grammy. I was like, “Mom, remember that time I told you I was going to take you to the Grammys? We’re going to the Grammys.” And I just started to bawl. So to be able to fulfill that promise, it was so magical. There is always a magic to it. The Grammys never get old. Because you are literally seeing the best of the best in music doing their thing.
How did it feel to put out your first solo EP?
Oh my gosh, it was amazing! I was so excited to put it out because it was my first time to put out my own artistic vision. I think it encapsulated everything that I was about at that time. And now I’ve grown so much, as a singer, I’ve grown so much as a producer, I’ve grown so much especially as a songwriter, and so now I feel like this next step is going to be really exciting. It’s going to be things that people didn’t expect for me to do, and that’s what I’m excited for—letting people expect the unexpected from me.
So will there be another EP out this year?
EP, album, project – I think something will come out soon.
Who has been your favorite artist that you have collaborated with?
I have two people. One, Jason Derulo. He is such a nice guy. I have been a fan of him for a while. So, to be able to go up to him and say we would love for you to do something… and he was so down. He works so ridiculously hard to make music great, and I really love that.
The other person was Dolly Parton. We won our Grammy with her for “Jolene.” I mean she is the epitome of superstar. I mean she is Dolly Parton, but she is an incredible human being. Unassuming. When we got to the studio to record “Jolene” with her, she was 15 minutes early waiting for us. And she was like, “I am so honored to meet you guys.” And that. That was… You are the superstar, Dolly. And for you to say that to us, was a real blessing.
What is next for Pentatonix?
We will tour in August. Some Christmas stuff that we are thinking about. But really, everyone is trying to finish up their solo projects.
What would you tell young artists about following their dreams? Especially young artists in Kentucky about dreaming big.
First thing I would tell them is that if anyone tells them that you can’t make it from Kentucky, then they are dead wrong. Because I think a lot of people think, “Oh, you know, we don’t have the resources…” Absolutely not. There are incredible resources like GSA (Governor’s School for the Arts, where Kevin, a GSA alum, was a guest speaker the day after our interview) and especially in Owensboro with the arts program, you absolutely can make it. Just work hard, and aspire for the stars.
And also, I don’t know if this is too business-y, but it’s something I have really, really learned. What we are trying to do as artists is to be able to let our art out there, but able to make a living off of it. So you really have to learn about the business of what you want to do. It is still an industry like anything else. Learn about your industry so you can be better equipped to go and do what you want to do and make an impact.
I have noticed with a lot of your interviews, and even in your video for “Imagine,” your faith is really important to you. What is it like being a Christian in your industry, and how does it shape who you are as an artist?
First and foremost, yes, you let who you are shape your music. I think that’s so important. Don’t let anyone else shape you, because I feel like it just comes off as disingenuous. Being an artist in this industry is a really interesting thing because I think at the end of the day, what I think people want is good music and I think people want something they can let their kids listen to. And so I think having God in my life allows me to speak to people on a deeper level because the music that we get to create will speak to people about those type of values and I think that’s really, really important. You know, in our band, we don’t curse, we don’t try to do any lewd, raunchy music and I think because of that, at our concerts, you have people that are grandmothers all the way to children. You will have generations, and they all feel comfortable and love what we do. I’m happy that because I keep the faith to the best of my ability, we try to make it something that everyone can enjoy.