Mormon boy band constructed in Utah County
Highland • Kelli Calvert shouted out the count "six, seven, eight" and led a group of 16 teen boys through a complex series of dance moves.
"Stomp, one and two and three, bump, bump," Calvert directed the teens as she walked them through steps, turns and even a chest bounce. Some of the boys flowed through the choreography, while others moved as stiffly as Frankenstein's monster.
"Get comfortable with the music. Let yourself surrender to it," Calvert yells, by way of encouragement, as the teens spent a half-hour learning steps that in performance lasted less than 30 seconds.
The dance lesson came at the end of a long Saturday afternoon in a Highland dance studio, as these 16 boys competed for two slots in a five-member boy band being formed by two Utah music entrepreneurs.
The band, dubbed Hollintown, is the brainchild of Tyler Castleton and Russ Dixon and aims to carve out a niche as a squeaky-clean pop act.
Castleton, who a decade ago created the Mormon-centric boy band Jericho Road, stressed that Hollintown won't be making music exclusively for LDS audiences, but will feature songs with "messages that are relevant to youth, but clean and positive.
The teens at Saturday's callback audition were culled from around 100 video auditions submitted on YouTube, Dixon said.
Dixon said he and Castleton were looking for something special from the teens, some of whom traveled from as far as Virginia and California.
"Guys who can just sing are not going to cut it in this group," Dixon said. "We're looking for guys that not only can sing well, not only can dance well, but also be able to speak well."
They also have to have chemistry with the three Utah teens Zac Love, of Layton, T.J. Ryan, of Holladay, and Joseph Ely of Cottonwood Heights who were selected for the band at two previous rounds of tryouts.
At one point in Saturday's audition, Dixon would sing a line of a song to each teen, then have them repeat it back. Some were more adept at bouncy up tempo numbers, others more comfortable with ballads.
As Dixon worked along a semi-circle of the teens, he would give encouraging fist-bumps and say "good job, buddy" after an impressive solo.
During the dance portion, after the teens learned the routine from Calvert, they would show off their stuff in small groups and, in the final performance, two at a time with Love, Ryan and Ely.
Then Castleton, Dixon and their collaborators deliberated behind closed doors for more than an hour. The teens and their parents stewed in a nearby waiting area, chatting and eating pizza. As the boredom grew, most of the teens started singing together a repertoire that went from LDS hymns to the patron saint of boy bands, Justin Bieber.
Just before 10 p.m., with the decision made, Castleton and Dixon gave the teens a brief pep talk before bringing in the parents to announce the decision.
The two new members of Hollintown are: Patch Crowe, 17, of Saratoga Springs, and Ammon Tuimaualuga, 16, of Corona, Calif.
Both have sacrificed to get to this point, Dixon said. Crowe was rejected in the two previous auditions, while Tuimaualuga has told the producers he will quit his high school basketball team to join the band.
The auditions and deliberations were videotaped for a potential reality series.
With the final two members selected, Castleton said the band will move quickly. The five will record an album next month and prepare for a six-week tour of Asia this summer before trying to conquer America.