As an award-winning a cappella singer, a nationally-recognized beat boxer and a former competitor on NBC’s The Sing Off, Jordan Fontheim, a psychology senior from the University of Rochester, has brought a whole lot of talent to the MV Explorer.
“I started playing guitar when I was ten and bass guitar when I was thirteen, and I started beat boxing when I was in tenth grade, “ said Fontheim, who has formed an a cappella group on board the Semester at Sea ship with faculty member Douglas Lay.
Though he’s been playing music for much of his life, Fontheim’s most recent success began at the University of Rochester, performing with the Yellow Jackets, a 13-person all-male a cappella group.
The Yellow Jackets went on to big accomplishments—they toured through Europe, recorded an album, and were nominated for “Best Male Collegiate Album” at The Continental A Cappella Recording Awards.
And then, a producer from NBC called.
“We got a call asking us to audition for a new show, and we scrambled, right in the middle of finals week, to drive to New York and try out,” Fontheim said.
At around the same time, the team traveled to Kenya to work with a local choir that was competing regionally, in the hopes that they could compete at nationals.
With extra training, the Kenyan choir went on to win their regional competition—an experience that touched everyone, including Fontheim.
“It hit me even harder when I was in Ghana with Semester at Sea, at a school that looked so similar to the one I knew in Kenya,” Fontheim said. “It hit me how widespread the poverty is; that one thousand miles away, in another country, in Ghana, there’s a school that is identical to one in Kenya.”
Upon their return to the USA, the Yellow Jackets were given big news—they had made it on NBC’s the Sing Off, and were going to spend the summer in Los Angeles, competing on national television.
“We would spend the next seven weeks, ten hours a day, singing and dancing to be the best we could be,” Fontheim said. “It was an incredible experience.”
For one of their final songs, the Yellow Jackets selected “The Show Goes On,” by Lupe Fiasco, a song that speaks to the poverty in Africa.
The team was originally told they couldn’t use the song by Fiasco’s recording company, but they took it upon themselves to go one step further.
“We wrote a letter to Lupe Fiasco telling him about our Kenya trip and how much it would mean to us to sing that song, and he overrode the record company and let us use the song,” Fontheim said. “That day, we got an email from our school in Kenya, saying they had won the national championships and we were that much more humbled and excited to compete that night.”
In the end, the Yellow Jackets placed 7 out of 16, in an experience that can only be described as once-in-a-lifetime.
Though his talents have taken him around the world and back again, he’s dedicated to encouraging and inspiring music in others.
“Things are shaping up really well,” Fontheim said of the a cappella group he’s helped form this semester on the MV Explorer. “I’m really impressed by everyone who is involved; it takes a lot of commitment to do this while being on the ship.”
Personally, Fontheim is using his time on the ship to breathe and simply enjoy.
“It’s been incredible just to have such time on the ship, since there are not a lot of distractions, to meditate and think and grow from that,” Fontheim said. “I think more than anything, it’s making me excited to travel more in my life.”