They have been compared to the Von Trapp family of Sound of Music fame, as well as the Partridge and Osmond families.
They’re the Fannin family — known as the Fannin Eleven — from Hortonville, Wis.
This past fall they were in the national spotlight as contestants on NBC’s prime-time program The Sing-Off.
“We all grew up surrounded by music,” said 27-year-old Jacob, who serves as the family’s unofficial spokesman. “Cantoring at Mass has been a family thing that has been passed down the line.”
All would include six boys and five girls.
Jacob said that their mother, Kate, has always played the piano at their two parishes, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Greenville, Wis., and Most Precious Blood in New London, Wis. He and his older sisters have joined her singing at Mass from the time they were young.
“The (singing) reins have since been passed to the younger Fannin generation,” he said.
About two years ago the family began singing a cappella, vocal music with no instrumental accompaniment. In December 2009, the group posted their first YouTube video. They soon discovered that they were not alone in their love of a cappella music, based on the popularity of the NBC program that brings the best a cappella groups from around the nation together for a season-long contest.
“We’ve been faithful followers of The Sing-Off since its start,” 25-year-old Rachel said. “We love it.”
So much so that when the call went out for audition tapes, the Fannins tossed theirs into the mix of 600-plus others. They got a call back from one of the show’s producers, and before they knew it, they were headed to Los Angeles to be among the 16 finalists on the show’s third season.
Maria, 15, the lead vocalist of the group, remembers that day in early June well: “When our sister Betsy told us, I just screamed and started jumping up and down.”
Just as excited was Father David Lewis, their pastor at Most Precious Blood. “I felt a personal pride that they were given such recognition for the talents they possess and their humility in participating in the process,” he said.
Father Lewis added that when Kate and her children are leading the singing at the 10:30 Sunday Mass, it makes presiding at the liturgy a wonderful experience.
“Their goodness and generosity in giving their time and their musical gifts are impressive,” he said. “They are fun to be around, and watching them mature and move on but always staying closely connected to family has been inspiring as well.”
On to L.A.
The eight brothers and sisters who represent the singing Fannins were quick to point out that their two-week West Coast jaunt was anything but a vacation.
“There was a wake-up call early in the morning. The eight of us then spent most of the day rehearsing,” recalled 23-year-old Christopher. “The best part, by far, was meeting all the other groups who shared a similar interest in a cappella music. It was the only place where you could walk outside and sing on the street and people wouldn’t look at you in a strange manner. Instead, they would join right in with the tune.”
Out of all of the finalists, the Fannins were the only family group.
“They were so unique,” said Joel Gallen, the show’s executive producer. “What impressed me most was how down-to-earth and what nice people they were. These people were singing simply for the love of singing. They were the real thing.”
The Fannins, in turn, were impressed by the professional treatment they received.
“Reality TV is often criticized as being fake or staged, but, for The Sing-Off, what you see on TV was how it was for us from start to finish,” Jacob said. “Everyone out there, from the contestants to the judges to the producers, wanted the best for you. They wanted you to do well, and they worked to make it happen.”
The family was able to get to Mass on Sunday thanks to NBC, who made sure they were given a ride to nearby St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. “They were very accommodating,” said Christopher, “given the fact that we were at their service during our time at NBC.”
When showtime came on the last couple days of their visit, the Fannins didn’t get past their first taping. They only got to sing their signature tune, Who Says by Selena Gomez.
Were they disappointed?
“I think, looking back now, we would have loved to have still been going,” said Rachel. “(But) it was an honor just to be out there and be with such great singing groups.”
“The fact that, for whatever reason, NBC thought we were on the same level with those other groups was a honor in itself,” Jacob added.
There has been much interest in the family since their national debut. There has been an uptick of visitors to their website (FanninEleven.com) and YouTube channel. They have also landed a number of performances around town.
According to Jacob, the future of these singing siblings has yet to be determined. “We’re never going to stop singing, and the fact that we are family means that we will always be together. What we sing and how often are the only two questions; and we will answer those day to day.”
Equally proud were their mom and dad, Robin, who were front and center in the audience for the show’s taping.
“I was very pleased that the show did a nice job of portraying the kids as they truly are: that is, a family of siblings who get along well and happen to sing together,” explained Kate.
“The Sing-Off was a positive experience,” she said. “The kids were exposed to such a tremendous amount of talent, the like of which they would not have had such close contact with (otherwise).”
She and her husband are pleased with the witness their children gave on national television.
“(As Catholics) we have an opportunity to witness to those around us, not necessarily with words, but simply by being true to who we are,” she said. “I am proud that our family was able to put another face on a large family and to allow people to witness the joy that comes from having been blessed with each other.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.