Ten years ago, three unassuming guys from Texas wowed audiences and judges alike when they made it to the final round of America’s Got Talent in Season 4. Now known as The Texas Tenors, Marcus Collins, JC Fisher, and John Hagen have won three Emmy Awards, performed over 1,300 concerts across the globe, and been named the #10 Classical Artists in the world by Billboard magazine.
But the three sing across genres: their latest album A Collection of Broadway and American Classics features arrangements of theatre standards, including “Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera, “Somewhere” from West Side Story, “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables, and more. Their musical theatre connection is more than just a love for the art form, Collins performed as part of the Off-Broadway cast of Altar Boyz and in multiple productions of The Sound of Music while Fisher has performed in operas and A Little Night Music.
On January 28, the trio returns to where it all began, performing on America’s Got Talent: Champions. As they prepare to compete with all stars from past seasons of America’s Got Talent (and the other Got Talent franchises from 194 territories around the world), Playbill caught up with The Texas Tenors to hear more about their album, how they chose their songs, and why bringing Broadway to the masses is a personal priority.
Congratulations on this new album. It sounds so beautiful and, of course, coming from theater I say yes to more men singing beautiful Broadway songs. Where did the idea to do a Broadway album come from in the first place?
Marcus Collins: We love Broadway. We’ve all grown up listening to it and we have here favorites of ours. And we’ve performed them in the show and we thought, you know, let’s just gather the songs that we’ve done in our live performances and put them out on a cd with some of our favorite patriotic songs. We have plans to do a full Broadway album somewhere down the road in a while, but instead of waiting to do that, we thought, let’s just put together the ones that we love, that we do now, and get them out there so people can hear them. We’ve had a lot of requests from people, “Hey which album is Phantom of the Opera on? Which album is Les Miz on? This gives us a chance to get it out there for the fans.
In terms of choosing the songs, we have Les Miz and “Music of the Night” from Phantom. Are those are the songs you guys grew up hearing?
John Hagen: Those are the things that we were exposed to when we were getting into the business, like Sound of Music and West Side Story. We love classics. When we make another one we’ll go contemporary.
MC: JC actually raps a little bit and we thought about having him do something from Hamilton. What’s funny is the songs on this record—like Les Miz—that used to be considered contemporary Broadway and classic if you remember—
Classic would go much further back to Oklahoma! and Carousel and things like that. Which, by the way, you guys would sounds beautiful doing some Billy Bigelow.
MC: I personally want to do Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but we need four more guys.
JH: I think we should do “Soliloquy.”
MC: We talked about doing “Anthem” from Chess and “This is The Moment” from Jekyll and Hyde. We thought next time around we go to a full Broadway record we’ll do some current ones but also some of those big ballads that three tenor voices could really lend a unique spin to.
Marcus, I know that you have a theatre background, having done Altar Boyz and Hairspray and Sound of Music. Did you all begin in theatre?
JH: My parents were both music teachers, and so I grew up hearing all kinds of all genres of music, but I was exposed to a lot of Broadway as well. I also did some shows, I did Che in Evita and Billy Bigelow.
JC Fisher: I actually did tours with musicals; Rudy Gatlin was the lead. We did Annie Get Your Gun and Oklahoma!. It was the very first actual live performance I ever did. It was right out of high school in like 1993; we went to Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas performing.
MC: And what’s wonderful about those regional companies is that it brings Broadway to communities that wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to it. Part of that, that tour of Annie Get Your Gun and Oklahoma! that really got into those towns where kids really wouldn’t be exposed to musical theatre. There are a lot of people out there in the country that know Phantom of the Opera, they know Les Miz, and Sound of Music, and grew up with that, and we treat the music very respectfully because we know that this is music that means a lot to folks.
Was that part of your mission in bringing these songs to your shows in the first place? To expose people to the music even if they can’t see the full show?
JH: I think so. We do that with the Broadway songs as well as some of our classical music. We like stretching things from country to classical and everything in between. Part of our mission is to bring that to people that maybe don’t get to hear it and go, “Oh I like that. I want to go see Les Mis. I didn’t know it was that powerful,” or you know when we “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot, [they think], “I’m going to go see an opera, I didn’t know it was like that.” It’s great to get that feedback after a show of people telling you they’re going to go see a show because we exposed them to a song.
MC: You really would be hard-pressed to find another show that includes music from all of those different genres. You’ve got “Nessun Dorma” to Tosca to John Denver to our original “Bootdaddy” to “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera to “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars, and Ed Sheeran.
You’re all classically trained and the group has a classical sound, even when you sing these other contemporary tunes. Are you ever surprised by how much people respond to that style?
JCF: John does our vocal arrangements and he knows our voices. No matter if it’s a pop song, a Broadway song or whatever style it is, we sing it the way we sing. And you might not expect to hear like a country song sung a little more legitimate or vice versa but it always seems to make it interesting and that’s kind of what’s fun about our stuff, we like to put a spin on whatever song you’re expecting. It might sound totally different than you imagined it.
MC: I don’t know that we’re so surprised when people respond. We love to hear them responding and it pleases us, but I think all three of us, from the beginning felt like there’s something great in all genres of music and we feel like if you do it well—no matter whether its rock, pop, Broadway, classical, gospel whatever—it transcends those boundaries.
When you guys first formed, was it always the intention that you guys would sing across all of these genres?
JCF: We’re all from different backgrounds. Marcus and John both lived in New York for a while and auditioned. I grew up more kind of a country environment with country music but then we all went to college and gotta sing classical so we all have a different taste in music.
MC: I’ve always loved Broadway. When I lived in New York, I would always go to Playbill.com to see what was out there—what the musicals were, who was in this show that week, a show opening.
With such different backgrounds and living in different places, how did you meet and form the group?
JH: JC is kind of the link between the three of us. JC and I met doing some construction. As musicians and entertainers it’s feast or famine and, at times, you’re doing whatever it takes to make a living. We happened to be in the famine part at the same time. I didn’t know Marcus yet, but JC was friends with Marcus.
JCF: I had watched [America’s Got Talent] since it started. I thought, “Marcus is a beautiful pop singer, beautiful Broadway artist, I do some country some classical, John does some mostly classical, and all these genres we could cover with three voices.” And, I hadn’t ever seen a tenor group. There’s tons of tenor groups out there, but I’d never seen a tenor group that does all those genres. That would be interesting if we could get on there you know as kind of a cowboy group and then bust into some classical music and bust up some Broadway and be different. My wife works for the Miss USA organization and does some local some state pageants and we just sang on it, taped it, sent the tape in, and they called us literally a week later and said we’d love for you to audition in Houston, and the rest is history.
You guys are all fathers. Is musical theater something you guys enjoy with your families?
MC: I have seven children and I’ve already been grooming them to be the Von Trapps. [Laughs] I’m going to play the Captain and we’re going to go on tour; I think they’ll be ready in about ten years.
JCF: You know I was thinking about that earlier when Marcus was talking about Broadway because I have three kids, two boys and a girl, my boy Jackson the oldest he’s already involved, he’s a sports guy, but he already involved in choir. He graduated from grade school and he wanted to take a trip. We decided we’ve give each kid a trip, and he wanted to come to New York cause he wanted to see a Yankees game and come to a Broadway musical. Marcus set this whole thing up; we saw School of Rock. He’s playing guitar now and he’s only 12. We just had a blast and he was mesmerized. Now [my other two] want to come. They’re really getting involved with the arts and I think we’ve got a couple little Broadway performers coming up.
America's Got Talent airs Mondays at 8PM ET/7PM C on NBC.