Sam Tsui, Kurt Hugo Schneider: From schoolmates to superstars
MANILA, Philippines – One of the first videos ever uploaded on Kurt Hugo Schneider’s YouTube account was a cover from the Disney hit High School Musical 3, the last in the franchise that made Zac Efron famous.
“Essentially, Sam should have starred as both Troy and Gabriella in High School Musical,” says Kurt in the video's notes, by way of introduction.
It starts out innocently enough – sure, Sam sings both guy and girl parts, but others have done it too. Remember Nick Pitera singing as an entire cast of Disney characters?
But right around the 0:30 mark, something happens – a second Sam emerges, later followed by two more. And suddenly, Sam is harmonizing and belting away all by himself, with Kurt on the keyboards, off-camera.
It’s a model that worked, getting the duo – childhood friends and both graduates of Yale – a respectable 890,973 views, as of publication. And they worked together on other projects as well, with Kurt producing, and Sam performing in, the popular College Musical YouTube series.
But the videos that went truly viral were their interpretations of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (34 million views), and a Michael Jackson medley (32 million), which got them guest appearances on The Bonnie Hunt show and Oprah.
In those videos, a grinning Sam splits himself into 5, 6 parts – like Lord Voldemort or a cheery set of identical Wii characters – and bursts into a meticulous, complex arrangement designed to show off Sam’s impressive range.
“Beat it! Beat it!” belts a purple-clad Sam, gasping for air, while another one dutifully hums the bass in the background. “I’ll be there,” croons another Sam.
It was a performance that Time magazine would call something between Glee and Attack of the Clones.
It wouldn’t stop at 32 million. More experimentation and more collaborations later, a duet with Christina Grimmie on an experimental rendition of Nelly’s “Just a Dream” would get them more than 81 million views.
“We’ve always been focused on not only making stuff sound good, but also making stuff look cool. It’s always been really important to us how things visually feel as well as just how they sound,” Kurt tells Rappler in a phone interview.
“So, we’re always trying to bring in new ideas for visuals and video stuff to the table and always just trying to evolve and do something we personally think is cool and fun.”
By now, the duo had evolved, their videos showing off a sleeker, more polished look (no more clones, or at least not that many), and more ambitious video editing.
Kurt and Sam have embarked on their own projects, with Kurt producing and playing, and Sam continuing to sing and write. They have also continued to perform together. Now in their mid-twenties, they’ve amassed a sizeable social media following on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, played to thousands of fans, and released albums, including their original music. A celebratory video showing off a medley of hits from 2013 shows Sam and Kurt playing poolside at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, on top of the world.
And now, 5 years since posting that High School Musical cover on YouTube, the two are making their way to Manila, with a two-night concert at the SMX Mall of Asia.
Why two nights? “Because we know we got a lot of fans there and we want to make sure everyone would have a chance to see the show. So, yeah, I figured more time in Manila is always better,” says Sam.
And true to their playful, textured style, Sam and Kurt have put out a fun airport song as they make their way around Asia, a tour which will take them to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Taipei.
To get better acquainted with the talented pair that’s been taking YouTube by storm, view these videos:
"Safe and Sound"
This Taylor Swift cover features Sam and Kurt doing what they do best – no clones, no fancy arrangements – just singing. The song’s natural progression allows Sam to show off his range, too.
Michael Jackson Medley
The video that made them famous, spawned 6 little Sams, and got the pair over 32 million views.
"Just a Dream"
If the Michael Jackson medley put them on the map, “Just a Dream” catapulted them, landing Sam and Kurt on another level of YouTube fame, with over 81 million views as of posting. Sam’s effortless singing, with the melody’s soft rising and falling, mixed well with Christina Grimmie’s powerhouse vocals.
"Firework" and "Grenade" Mash-up
Though they are famous for complex arrangements and Kurt’s sharp editing, in this explosive medley, Sam and Kurt are just two boys singing in what appears to be someone’s garage. And though these are covers of hit songs from stars like Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, and Taio Cruz, Sam and Kurt make this their own.
2012 Summer Pop Medley
An ambitious video featuring top pop songs from 2012, this video also shows off Sam’s dance skills and mashes together many of the year’s hits – plus, there’s a throwback to his days as a one-man band.
Among Kurt's videos, there are plenty of gems. A collaboration with the previously mentioned Nick Pitera – singing this time with Sam Tsui on a duet, Wicked's "For Good," Kurt's collaboration with Max Schneider (not related) on The Script's "Breakeven" are recommended.
Over at Sam's channel, listen to his own "Make It Up," while a visually strange but wonderful sounding "Somebody That I Used to Know" allows you to view the full suite of Sam's emotions, featuring 8 of his own floating heads while he sings the melody.
Though that's a flashy, snappy vocal feat, Sam's just as good when it's just him and the piano – a tremendous mash-up of Passenger's "Let Her Go" and Frozen's "Let It Go" is also a highlight.
Which one of all these will you be looking forward to during Sam and Kurt's show? Let us know in the comments below.