The fame game
About 40,000 people apply to be on “Shark Tank” every year. About 100,000 try out for “America’s Got Talent” (AGT). Many hopeful people dream of making it big on these shows. Not Scudder or Christian. The thought never crossed their minds.
Before “Shark Tank,” Scudder had left his career as a lawyer to focus full time on his rapidly growing new business, running hard-core obstacle course races. Always an athletic guy (he played football and rugby at Stonehill), Scudder was making a career out of doing something he loved. His Rugged Races were growing in popularity and beginning to turn a profit. In another new venture, Scudder and his business partner, Rob Dickinson, had just pulled off the first running of the bulls in the United States. The exciting event, modeled after the famous San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain, was generating a lot of buzz. “We got media attention from “The Today Show,” the New York Times, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated,” says Scudder. Life was good. He wasn’t looking for outside investment.
After graduating from Boston University with an M.Div. in 2013, Christian and his wife (Jocelyn Vierra ’08) volunteered in Peru for a year. When they returned, Christian taught in Cambridge and was preparing to apply to a doctoral program. “I had sort of pushed music to the margins of my life for the past seven years,” Christian recalls. “I had plans I was excited about, moving in a completely different direction.”
So how did these two end up on television? You might say it was serendipity.
When the “Shark Tank” producer called, Scudder’s first instinct was to say no. He was concerned that the visibility could expose his business to criticism. After much debate, he and Dickinson decided to go on the show merely for publicity. “Our intention was not to do a deal,” Scudder admits. “We decided to do it for the marketing exposure.”
According to Christian, AGT producers were looking for an a cappella group to compete on their show. A scout contacted Hyannis Sound, Christian’s former a cappella group. When that group wasn’t available, they reached out to Christian. Without a group of his own, Christian had to act fast. He contacted three talented musicians—Cordaro Rodriguez, Kendall Ramseur and Mason Morton—he had met at BU. “We pulled it together pretty quickly,” Christian recalls. “We thought it was a one-time thing; we’ll do it and see what happens.” The new quartet, dubbed Sons of Serendip, recorded a few songs and picked two to send in for the audition. They were floored when AGT called inviting them to audition live.
“The producers wanted more songs,” Christian recalls, “but we didn’t have any,” In April, the self-described classical/contemporary fusion group traveled to New York to sing for the judges. That’s when it started to become real.
Let the competition begin
As a low-key musical quartet, how do you compete with a comedian, a performing pig and a magician? The answer is you don’t. “We came to realize we weren’t competing against anyone else,” says Christian. “We were there to do the best we could do. The rest was out of our control.”
While AGT is technically a performance competition with a million-dollar prize, Christian says that behind the scenes, it didn’t feel cutthroat. To his surprise, the show promoted a sense of camaraderie. “There was a lot of positive energy. The music coaches and producers worked with us on choosing songs and gave us tips on how to improve.” Still, there were times when Christian experienced a lot of stress. After all, the group had been performing together for only a couple of months. A lot could go wrong on live TV. “There was a lot of pressure,” he recalls. “I wanted it to work so bad.”
If Christian was a worrywart, Scudder was the opposite. Since he was looking for nothing more than publicity from “Shark Tank,” he didn’t put much effort into preparation. In fact, he let a producer draft their introduction, write their pitch and help create their set. Scudder had never even seen a full episode of the show until the night before the taping in Los Angeles. Sitting in their hotel that night, Scudder and Dickinson reviewed their numbers and practiced their pitch. The next morning, just minutes before facing the sharks, Scudder still hadn’t memorized his lines.
Lights. Camera. Action.
“Next into the tank are entrepreneurs with a business profiting from competitive thrill seekers.” That was the voice-over as Scudder and Dickinson walked in to face the wealthy investors: Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban. It dawned on Scudder that about eight million people could see the show. No pressure.
“I never get nervous, but when the cameras turned on me, I paused, looked out, and thought, ‘These are serious people, here just to rip us apart for sport.’ My knees actually started to shake,” recalls Scudder. “If you watch closely, you’ll see I’m swaying a bit. I felt like I was going to pass out.”
Fortunately, Scudder recovered and made his pitch. “We’re seeking $1 million for 10 percent of our company,” he said into the camera. Corcoran rolled her eyes. Cuban shook his head. All of the Sharks were lukewarm at first, until Scudder revealed that he and Dickinson were also behind the Great Bull Run. “The process isn’t as glamorous as people think,” says Scudder. “It’s a long day. There’s a lot of waiting around. It took two hours to shoot, and then it has to be edited.” When the show aired, their segment was about 10 minutes long. In the end, after some back and forth, Cuban accepted Scudder’s counteroffer of $1.75 for a 25 percent stake. When the cameras stopped rolling, the real work started.
“The vast number of ‘Shark Tank’ deals fall through because the numbers don’t add up,” says Scudder. “After the taping, Mark’s assistant went over the next steps. There was a lot of paperwork. It was a grueling process that took months.” But the effort was worth it, he adds. “Mark has made and closed more deals than any judge on the show.” Looking back, Scudder thinks he and Dickinson did a pretty good job on camera, but to this day, he isn’t totally comfortable. “It’s hard to watch,” he admits.
Back in Madison Square Garden, Sons of Serendip got ready backstage. There were cameras everywhere and people rehearsing. “It was chaotic, and it was really cool,” recalls Christian. “None of us had ever performed on that level before. That’s when it sank in. We suddenly realized the potential; something could really happen from this.” After the group’s performance, the judges—Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel—were very supportive and friendly, says Christian. Sons of Serendip eventually made it to the live show.
“That’s when it started to feel like we were living in a dream world,” Christian says. “It didn’t feel real. Suddenly we were signing autographs, taking pictures with people and getting recognized in the streets. I felt like I was living someone else’s life.” Despite the craziness, he says, the live shows were a lot of fun. “Radio City Music Hall—that stage is awesome.” About 6,000 people filled the seats, with another 15 million watching on television. Intimidated? “It crossed my mind,” he admits, “but I didn’t dwell on it. I stayed focused on the live audience and the judges.”
In the finale, the rock band Train joined the Sons of Serendip for a medley. At the end of the quartet’s final performance, both the crowd and judges were on their feet. “I want to buy your album, right now,” said Mel B. The Sons of Serendip made it to the final four.
It was a long journey, but when a magician won, Christian wasn’t disappointed. After the show, he told a local TV station, “Top four—when we came together, we didn’t expect any of this. For us to get this far is nothing but a blessing.”
Where are they now?
After their “Shark Tank” episode aired, Scudder and Dickinson had breakfast with Cuban in Boston and joined him at a Celtics/Mavericks game. To Scudder’s surprise, Cuban continues to be very accessible. “I have a very high opinion of him as a person,” Scudder says. “He’s charismatic, excited, engaging, forward looking and intelligent.”
With Cuban’s investment, Rugged Maniac is very well funded. The company employs 32 people in Boston, allowing the two partners to focus on the future. They expect $1.5 million in profits next year, with $7 million in sales. “Cuban inspires us and believes in us,” Scudder says. “We want to develop new brands and be the premier event production company in the country, maybe the world.”
Since the end of AGT, Sons of Serendip have been hard at work. “For the past few months, we’ve been rehearsing five to seven hours a day, performing and working on original songs,” says Christian. Nick Cannon, AGT’s host, invited the group to sing at a fund-raiser in New York. The quartet also performed at the Macy’s tree-lighting event in Boston and at the city’s First Night celebration. In January, with the help of a crowd-funding music website, they released an album of full-length versions of all the songs they performed on the show. The album has charted in several categories on the Billboard Charts. The group is also planning to tour this year.
“I never imagined I would perform for a national audience,” says Christian. “I didn’t think it was possible. I hope our story somehow inspires people to share their gifts and passions, no matter what age they are.”
Perspective and Support
At Stonehill, Christian sang with the all-male a cappella group, The Chieftones, and the Chapel Choir. But it was volunteering in Honduras on a Campus Ministry alternative spring break trip that changed his outlook on life. “Campus Ministry taught us to work to create a more just and compassionate world. I hope my music does that,” Christian says. “These shows give you a taste of fame, which can get in your head and mess with your way of thinking. It’s easy to lose track of what’s really important. Stonehill helps me remember to stay grounded.”
Looking back, Scudder acknowledges all the friends who helped him along the way. “I met some amazing people at Stonehill and shared some incredible adventures with them. These experiences helped build the courage it took to create my own company from nothing.” In the end, Scudder gives most of the credit for his success to his parents. After some initial skepticism, his mother and father were all in. “When I told my parents I was going to leave my law firm to produce a mud run, they thought I was out of mind. But as always, they were supportive.”