Seeing as he grew up in rural South Georgia, you wouldn't think Austin Brown's music genre of choice would be disrespected back home.
But he says, "Whenever I was in elementary school or middle school, I remember being made fun of when people found out, 'Oh, you like country music?'
"It was like, 'Oh my God, that's the worst thing ever,' and you got made fun of pretty hard for liking country music."
And that colored the expectations of Brown and his bandmates in Home Free as they began the competition on last year's edition of The Sing-Off, the NBC reality-competition show for a capella groups.
"We thought we'd be those guys that get there and sing a song, and everybody goes, 'Oh, that's cute,' and then they'd tell us to leave," Brown says of the show, which was filmed in the summer of 2013 and aired in December. "We thought we'd be made fun of, because it was country a capella, and who does that?
"So it was really strange when every week we kept getting such positive feedback, and everybody loved us, including all the other groups on the show."
Those groups included the University of Kentucky's acoUstiKats, an all-male a capella group.
"They are an amazing group of guys," acoUstiKat Evan Jennings Pulliam said. "Not only are they one of the most talented a cappella groups I have ever heard, but they are down to earth and are just plain fun to be around."
Pulliam says Home Free even came to the wedding of acoUstiKat Mike Owens, who proposed to his then-girlfriend Maggie Blair on the show.
"On The Sing-Off, all of them were a joy to be around and they were always looking to help out the other groups," acoUstiKat Jordan Lindsey says. "All in all, just a really great group of guys who know how to put on a fantastic show."
Home Free brings its show to Lexington on Monday as the reigning champions of The Sing-Off. The group performs at Transylvania University's Haggin Auditorium in a free concert that is part of the school's Dorothy J. and Fred K. Smith Endowed Concert Series.
For Home Free, it is a chance to further establish the group's unique position as a country group in the contemporary a capella world. It was a status born of the myriad influences of Brown and his bandmates: Rob Lundquist, Tim Foust, and brothers Chris and Adam Rupp (who no doubt would love to play another venue in Lexington).
Some, such as Adam Rupp, bring extensive instrumental experience to the table.
Home Free did not start out as a country a capella group. But Brown says there was a lot of country in the ensemble's act, and The Sing-Off nudged the group to go completely country.
"The thing about this industry is to set yourself apart, and what could set us apart more than being the only country group in contemporary a capella?" Brown says. "It made sense to us, and it fits us so well. The style of music we do lends itself to country, with my and Tim's natural twang."
Far from being made fun of, the country quintet quickly became clear frontrunners on the show, never falling into dreaded "ultimate sing off" rounds to see who got eliminated.
Brown says the group never got overconfident, but members did notice they were getting bouquets from the judges.
"We didn't really have time to stop and think, 'Are we going to win this thing?'" Brown says. "But all the judges' reactions to us were positive every week. It was fantastic and so unexpected."