'Clash of the Choirs' Finds Harmony in Competition
NBC's "Clash of the Choirs," airing Monday through Thursday, Dec. 17-20, could leave viewers feeling a little of each. This contest pits five choirs against one another, the gimmick being that each is under the tutelage of a celebrity who has chosen the members from his hometown. The celebrity, however, is not singing with the choir.
Some 2,000 people auditioned in five cities, and 100 will make their way to New York for the performances. Online voters will pick a winner.
NBC sought an interesting mix of genres. The legendary Patti LaBelle started in a church choir in her native Philadelphia, and she says she agreed to do this show the moment she was asked -- then had second thoughts.
"I knew it would involve telling people they couldn't," LaBelle says. "The hardest thing for me is to reject someone."
Though her musical director had already winnowed down the applicants, LaBelle admits some of the singers were less than talented.
"Some of them were pitiful," she says. "I literally laughed out loud. I could not hold back my laughter. I had to tell them, 'Please excuse me, but you are kind of funny.'"
Still, she managed to select six tenors, seven sopranos and seven altos.
She was in far better shape than Blake Shelton, the country singer from Oklahoma City, who was excited about the contest but had yet to listen to anyone. Also, he had never sung in a choir.
"I don't know crap about putting together a choir," Shelton says. "Maybe that's why they picked me.
"I am just stepping into the dark here," he says. "Me and my choir, we'll learn as we go along, and we'll have fun together.
"Patti LaBelle and Michael Bolton are top vocalists," he says. "They are just out of this world. I will have to remind my choir to spit out their dips (smokeless tobacco) before they start singing."
Bolton, who hails from New Haven, Conn., says he was inspired to do this show because of LaBelle.
"It's funny because I am sitting there, and I have watched 'Idol' many times," Bolton says. "I don't want to be that guy who tells someone, 'You have no right to be here,' and 'What were you thinking?' I am getting to see some people who somebody should level with."
Still, he adds, "I found some really great singers."
The other two celebrities, Kelly Rowland of Houston and Cincinnati's Nick Lachey, have experience working within groups, she with Destiny's Child and he with 98 Degrees.
Bolton, however, has always been a solo act.
"I have been a lead singer since I was 12 or 13," he says. "I had bands when I was 16. ... I certainly have been behind the mic and done background with people on my own records. Because my journey always had me as the lead singer, I never really had to blend with everyone."
Bolton is very excited about the prize NBC is dangling. Though Jason Raff, an executive producer, declined to specify how much money the network will donate to the celebrity's hometown, the winning choir will receive what he called a "generous" gift.
Bolton says it's $250,000, and he was working on NBC to donate that amount to each town.
"One of the most exciting things about the show is it takes you back, as an artist, to the first moments when you know you wanted to be a singer," Bolton says. "Some will never have the career, but they have that pure love of singing. They remind you, 'Hey this is what it was all about!' And to have a human instrument to express yourself with and at the same time to use your success to give back."
Raff has been traveling around the country, sensing how 20 people who have never sung together will unite into a choir.
"You are taking 20 amateurs and 20 strangers who don't know each other or the celebrity," Raff says, "and we, as producers, are putting them on a show live singing for the first time ever three weeks from now. So it is somewhat insane but exciting. And the fact that every time I have seen the rehearsal, after about two hours these strangers and voices are singing together. And they give me goose bumps in every town. After a little bit of a rough start they start to get it -- every time."
No dress code was yet decided, though Raff says he didn't want a "hands at your side, wear a robe" choir. LaBelle, however, says, "I would prefer them in robes. I don't want a girl in a hoochie skirt and low- cut top."
She plans to work on wardrobe and to bring in a choreographer before they are ready for their live-from-New York appearance. In the meantime, LaBelle is determined that the choir she's dubbed "The Rainbow Boom-Boom Patti LaBelle Choir" sings to win.
"I let them know already they will be in boot camp," she says "It is going to be so vicious. I am going to be the Patti LaBelle no one has seen. I am going to be a hot mama. The girls, I am going to make them sing like they are crazy! And the guys are going to have to give me that bottom [range] and I am going to find lead singers. I don't know who I might try. I said to everybody when I left the last rehearsal, 'You better go home and practice like it's your last chance in life.' because Philadelphia has to win."