Michael Bolton, Patti LaBelle dish on NBC's new 'Clash of the Choirs'
By Christopher Rocchio, 12/11/2007
Michael Bolton had no interest in participating in the "trashy part" of reality television, so he had no problem signing up as a musical mentor for NBC'sClash of the Choirs, a new reality competition series that will aim to find the country's best amateur choir.
"I was only interested when they explained that we're going to inspire young un-established singers," Bolton told reporters during a conference call last Thursday.
"I had the opportunity to bring them together -- turn 20 voices into one voice -- walk them through the process of a professional preparation for a national television show in front of tens of millions of people... Anybody who wasn't good enough to sing in the 20-person choir, they just weren't going to make national TV for me. So I didn't think about it in terms of how different it would be than some of the reality TV that we have to bear with. I think the fact is that you're actually watching people do what they love to do, which is what you wanted to do as a kid. You're watching other people become inspired by the pure love of singing."
Clash of the Choirs will air live over the course of four consecutive nights beginning with a special two-hour premiere on Monday, December 17 at 9PM ET. The show will begin with Bolton; former Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica co-star Nick Lachey; Nashville Star judge Blake Shelton; Patti LaBelle; and Kelly Rowland traveling back to their hometowns to assemble an amateur singing group consisting of everyday people.
"I live in Philadelphia area so I didn't have to go too far [to assemble my choir]," said LaBelle, who also participated in the conference call. "I went to a church and shouted out for some great singers and then I had to listen to them... actually just listen and then we had to do the rehearsals after auditioning. And it was not easy. It was not easy to find great voices, you know. But it finally did happen. That was my experience and it was wonderful."
Bolton said his mission to assemble a 20-person choir was a "tough assignment."
"It was also kind of powerful for me because it took me back to my hometown of New Haven and when I was listening to the singers on stage, it just reminded me of how long ago I had performed in New Haven just to put food on the table for my family," he explained. "And it took me to a place where it seems like only yesterday I was just performing in clubs to survive. And now I was auditioning people to be on the national stage in front of millions and millions of people. So it was a very intense journey for me -- and like Patti -- I think that it was more difficult to find the great voices than I thought at first. But then they showed up."
Once the choirs were chosen by the musicians, they will travel to New York City to perform live on-stage and compete against one another in-front of a live studio and home-viewing audience, tackling a variety of musical genres that range from pop, rock and gospel to holiday classics and current hits.
"I just think in our show we're trying to capture -- you know, you might think of like gospel choirs right off the bat -- but I think the show is trying to show that there's lots of forms of music," said executive producer Jason Raff during the conference call.
"All our artists come from different genres and they'll be performing genres even outside of what you typically would think of a Patti LaBelle or a Michael Bolton. But regardless, the music that they chose is the same things that you get when you hear choir, which is kind of inspirational music, uplifting music - even if it is a, you know, a song by Bon Jovi."
Raff said each of the five choirs had about 40-hours worth of rehearsal time over the course of three weeks.
"You do have to scrutinize it," said Bolton about the rehearsals. "But at the same time, you have to let the choir become comfortable and find their own zone of comfort by just letting them sing and letting them feel good, and relaxed - letting their instruments do what they love to do. Then you go in and start tweaking and start really defining their notes, and the process organically tightens up as we go. Each rehearsal it gets better and better."
Clash of the Choirs premiere broadcast will feature each group performing one song as well as all the choirs performing a group number.
"But you also see the whole process of how [the mentors] selected their choirs and auditioned their choirs," added Raff. "And you'll see a little bit of the training. You'll learn a little bit about some of the choir members... and also the different personalities and diversity that they've had to choose from. And I will say, this has got to be the most diverse reality show - competition show there ever has been with probably the biggest cast as well."
Immediately following each live Clash of the Choirs broadcast, home viewers will be able to vote via phone, text messaging or the Internet for their favorite.
"On the second show they'll perform again once. On the third show is where they'll perform three times," explained Raff. "We're discussing with all the musical artists that -- in the third show where it'll be down to three choirs and they'll be each performing three times. We've kind of went around to all the musical artists to see if they wanted to, you know, actually take a solo or even sing with their choirs. So we'll find out when we get to show three."
Clash of the Choirs finale broadcast will air on Thursday, December 20, and Raff said everyone involved with the show will be taking part.
"We're not sending anyone home," he explained. "You'll see all the choirs in that last episode and there'll be some surprises in that last episode."
While nobody will be sent home, the winning choir -- as well as the celebrity that organized them as a group -- will receive the opportunity to select a prize that will help their hometown.
"My choices are for the domestic violence services of Greater New Haven, which involves shelters and families living shelters," said Bolton. "And it's part of the work I've been doing for about 16 years for women and their families who are in shelters and are victims of domestic violence and poverty. And it's a way of giving back in my hometown, my home state. And the choir knows what's at stake and they know that for a lot of these families it is literally a matter of life or death in getting them out of dangerous situations, getting them out of risk."
LaBelle said if her choir comes out on top, she plans on using the money for cancer research.
"I've lost three [sisters] to cancer and so many friends," she explained. "And that's what we're playing for, so that we could bring the money to Philadelphia for cancer."
Despite what's at stake, Bolton said there's "no sense of rivalry" between the mentors and their choirs.
"It'll probably escalate as we get to the performances and people start to really understand that there is a competition going on," he said. "But in a lot of ways, I feel like this is a great training ground for each and every one of the 20 choir members in my choir, that you have to compete against yourself first. You have to step up. You have to bring everything you've got to bring to this choir. And so they're learning that they have to demand from themselves.... This is about stepping up, delivering so you make it to the next round and the next round, and win."
Raff said while an offer has been made to Clash of the Choirs' potential host -- it's "not final" -- so NBC plans to announce it once the "deal's done." Despite the fact the show hasn't aired yet, Raff said there's a possibility it could be back for a second installment.