A bit like “American Idol” on speed and laughing gas, “Clash of the Choirs” promised viewers “a competition like you’ve never seen before,” which comes pretty close to false advertising. Almost relentlessly upbeat and promotional (including a conspicuous “Support the troops” gesture from NBC parent GE), this hokey weeklong stunt delivered modest premiere ratings vs. ABC’s quiz contest “Duel” and seems more likely to just keep the lights on than to deliver much-needed cheer to NBC.
Oddly structured, the show features five celebs assembling and coaching choirs from their home cities: Michael Bolton (New Haven, Conn.), Patti LaBelle (Philadelphia), Nick Lachey (Cincinnati), Kelly Rowland (Houston) and Blake Shelton (Oklahoma City). Those same stars then comment upon (“judging” really doesn’t describe it) the competing choirs, though everyone was so unremittingly positive it’s hard to imagine anybody being sent home — a decision that’s left to viewers, elimination-style.
The prize is a selfless $250,000 for charity, and each team comes equipped with its own heartwarming flourish or flat-out sob story, from the father and daughter singing for their cancer-stricken wife/mom to the Hurricane Katrina survivor to active-duty military personnel.
Presiding over the pageant, meanwhile, is perky Maria Menounos (“Access Hollywood”), who is so overflowing with enthusiasm and giddiness that a sedative appears in order. The only group more love-filled on Monday, in fact, was the studio audience, which hooted and howled so appreciatively as to periodically cause the irritating Menounos to wait, like a substitute teacher, for “you guys” to settle down.
The judges manage the high-degree-of-difficulty feat of singing and simultaneously patting themselves on the back as well as others (just like NBC). It’s all harmless enough, and the choir performances were pleasant, racing through pop ballads after the obligatory audition clips. (Don’t worry, Christmas music is yet to come.)
“Choirs” marks NBC’s second live replacement series, following the magic-act playoff “Phenomenon.” Thus far, the benefits of broadcasting live have eluded the network, and in each case, the creative approach has been of the “me too” variety, without much originality.
Not that there’s anything unusual about copycatting in reality TV, of course, but given NBC’s competitive status, the network is going to have to take some chances, pardon the expression, that go beyond just preaching to the choir.