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Jonathan Storm | CHOIRS on FIRE

Say amen, somebody! Patti LaBelle will lead the way to Philly victory on NBC's "Clash of the Choirs" contest.

"I'm 63 years old. I'm a Gemini. I'm menopausal, and I have diabetes, and I want them to sing right!" Go, choirmaster Patti!
"I'm 63 years old. I'm a Gemini. I'm menopausal, and I have diabetes, and I want them to sing right!" Go, choirmaster Patti!Read moreERIC LIEBOWITZ / NBC


Philadelphia, pretty much an also-ran in the reality-show sweepstakes (unless you count Will Mega and Internet sweetheart Antonella Barba, who made headlines but missed prizes on Big Brother and American Idol respectively), has a sure thing.

It's Clash of the Choirs, a live competition starting Monday at 8 p.m. and airing for four nights on NBC10. Famous musicians train warblers from their hometowns. On Thursday, one of the 20-singer choirs gets picked as best in show, earning $250,000 for local charities.

The trainers: Nick Lachey, Blake Shelton, Michael Bolton, Kelly Rowland.

And Patti LaBelle.

You think some boy-band mushmouth, some country twanger, some soft-rock crooner, some hip-shaking sweet potato, from tin-ear towns like Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, New Haven, Conn., and Houston - you think any of them can beat the Queen Mother of Soul (who grew up in the Beulah Baptist Church choir), leading a stable of singers from one of the great music cities in the universe? Surely you jest.

"Michael Bolton's no joke," the diva says graciously, holding out hope to her competitors. "Kelly Rowland was part of one of the greatest girl groups of all time."

Nick and Blake? Nothing comes quickly to mind.

"Everybody has their own style, their own way," she says. "I don't feel the competition. I don't feel I have to beat them.

"I do know one choir has to win. I just hope it's mine."

Amateurs auditioned last month in the five cities, and 20 were selected and trained by each of the maestros, with a little help. LaBelle's son, Zuri, and music director, John Stanley, were in on the action in Philadelphia. Six men and 14 women made the cut. They'll be asked to sing in a variety of musical styles.

"The auditions were at Philly International [studio], where I recorded my good stuff, like, 40 years ago," LaBelle says. "So these kids came into the room where I recorded most of my songs."

A lot of them froze in the presence of greatness, but eventually, LaBelle says, she was able to loosen them up.

The celebrity choirmasters will critique their rivals' performances, and viewers will vote to eliminate one choir after Monday and Tuesday's performance. After another round of voting, a winner will be chosen from the final three on Thursday's finale.

Phone voting is the only roadblock on Philadelphia's path to victory. Rowland's hometown of Houston has nearly 700,000 more people in it than ours. Keep that in mind and dial early and often.

But even tone-deaf Texans might have to acknowledge the grandeur that is LaBelle, just as the once-trepidatious would-be songbirds in the choir did.

"You think I'm gonna let people sit on their talent?" LaBelle asks.

No, ma'am.

"If I say, 'Oh, it was fabulous,' who am I cheating? I knew this girl had the voice of an opera queen, and she was singing like a little peasant. That doesn't pass.

"I'm 63 years old. I'm a Gemini. I'm menopausal, and I have diabetes, and I want them to sing right!"

Croakers from those other towns don't stand a chance.

Jonathan Storm |


Clash of the Choirs

8 p.m. Monday through

Thursday on NBC10.