'WE ARE THE Champions"? Well, not quite.

Despite that last hopeful song choice, Philadelphia's own Team LaBelle went far, but not quite far enough, last night as NBC's four-night sing-a-thon "Clash of the Choirs" ended in a second-place finish for the 20-member local group selected – and then whipped into shape – by singer Patti LaBelle.

The winner? A choir from Cincinnati, led by singer Nick Lachey.

Yes, Philly, we lost to Jessica Simpson's ex-husband.

And it's going to seem like sour grapes, but from where we were sitting, Lachey's "choir" seemed like a backup group, chosen as much for appearance as for vocals (and indeed, he promised the other night that if his singers won, they'd get a backup gig on his next album).

LaBelle, meanwhile, was promising last night to perform with her choir on New Year's Eve - a plan that appeared to take the singers by surprise.

"They need to go on tour with me," LaBelle said in a phone interview last night after the show. "We're going to be in Caesars in Atlantic City" on New Year's Eve. The Phillies called, she said, to see if the choir would perform the National Anthem.

"They're going to go higher, do you hear me? And so am I," said LaBelle, who admitted she was surprised to have lost, since her fellow celebrity "choir masters" had all predicted a Team LaBelle victory.

"I learned to grow up in that second. It just made me a bigger person. It made me feel like a champion," she said.

But a not-undisappointed champion, perhaps.

"I thought it was about singing, not popularity," she said.

If there's good news for those of us who spent two hours to learn a result that had been determined before the first note was sung last night (though the viewers' votes could've been discerned by the order in which the remaining choirs performed), it's that one or both of LaBelle's charities - the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and a cancer-screening program called With Our Voices -will still presumably share $50,000.

The money was kicked in by NBC parent GE, which announced at the last minute that it was donating that amount in the names of each of the losing teams, including those led by Houston's Kelly Rowland, New Haven's Michael Bolton and Oklahoma City's Blake Shelton.

The $250,000 first prize, meanwhile, was revealed to be product placement – donated by Sony Pictures to promote a film, "First Sunday," that stars "30 Rock's" Tracy Morgan, who also announced last night's winner. *