December 19, 2007 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | TV | December 19, 2007 |


So, if you’ve watched NBC sometime in the last month, you’ve no doubt caught glimpse of the adverts for this week’s four-night, five-hour gospelaganza, “Clash of the Choirs.” And if you’re like me, you probably waited until everyone else left the room to set your TiVo to record it. Yeah: I know. It’s bound to be crap, right? Anything that involves Nick Lachey, Michael Bolton, and Patti LaBelle is guaranteed to reek like Amy Winehouse’s bed sheets the morning after … well, after every morning.

But, I really am I sucker for gospel choirs. Growing up in the South, you end up attending a lot of Sunday services, whether you’re religious or not (Saturday night sleepovers had a tendency to be followed up by a miserable morning of indoctrination). And what always stuck in my craw, especially about those huge Baptist McChurches with 50-person choirs, was that no one clapped after their performances. Here you have these rousing renditions of gospel tunes, many of which were capable of invading your soul even if you weren’t religious, and each number was met by complete silence or, at best, a smattering of low-level amens. I never understood it — why it wasn’t proper to recognize the talent and power onstage? It’s not like it’s an insult to God to applaud. Or is it? Hell, I dunno; I’m not a Biblical scholar.

But, then I attended a Pentecostal service in the all-black part of town where I grew up (yeah, my hometown was segregated, even in the ’90s; probably still is today, in fact), and it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I’m as agnostic as they come, but for an hour or so, I felt some of that old-time motherfucking religion. And they not only clapped at this church, they moved their hips and made love to the spirit of the Lord. It really is something everyone ought to experience, and watching reruns of “Ally McBeal” doesn’t count.

So, anyway, I’ve had a hard-on for gospel choirs ever since, which is why I was secretly and reluctantly excited about the prospect of “Clash of the Choirs,” a reality show in which celebrities I’m barely familiar with assemble choirs from their hometowns and enter them into competition against one another (in addition to Lachey, Bolton, and LaBelle, Kelly Rowland and Blake Shelton are on hand to make asses of themselves in front of a national audience). And the winning choir gets to take home $250,000 for a hometown charity. But, more importantly, it gives thousands a smattering of folks an opportunity to humiliate themselves “American Idol” style at auditions. Mostly, though, the auditioneers are full of gag-you-in-the-uvula feel-good stories that made most of the show completely unwatchable. There is only so many times you can witness Lachey mug for the camera or sit through retchworthy interviews with choir members; embarrassingly sycophantic judge critiques; and Patti LaBelle speaking in the third person. And the sad-sack, tear-infused stories from down-on-their-luck singers were hard to stomach, as a cadre of amateurs played up their magic words for the camera: Katrina (weep); cancer (weep); old ladies (awwww); siblings separated in competition (ooof!); massive weight loss (bravo!); and service men (God Bless America!) .

Really, 85 percent of “Clash of the Choirs” is as bad as anything I’ve forced myself to watch to help ease me into the next three of four months of bad reality shows (and our requisite reviews — we’re all going to share in the misery of the writer’s strike, folks. I’m sorry.). But, I’ll tell you what: The actual performances, for something on a low-rent reality show dumped onto the schedule on one of the least watched weeks of the television season, are almost decent. I mean, a gospel rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Living on the Prayer”? What person who didn’t come of age on the cusp between “Slippery When Wet” and “Rattle and Hum” wouldn’t appreciate that just a little, even if it means watching Michael Bolton with an unbuttoned shirt wave his hands like he’s swatting away the Ghosts of Christmas Crazy? These gospel singers actually manage to make unlistenable songs (“Life Is a Highway,” “Unwritten”) nearly noxious free. Hell, “Team Shelton’s” rendition of the Doobie Brother’s “Taking It To the Street,” damn near erased any memory of the same by the old guy that won “AI” a couple of years ago, and Team Lachey’s gospel version of “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” temporarily made me forget that “Clash of the Choirs” otherwise felt like the palm of a hand being rammed into my nasal cavity.

That said, and despite the fact that after the two-hour premiere, the elimination and performance shows are wrapped into one hour (take note, “AI”), there is absolutely no goddamn reason to tune into “Clash of the Choirs.” It’s televised poison, nutritionally vacant, brain-pummeling junk, the sort that manages to infect you with the feeling one has after watching an entire afternoon of daytime television, only “Clash” does it in under an hour. But for those who insist on cueing up network television, you’re going to have to get used to this sort of garbage for at least the next three or four months. And I hate to think that “Clash of the Choirs” may be one of the better offers from the reality clusterfuck TV enthusiasts are all about to experience. My advice: Upgrade your Netflix account. And say a Christmas prayer for the WGA.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

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Televised Hell. Get Used To It. It's Going to Be a Long Winter.

"Clash of the Choirs" / Dustin Rowles

TV | December 19, 2007 | Comments ()




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