Sunday, December 16, 2007

Choir ready for 'Clash'

Twenty local singers join Nick Lachey for TV competition with four other cities

A registered nurse. A high school math teacher. A Skyline Chili server. A church music director. A stay-at-home mom. An employment trainer.

Twenty diverse people - all sharing one passion - have been chosen by Nick Lachey to represent Greater Cincinnati in NBC's "Clash of the Choirs" reality competition (8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, Channels 5, 2).

"They have brought 20 singers together who never knew each other, and made us sound as one," marvels John Scott, 27, of Covington.


Photos: Nick Lachey and his choir

Scott, a Forest Park native, is a diversity seminar leader for United Way of Greater Cincinnati, and music minister at Covington's Fellowship Church of God. He also sings in Fulfilled, a Christian group, with cousin Carrie Taylor, 38, a stay-at-home mom, who is also in the TV choir.

Lachey and his choir "coach," Western Michigan University music professor Stephen Zegree, selected the 20 singers from 350 who auditioned Nov. 9-10 at Walnut Hills High School. They range in age from 18 to 47.

The singers will compete on live TV from New York with choirs and stars from Philadelphia (R&B star Patti LaBelle); New Haven, Conn. (pop singer Michael Bolton); Houston (Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child); and Oklahoma City (country musician Blake Shelton). They will perform pop, R&B, country, Christmas and gospel music, says Jason Raff, executive producer.

"It was very tough. I heard so many great voices. It ultimately came down to how those voices would blend together," says Lachey, 34, a former College Hill resident and 1992 School for Creative & Performing Arts graduate.

"I had every confidence that we'd find great singers here. Cincinnati has a very rich musical history," says Lachey, who started singing in the College Hill Presbyterian Church choir in grade school. "This choir represents the city - in every walk of life, in every racial background, in every financial background."

When Lakota West High School geometry teacher Charles Merk read about open auditions, he told himself, "This is the reality show for me."

"My students couldn't believe I could sing when I told them," says Merk, 35, of Deerfield Township, who sang in Miami University's Men's Glee Club in college.

The group's elder is Willrudale Underwood, 47, of Roselawn, an employment trainer for Easter Seals and a choir member at Cincinnati Church of Christ in Deer Park.

Underwood auditioned with his daughter, Arielle, 20, who also made the cut. Two years ago, as a SCPA senior, she advanced to the Hollywood round on "American Idol."

Skyline Chili server Nick Wall of Dent calls being picked for the choir - after a jittery performance for Lachey last month - "a life-changing experience."

"I'm usually not nervous, but I was signing Nick's song, 'What's Left Of Me,' in front of him, which wasn't very smart. But he loved it," says the 2006 Oak Hills High School graduate, who spent his 20th birthday Friday in New York with the choir. His father, Dennis, designed the gray "Team Cincinnati" shirts for the choir.

Singing one of the solos will be Shonda Fowler, 33, a registered nurse working at University Hospital who auditioned after work in her dirty scrubs. It helped that the College Hill resident was Lachey's SCPA classmate for six years. They appeared together in "A Christmas Carol," "Sweeney Todd" and "Little Mary Sunshine."

But that's not why he remembers her.

"He was my first kiss," says Fowler, who hosts "NXS" (New Extreme Sounds) 5:30 p.m. Saturdays on WBQC-TV (Channel 38). "Every time I see him, he always asks me, 'Am I still the best kiss you ever had?' He's always been such a good guy. He didn't forget about home."

Many people here haven't forgotten Lachey and his brother, Drew, who first found fame with their 98° boy band a decade ago. Nick later starred in MTV's "Newlyweds" with his wife at the time, Jessica Simpson, while Drew won ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" reality show last year.

"Half the people who showed up at the Cincinnati auditions - because Nick is such a hometown boy - knew him or his parents. That was such a nice feel to it," executive producer Raff says.

As with "American Idol," the auditions will be a part of the "Clash of the Choirs" two-hour premiere, Raff says. NBC has filmed Lachey at SCPA, Fountain Square, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and rehearsals at Xavier University's Edgecliff Hall.

"Quite frankly, it's nice to bring some positive attention to the city I love, with some of the negative publicity this city has gotten," Lachey says. "There is a lot of pride and history here - and a lot of talent. This is our opportunity to show it to the rest of the country."