Friday, December 28, 2007

'Clash' choir went cruisin'


Yes, it’s been a wonderful world for Nick Lachey’s Cincinnati singers this week, winners of NBC’s “Clash of the Choirs” reality show Thursday.

The 20 members of the choir, their families and friends, celebrated the victory early today with a two-hour Manhattan boat cruise starting at 1:30 a.m. on the East River, and into New York harbor.

When the boat stopped in front of the Statue of Liberty, all the choir members and Lachey went to the top deck and sang “What A Wonderful World,” the 1967 Louis Armstrong song they had performed on TV on Thursday night.

Lachey paid for the cruise, several choir members said. The Cincinnati group didn’t get back to hotels until after 4 a.m., said Dan Hilen of Lakota East High School, father of singer April Hilen of Mason. Most of the choir members returned to this area Thursday afternoon at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

For the singers – some of whom had never been to New York – the boat party was the first time they could unwind since arriving there a week ago. Rehearsals began most days this week at 7 a.m.

Lachey’s Cincinnati choir was named the winner of the $250,000 competition about 9:55 p.m. Thursday. Patti LaBelle’s Philadelphia choir finished second.

After the show Thursday, Lachey thanked Cincinnati viewers for their support, in an Enquirer interview. Cincinnati’s WLWT-TV (Channel 5) was NBC’s No. 1 station for the show Thursday, with a 13.6 rating (120,618 homes) and a 23 percent audience share. That was more than double the national overnight average (6 rating/10 percent share), says a NBC spokesman.

“We saw the ratings. We know the support for reality TV in Cincinnati is huge,” Lachey said. “We want to thank all the people in Cincinnati. They made this happen for us.”

Lachey hand-picked the 20 vocalists from 350 people who auditioned six weeks ago.

They represented a cross-section of Greater Cincinnnati and Northern Kentucky: teachers, a chili server, a nurse, an employment trainer, cell phone and software salesmen, choir directors and college students.

They won the live TV competition with their variety of styles and music selection, including an a cappella "Flight of the Bumblebee" Wednesday.

"I've been blown away by my choir's poise. It's made up of amateur singers. They've never done this before," Lachey said on Thursday's show.

To come on national television and perform in front of millions of people, it is unbelievable . . . because I’m petrified, and I've done it for 10 years," said Lachey, 34, a 1992 School for Creative & Performing Arts graduate.

Patti LaBelle's Philadelphia choir, which rocked the studio Wednesday night with her "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," placed second. Blake Shelton’s Oklahoma City choir was third.

In a surprise, host Maria Menounos announced that the four other choirs in the competition also won $50,000 each for their charities.

The 20-member vocal ensemble began rehearsals at 7 a.m. Thursday for the final show, which NBC and producers decided Wednesday afternoon to expand to two hours.

All five choirs – from Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Houston and New Haven, Conn. – appeared on the show.

One good omen for Cincinnati was strong ratings for the live “Clash of the Choirs” broadcasts on WLWT-TV (Channel 5). Cincinnati was No. 2 in the nation Wednesday, with an 11.7 rating (103,767 homes) and a 19 percent audience share. Only Richmond, Va., had more viewers.

Choir member Chuck Merk, 35, a Lakota West High School geometry teacher, says the other choirs were blown away by “Bumblebee.”

“They said, ‘I can’t believe you sang that. That’s so cool!’ It was THE show-stopper,” Merk said by phone, at a rehearsal break. Merk also says that the studio band members did not know that Lachey would stop them from playing “Bumblebee,” so his choir could sing a cappella. “That was totally unscripted,” he says.

While the choir rehearses hundreds of miles away, Cincinnati residents are basking in the glow of positive publicity for the city and its institutions. Twice NBC has aired taped features from Children’s Hospital Medical Center, which will receive $250,000 after the victory.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to show the nation all that Cincinnati has to offer,” says Mindy Rosen, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. vice president.

Many Children’s Hospital Medical Center employees “have been glued to TV at home this week rooting for the hometown choir,” says Nick Miller, hospital spokesman.

“It’s been exciting to see the city and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital featured on national television, and to be represented by what obviously is an extremely talented group of singers. Most important, however, is the medical center truly appreciates the efforts of Nick Lachey and his team to support our employees and mission to care for children,” Miller says.