Let battle commence
Mel Giedroyc, Gareth Malone and Kelis are in perfect harmony as they tell us about BBC1’S new Saturday-night choir competition
Get ready for some serious choral combat as the search begins for Britain’s best singing group in new talent show Pitch Battle, which kicks off this week.
Hosted by Mel Giedroyc and inspired by the smash-hit US movie Pitch Perfect, starring Rebel Wilson, the show sees 30 rival choirs from across the UK – six in each of the five heats – competing in a series of knockout challenges. These include showstoppers, themed ‘riff-offs’ and solo battles. With a £50,000 cash prize at stake, the singers need to impress – or be sung off.
Judging the vocal talents is everyone’s favourite choirmaster, Gareth Malone, and US singersongwriter Kelis. Each week, they will be joined by a third ‘superstar’ judge: first up is American vocal queen Bebe Rexha. Later, there’s multi award-winning Seal, US rocker Joe Jonas, soul diva Chaka Khan and Brit hero Will Young.
As the battle lines are drawn, Mel, Gareth and Kelis reveal why Pitch Battle really is a singing show with a difference… Mel, what made you want to host Pitch Battle?
Any show with music as its backbone gets a big thumbs-up from me. I’ve been so lucky this year going from Let it Shine to Let’s Sing and Dance for Comic Relief, Eurovision and now this. Also, knowing that Pitch Perfect’s music arranger, Deke Sharon, is involved as this show’s musical director was a major draw.
It’s more akin to Strictly than to The X
Factor or The Voice UK
How does this compare to other shows you’ve done, Gareth?
This show isn’t about discovering the joy of singing for the first time, which I’ve done a lot of on television. This feels very much like the next stage for a lot of groups and is about the sheer explosive power of musical performance. It’s more akin to Strictly than to The X Factor or The Voice UK. It’s not that kind of show. There are no auditions – there’s a little bit about who the choirs are, then it’s straight into the singing.
are we going to see a lot of variety between the choirs?
Mel: Definitely. We had a soul group, an American country group, beatboxers, gospel choirs and a full-on rock group. There was an a cappella group, who you’d look at and think that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths… then they performed a hardcore Bon Jovi song!
Gareth: Some of the bigger choirs do well but the smaller choirs can be intimate and beautiful. We’ve had everything from big community choirs to a barbershop quartet.
each week’s show sees six choirs compete in a series of choral challenges. Tell us more…
Gareth: All the elements show what the choirs are capable of.
The showstopper gives you one impression; you see how active they are and how dramatic they can be. Then they’re creative in the ‘riff-off ’, and then the solo numbers are an emotional challenge. In the final battle with the last two groups, they’re singing the same material, so you can compare like with like.
when you see the six choirs at the start of each show, do you have a strong opinion on which one will make it to the final?
Mel: It’s interesting because you can look at one choir and think, ‘They’re a shoe-in’. But the group that goes through isn’t always the one you automatically assume. Gareth: Some are more trained than others, so you think the pros will own it, but that’s not always the case. It’s more about whether a performance works in that moment in front of an audience. One choir might ‘technically’ be much better, but it’s their rival that brings the magic. Kelis: I think it’ll be one group then, by the end, I’ve done a complete 360° and it’s different one. I’ve been wrong every single time.
I’m either elated or I’m devastated.
what do the ‘superstar’ judges bring to the show?
Gareth: They bring the authority of people who’ve all been there on the stage and have lots of experience. Kelis: Gareth and I don’t always agree on which choir should go through to the final, so it’s nice to have another voice. The final elimination isn’t nasty, though, and there have been no sore losers. Everyone’s just happy to be part of it. Mel: The judges all bring something different. Kelis is from a choral background, Gareth is ‘Mr Choir’ and, with the superstar judge, you never know what you’re going to get. Gareth uses these amazing phrases like ‘dominant chords’ and ‘pentatonic fifths’. I don’t want to say the word ‘nerd’, but he’d own it!
Has the show reminded you of when you were singing in choirs? Kelis: I started singing in my church choir then I joined The Girls Choir of Harlem. There’s nothing more powerful than voices together when it’s right. After 20 years in the music business, you can lose the excitement a bit, so for me it’s been nice to see these choirs so happy on stage. There’s a moment where you’re like, ‘Oh, I remember that feeling’. Gareth: I was in a choir from the age of 11, at a time when it wasn’t very cool to be in one at school.
But when I heard Lenny Kravitz had learned all his vocal harmonies from being in choirs, I suddenly thought maybe it is cool. I want kids who, maybe feel like I did back then, to watch the show and think, ‘I’ll join the choir, it looks like fun’.
Banding together: this group of ladies is called Songbird Sessions
into battle: Singing groups all the Kings men (left) and