'Pitch Battle is more like Strictly than X Factor,' says show judge Gareth Malone

Pitch Battle - Gareth Kelis Mel
(Image credit: BBC/Tuesday's Child/Cody Burridg)

Get ready for a new TV battle as choirs from across the UK face off in Pitch Battle, BBC1's new knockout contest to find Britain's best singing group. Host Mel Giedroyc and judges Gareth Malone and Kelis tell us more...

Mel Giedroyc, Gareth Malone and Kelis are in perfect harmony as they give us the lowdown on BBC1's new Saturday night singing show, Pitch Battle...

Get ready for some serious choral combat as the search begins for Britain's best singing group when new Saturday night show, Pitch Battle, kicks off this week.

Hosted by Mel Giedroyc and inspired by the smash-hit movie Pitch Perfect, starring Rebel Wilson, Pitch Battle sees 30 rival choirs from across the UK – six each across five heats – facing-off in a series of knockout challenges including showstoppers, themed ‘Riff-Offs’ and solo battles. With a £50,000 cash prize at stake, these singers need to sing – or be sung-off!

Judging the choirs’ vocal talents will be everyone’s favourite choirmaster, Gareth Malone, and US singer-songwriter Kelis. Each week, they’ll be joined by a different third ‘superstar’ judge: multi-award winning singer Seal, DNCE vocalist Joe Jonas, US singer Bebe Rexha, soul diva Chaka Khan  and for this Saturdays' first show, BRIT-award winner 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 drew you to host Pitch Battle? Mel: “Any show with music as its backbone gets a very big thumbs up from me. I’ve been so lucky this year from Let it Shine to Let’s Sing and Dance for Comic Relief then onto Eurovision and now this. Also, knowing that Pitch Perfect’s very own music arranger, Deke Sharon, is involved as this show’s musical director was a major draw. I’m obsessed with Pitch Perfect!”

Gareth, how does this compare to other shows you’ve done? Gareth: “This show is not 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 just about the sheer explosive power of musical performance. It’s more akin to Strictly than it is to, say, The X Factor or The Voice UK. It’s not that kind of show at all. There are no auditions – there’s a little bit about who the choirs are, then it’s straight into the singing.”

Pitch Battle - Bebe Rexha

Gareth and Kelis with Pitch Battle's guest judge, US singer Bebe Rexha

Is there variety among the choirs we’re going to see? Mel: “Definitely. We’ve had a soul group, a proper American country group, beat boxers, gospel choirs and a full-on rock group, all leather jackets. I love it when there are surprises. There was a lovely 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 really well but some of the smaller choirs can be really intimate and beautiful. We’ve had everything from big community choirs to a barbershop quartet. It’s a proper music show.”

Each week, six choirs compete in a series of choral challenges including showstoppers, ‘Riff-Offs’ and solo numbers. What do all these elements bring to the show? Gareth: “All the elements show different facets of 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 solos are an emotional challenge. Then, when it comes down to the Final Battle with last two groups, they’re singing the same material, so you can really compare like with like.” Mel: “I’m not going to lie, the day after the recording of each show, it’s a pyjama day. I can’t speak, I can’t do anything, I can’t interact with anybody because it’s so full on!”

Pitch Battle choirs face off

Two rival choirs face off to prove they're the best in the UK. But what will the judges think?

When you see the six choirs at the start of each show, do you have a strong opinion on which one will make it through to the final? Mel: “It’s interesting because you can look at one choir and think: ‘Right, 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 totally 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 always think it’ll be one group then, by the end, I’ve done a complete 360 and it’s different group. It’s ridiculous… I can never call it! 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: “I think they bring the authority of people who’ve all been there on the stage and who’ve got the chops! The good thing about his show is that everyone on the panel is a musician who’s been there, recorded a great song or worked with choirs.” 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 is not nasty at all, though, and there’ve been no sore losers. Everyone’s just been really happy to be part of it.” Mel: “I think all the judges 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!”

Pitch Battle choir 2

Something for everyone! The choirs on Pitch Battle come in all musical styles, shapes and sizes...

Has doing this show reminded you of your own experiences of 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 really 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 the school choir. But when I heard Lenny Kravitz say he’d learned all his vocal harmonies from his time spent in choirs, I suddenly thought maybe it IS cool. I want those kids who maybe feel like I did back then to watch this show and think: ‘I’ll go and join the choir, it looks like fun!’” Mel: “I absolutely love singing and I do keep saying to Gareth I want to join a choir because I did the Children in Need choir with Gareth, which was so much fun. I remember going to a wedding once in the north of Scotland and getting into a hired van with about 20 people. None of us really knew each other, then somebody said: ‘Let’s sing songs of the Eighties!’ We sang for four hours in the van and, by the time we got to the wedding, we were all the best of mates!”

Let battle commence… Pitch Battle starts on Saturday June 17 at 7.30pm on BBC1.

Victoria Wilson
Feature Writer for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and WhatToWatch.com

With over 20 years’ experience writing about TV and film, Vicky currently writes features for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week magazines plus news and watching guides for WhatToWatch.com, a job which involves chatting to a whole host of famous faces. Our Vicky LOVES light entertainment, with Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice UK among her fave shows. Basically, if it’s got a shiny floor, she’s all over it! When she’s not watching TV, you might find Vicky in therapy… retail therapy that is!