Canada Sings: The Keg vs. Scarborough Hospital (spoiler alert)
Youth and enthusiasm are great, but they don't trump age and determination on Canada Sings.
And sometimes, the least likely winners are the ones who really bring it at showtime.
That was the case last week when the Hamilton Police prevailed over GoodLife Fitness. This week, it was health care workers from Scarborough General Hospital up against servers from the Keg Mansion in Toronto.
And I'm not saying the hospital workers are old, but they weren't quite as young or fleet of foot as the Keg staff.
Somehow, though, when Sharron Matthews and Christian Vincent were finished with them, they had transformed into sexy divas in sequins and cool gents in suits and fedoras, and they were delightful.
The whole episode was one of the best of the series for me.
The hospital team, appropriately named Pulse, was competing for the Scarborough Hospital Foundation, which funds medical equipment.
We met Ann Barrett, a lab and ECG technician; secretary Patty Bernreiter; registered nurse Stephanie Fleming and communication systems administrator Mike Apostol, who had firsthand knowledge of hospital care after being diagnosed with a form of bone cancer at 14.
They were all devoted to their charity and their jobs.
"Our hospital is so passionate about the community and about our patients and we're gonna win this," declared Ann.
On the positive side, Ann and Mike were both terrific singers. Ann is a member of the Juno-winning Toronto Mass gospel choir. But we all know you can't just stand there and vocalize on Canada Sings. And the ladies seemed to be having trouble with Christian's relatively simple choreography.
Things were reversed, kind of, for the Keg Spirits: they were all over Kelly Konno's ambitious choreography, but with the exception of server Twaine Ward, the singing wasn't that strong. In fact, server Sara Okafo was so frightened by the thought of singing in front of everyone that it brought her to tears. But she was such a quick study in choreography that Kelly gave her a short solo with kicks and spins.
Besides Sara and Twaine, we also met dining room manager Sheldon Smith.
The Keg staff were just as motivated as the hospital workers by their charity, the Keg Spirit Foundation and, in particular, Free the Children, which they hoped to help build a school in Africa. Sara was especially involved because her father was from Africa, she told us, and she knew how hard it is to get an education there.
Twaine had other motivations. He was pursuing a performing arts career despite the trepidation of his conservative, religious parents and he was hoping that seeing him perform on Canada Sings would "prove something to them, that it's not something I'm taking very frivolously."
By Day 4 of rehearsals, when the teams got to sneak peeks at each other, there was quite a gap between the Spirits' and Pulse's choreography. (Don't forget they only get five days of rehearsals and the first day is more of a getting to know you session for the coaches.)
As Sharron put it, after she went to observe the Spirits with registered nurse Elecia Rezac, "the second they started singng I felt calm ... then I noticed that they were doing all their choreography and my heart started to beat really fast, and I started to think we're not at that spot right now."
Indeed they weren't. The Spirits' vocal coach, Scott Henderson, and team captain Sheldon couldn't help but notice that Pulse was doing very little in the way of choreography when they paid a visit.
But Pulse got fired up after Christian pointed out their shortcomings. "Age is nothing but a number," said Mike. "So what? They're young. I was young once too," said accounts payable clerk Nancy Rodrigues. "We are dedicated and we are hardworking and ready, so they better watch out."
Those words turned out to be prescient.
Not that the Spirits did a bad job on the night of the performance, taped before an audience at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. They got off to a slow start, but they were clearly working their butts off as the number - a mashup of "Magic" by B.o.B and Rivers Cuomo, Katy Perry's "Firework" and "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz - picked up steam and the choreography got more complex.
The singing, however, aside from Twaine, was just okay. All the judges noted they had problems staying in key.
Then it was Pulse's turn. Sharron had said she wanted their mashup of Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," Duffy's "Mercy" and the oldie "Tainted Love" to be Scarborough Hospital meets A Night at the Apollo. Mission accomplished and then some.
First off, the minute I saw those fitted silver sequinned dresses and long white gloves on the women I knew we were in for something special (thank goodness that Ann, who was self-conscious about her swollen ankles, abandoned her insistence on wearing a long dress).
Second of all, I hereby declare Sharron the Queen of the Mashup, because she always chooses such great songs and blends them so well together. And I have nothing but praise for Christian as well, for making simple choreography look so polished.
Mike, suave in a grey suit and black fedora, sounded excellent on a slowed-down version of the Culture Club song while the ladies, behind a scrim and under subdued lighting, swayed their hips and moved their arms like a supersized group of Supremes. It was all classy, from the simple but effective girl group choreo to Ann's terrific lead vocal on "Mercy" to Stephanie's rap to Mike and registered nurse Edgardo Valles combining for smooth vocals and dance moves on "Tainted Love."
I loved the whole thing from start to finish, and the judges did too.
Pierre Bouvier called it a "big wow ... I felt like I was brought back to a time where I wasn't even born."
Jann Arden said, "it was like Breakfast at Tiffany's went gangsta."
And Vanilla Ice praised the costume bling and Stephanie's rap, which inspired Stephanie to grab the mic from host Matte Babel and rap some of the lyrics from "Ice Ice Baby" back to Mr. Rob Van Winkle.
Anyway, there was really no suspense when it came down to the winner. It was obvious that the hospital staff were taking the $10,000 donation for their charity.
But this is one case where I didn't feel quite as sorry for the losing team as I usually do, and not just because they got some money for their charity, too. Seeing the way Sara's face lit up when Ice praised her dancing and Twaine breaking into tears because his mom was in the audience watching him sing made me think they'd gained something from their efforts.
And just for the record, Ann, I didn't pay the least bit of attention to your ankles when you were onstage.
We've got just one more week left in the series. It ends with Eric Hamber Secondary School from Vancouver taking on Toronto's Distillery Restaurants Corp., the team that I saw rehearse earlier this year.
You can watch Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Global TV and catch the recap here.
(The photos of Pulse and the Keg Spirits are courtesy of Shaw Media.)