Voices of Fire (2020)
- December 4, 2020
I remember first seeing Pharrell Williams on The Voice and thinking that he was too pure, too good to be on a show that competitive. He elevated that show for sure but in this Netflix docu-series he ascends to the next level. In collaboration with his uncle, Bishop Ezekiel Williams, he sets out to assemble the best gospel singers from his hometown and surrounding area. The goal is to inspire and uplift people with a true gospel message of love, hope and acceptance.
Bishop Williams recruits gospel legend Miss Peggy Britt as a vocal coach, Patrick Riddick as choir director and Larry George as music director. This team, along with Pharrell Williams, auditions more than 300 people in search of 75 singers to fill out their choir. Some judges are looking for singers with potential, others are looking for semi-professionals while others are in it for a good voice with a great heart. While each judge is coming in with their own ideas and expectations, they are each hoping to find a unicorn, the singer that has it all.
The first couple of episodes are full of auditions with back stories interspersed. Bishop Williams’ dream is to build a choir of singers from diverse backgrounds, with individual stories that cross race and culture lines. It is clear from the start that this idea resonates with the community of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Each person who enters the audition room is more talented than the next. And each person has their own story and motivation for auditioning for the choir.
There were some early stand outs like Danlie Cuenca, a knock-out soprano originally from The Philippines and Elana Rose Lapetina, a fifteen-year-old Broadway style singer with 50% hearing. Other singers, like Marcus Robertson, a recovering alcoholic with a disability, had great stories but lacked the confidence to exhibit stage presence. With each story told viewers are drawn into the hope and anxiety of the audition process.
As the final 75 are chosen, we watch as the choir prepares for their debut performance in under two weeks. Singers are challenged to push past their limitations and embrace the call to worship. The judges invest time to coach and encourage individual singers while many, many unicorns are revealed. Episode after episode tugs on the viewers heartstrings and leaves us shedding a tear or two as singers give themselves over to the process and find joy, acceptance and confidence as they embrace the gospel of hope.
It is the faith-based element of this series that is so touching. While not every singer believes the same, they all are drawn into the beauty and the joy of the songs they sing and the community they build along the way. And more than once choir practice is overtaken by the choirs need to just sing and celebrate and worship together.
This series is so full of goodness and joy. It is exactly what the world needs just now. It’s more than a distraction from the pressures and the tensions in the world, it is medicine to the soul to hear people in the fear and hope and uncertainty come together to use their God-given gifts to uplift and inspire others. These people, these songs, this series is a gift. Enjoy!
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