The crowd at Staples Center enjoys the 'How Sweet the Sound' Finale

*Excitement and anticipation filled the air as nearly 9,450 people filled the Staples Center inLos AngelesFriday to cheer on nine incredible choirs in Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound national finale.

Regional choirs from across the country were on hand to win up to $50,000. Grammy award winning artists CeCe Winans and Donald Lawrence served as mistress and master of ceremonies while award winners Marvin Sapp, Shirley Caesar and Israel Houghton served as judges for the competition.

Verizon traveled to nine cities to hold competitions for church choirs and the winning choirs from nine cities were then flown to Los Angeles to compete in the national finals.

The regional finalists were;

Dallas: St. John Church Ministry (Grand Prarie, Texas)

Atlanta: All Nations Life and Praise Church Choir (Stockbridge, Ga.)

Charlotte, N. C.: Salvation and Deliverance Church Choir  (Tarboro, N.C.)

Washington, D. C.: James E. Jordan, Jr. Adult Choir of Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ (Riverdale, Md.)

Detroit: The Anointed Voices of Higher Ground Young Adult Choir (Columbus,Ohio)

St. Louis: Metropolitan Community Church of  Greater Saint Louis (St. Louis, Mo.)

Chicago: All Nations Choir of the Lighthouse Church of All Nations (Alsip, Ill.)

Los Angeles: Family Life Sanctuary Choir (Whittier,Calif.)

Oakland,Calif.: Christian Life Center Mass Choir (Stockton,Calif.)

“We’re looking for tone, pitch, the ability to blend and soulful voices,” said Sapp. “Great choirs have the ability to articulate songs with conviction.”

During the competition, eight-time Grammy award winner gospel great Andrae Crouch was presented the “How Sweet the Sound Living Legend Award” by singer Chaka Khan. “I’m honored to be here this evening,” said Khan. “Andre has made a unique impression in his life’s work. His genius has inspired and directed all of those who enjoy gospel music.” Crouch, who was joined by his sister, gospel entertainer Sandra Crouch, was visibly moved

“I thank God for where he has taken music today,” said Crouch. “God has given me at least 1,700 songs. If you want God to come into your life, give him your heart.”

Pausing, he added, “The devil tried to kill me recently, but I’m still here. Hallelujah! God is alive!”

The crowd got an added treat midway through the competition when Queen Latifah and the legendary Dolly Parton took to the stage and sang a spirited duet of “He’s Everything.” The two were on hand to promote their upcoming gospel-themed movie, “Joyful Noise” to be released on Jan. 13, 2012.

The incredible turnout at the Staples Center filled 11-time Grammy award winner Caesar with awe.  “God is using Verizon,” said Caesar, who has 30 solo albums to her credit. She added, “When I was growing up, we didn’t have Verizon. I just want to thank them for promoting gospel in such a wonderful manner.” Pausing, Caesar added, “I’m so surprised to see thousands of people in choir competitions. They say the largest venues are wrestling matches, but they haven’t seen ‘How Sweet the Sound.’”

Each choir was unique, incorporating breathtaking choreography, perfect harmonies, and commanding stage presence during the three-hour event.

The judges were impressed by all of the choirs in competition, but it was the high energy Salvation and Deliverance Church Choir singing Handel’s “Hallelujah” with their stellar singing and explosive stage performance that impressed the judges. The choir threw off their robes to reveal grey cardigans and bow ties, then wasted no time executing a dizzying array of vocal styles, and even delivered fragments of their song in Italian and German.

The 2011 How Sweet the Sound Choir competition winner: The Salvation & Deliverance Choir

“You all are unbelievable,” said Sapp, who was blown away. “You function at a level of excellence.  You have classical AND church harmonies. You took off your robes and were speaking in different languages.”

“I have never seen or heard anything like what I’ve seen tonight,” said Caesar. “This choir is from North Carolina, but I wouldn’t care if they were from diddy wa diddy.

Houghton was also obviously impressed, but deadpanned, “I feel you could have had more energy.” Shaking his head, he added, “That (performance) was amazing.”

At the end of the evening, audience members texted the number of their favorite choirs. After the results were calculated, the Verizon Video Choice Winner was The Family Life Center Sanctuary Choir from Los Angeles was the Verizon Video Choice Winner.

The Salvation and Deliverance Church Choir was named the 2011 How Sweet the Sound National Choir and took home a total of $40,000 in cash and prizes. The choir has been invited to perform at the Stellar Awards and the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration.

Verizon serves 107.7 million total wireless connections, including 90.7 million retail customers.

Read/learn more at www.howsweetthesound.com.