The host is likeable, the contestants can all sing and the judges seem to know what they're talking about.

But while the pieces are all there, the first episode of New Zealand's latest reality singing show The Naked Choir (Sunday night, TVNZ 1) still came out a bit flat — closer to competitive Praise Be than a cappella X Factor.

The host Jeff Hunkin.
The host Jeff Hunkin.

Take nothing away from

Praise Be,

which is after all an enduringly popular Sunday morning classic.

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It's just a little manufactured tension and drama would have gone a long way for the earnest Kiwi battler version of The Sing-Off — the popular US singing show that has catapulted a cappella groups like Pentatonix to fame and fortune.

The Naked Choir. Photo / TVNZ
The Naked Choir. Photo / TVNZ
The Naked Choir

seemed to deliberately avoid all those competitive reality devices, almost positioning itself as the reality show for people who hate everything about reality shows.

If it was inventive or original in other ways that might not be such a bad thing. Unfortunately, the first episode progressed drably by the book.

The Jury, Matt Gifford, Lizzie Marvelly and John Rosser. Photo / TVNZ
The Jury, Matt Gifford, Lizzie Marvelly and John Rosser. Photo / TVNZ

Eight singing groups from across New Zealand were selected to compete in the show. On Sunday the first four were introduced — then one of them was promptly eliminated at the end of the episode.

Voxpop, a 22-member community choir from Ponsonby, were by far the most entertaining of the four, too.

The inter-generational group, led by an imposing, theatrical conductor, should have their own show. Their on screen vibe was somewhere between a Vicar of Dibley episode and the first five minutes of a Midsomer Murders.

The most likely victim in this case would have been the show's host, award-winning barbershop singer Jeff Hunkin, who also acts as a sort of mentor offering advice to each of the groups.

When he popped in to meet Voxpop they were belting out Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know — incredibly sinister and foreboding.

The Naked Choir. Photo / TVNZ
The Naked Choir. Photo / TVNZ

For the first round Hunkin asked the groups to choose their own song to perform.

Compared to the other groups' safe choices Voxpop's choral rendition of Space Oddity by David Bowie was truly far out, but it didn't fly with the no-nonsense judging panel of Matt Gifford, Lizzie Marvelly and John Rosser.

The trio convened in a meeting room after each group had performed and talked about things like "tonality" and "transfer of melody".

Each judge wrote down their vote on a bit of paper and popped them in a ballot box. They decided Voxpop had to go.

Sad, but their hands were tied. There's no way they could have eliminated four-piece Auckland family group Resonate, who sailed gracefully through Michael Jackson's Man In The Mirror.

Christchurch "contemporary a cappella" five-piece Voices Co, who made busy work of Sia's The Greatest, seem made for this kind of competition.

The Naked Choir. Photo / TVNZ
The Naked Choir. Photo / TVNZ

That left Voxpop up against the competition's youngest group, a rag-tag bunch of shy church kids from Te Puke, who gamely tackled the Mary Mary classic

Shackles.

The seven-piece Polyphonix have the most to learn — "try not to look at the floor", Hunkin advised them the first time he met them — and the most room to improve. The judges couldn't let them go just yet.

Each of these groups was full of energy and personality, and in the end that could be The Naked Choir's saving grace. While the show itself is doggedly old-fashioned and unadventurous, the talent still shines.