Welcome, arts fans, we have a tremendous tilt for you today. Six singers from the male vocal group Cantus go mano a mano a mano, in a knockdown, drag-out fight for your hearts and dollars.
The competition is called "My Cantus Valentine," and it's a heated one. Each member has thrown his heart, lungs and vocal cords into one solo tour de force after another. Your role, folks, has been to vote your favorite with donations at cantussings.org, thus cutting into the group's COVID-induced deficit and supporting its initiatives in performance and education.
We're in Round 3 now, and it's been a nail-biter. While fans are used to hearing these guys harmonizing, these are solo efforts, each one a slickly produced music video.
Let's bring you up to date. Last weekend the boys surprised us by devoting the opening round to ballads. Jacob Christopher was an immediate standout with his tender take on Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," but fellow tenor Alberto de la Paz responded with Journey's "Open Arms," a tear-jerking lung buster if ever there were one.
"I knew I could do a great rendition of it, and add a little Latin romance," he commented afterward. "I did have to sing it in a lower key than the original, but — shhh, don't tell anyone."
Then two other members decided to quadruple-up their rivals, multi-tracking themselves as one-man quartets, with different costumes to boot.
Alex Nishibun's a cappella version of Ben Folds' "The Luckiest" tugged at the heartstrings while Paul Scholtz channeled the Four Freshmen on "It's a Blue World" — a bold move, since Cantus performed it in concert not so long ago.
When first-round viewer voting ended, the basses had been jettisoned. Chris Foss and Samuel Green were the only Cantusians to accompany themselves on an instrument — Foss on guitar, Green on piano — but voters evidently preferred the karaoke and a cappella treatments better than Foss' original "Axolotl Heart" and Green's warm and swinging version of Duke Ellington's "I Like the Sunrise."
"I started off with something a little more sensitive," Foss said, "but I think my second-round video would have really brought it home for a lot of fans." Indeed, Foss' original '80s boy band sendup, "Quarantine 4 U," is a hoot that will be shown during this Sunday's grand finale.
Green accepted his defeat with grace: "Alberto's 'Open Arms' had me pining for an open air concert venue so I could sway back and forth holding a flaming lighter."
In Round 2, Nishibun and Scholtz danced with the four-part harmonies that brung them. Nishibun picked up the pace on Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" while Scholtz went the opposite route — intimate and heartfelt — on Billy Joel's "And So It Goes."
Meanwhile, Christopher decided to swing it up on a big-band "Almost Like Being in Love," while de la Paz tapped into his Mexican roots with a confidently rendered "Si Nos Dejan" by José Alfredo Jiménez, complete with subtitles. This kid's going to be tough to beat, folks.
While competitors admired Christopher's Dylan cover, some grumbled of pandering. "You know it's hard to beat a Bob Dylan song in Minnesota," Foss said.
"Some people will do anything to win," Scholtz chimed in.
But was it fair that Scholtz and Nishibun cloned themselves?
"I take it as a compliment to us solo singers," de la Paz said. "They feel like they won't stand a chance alone."
Christopher handles production duties on the videos, so the question touched a nerve.
"You want to talk about fair?" he said. "I make these singers look amazing in the editing room. Yeah, I said it. So, if anything, I'm making it harder for myself to win. … Also, I'm not naming names, but I won't resort to making my two adorable sons and charming wife appear in my videos to get more votes."
Sadly, Green won't be present for Sunday's full-group finale due to his mother's death late last month. But he says he'll be there in spirit.
"During this season I've been away, I've become a big fan of Cantus," he said.
Who will emerge as champion on Valentine's Day? It's in your hands, music lovers.
Rob Hubbard is a freelance classical music critic. • email@example.com
My Cantus Valentine
What: Members of Cantus sing solo and together in a fundraising contest.
When: Round 3 voting continues through Sat. with the finale at 3 p.m. Sun.
Where to vote: CantusSings.org