It’s time to welcome yet another singing competition into the mix: Duets, which is kind of a mash-up between American Idol and The Voice. It pairs a lot of the same elements as both those shows – Amateur singers! Hit songs! Famous people in futuristic chairs! – with its big twist being that said amateurs perform hit songs by and with famous people. Hence the name.
Here’s the quick and dirty lowdown on the premise: music superstars Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke, Jennifer Nettles and John Legend are mentors, judges and performers all rolled into one. (Phew!) They each choose two contestants that they’ll duet with. Each performance is then ranked by the judges’ super-secret votes, combining scores for performance and presentation. Got it? Good.
The show wastes no time – literally about 10 minutes of the two-hour premiere – whizzing through the audition process to quickly reveal the eight amateur contestants who’ll be vying for a recording contract. Then they’re off and running . . . or, uh, singing, that is.
No particular contestant stole the show. In fact, most were dwarfed or even downright star-struck by the seasoned superstar they were paired with, but hopefully that will shift as the weeks roll on. Otherwise, I’ll just find myself rooting for the already famous person rather than the up-and-comers.
While it’s really too early to tell, it seems Team Nettles has a winning combo – at least in terms of judges’ scores – as the Sugarland singer has the highest-ranking team members in the competition so far. Somewhat shockingly, Team Clarkson’s two contestants drag the bottom of the leaderboard. Considering the American Idol winner is the biggest name on the show, could there be some jealousy amongst the judges already? Hmm . . .
Either way, all the contestants will perform again next week, and then eliminations will begin. Here’s how the eight contestants ranked on the leaderboard when all was said and done.
1. Team Nettles hits a home run right out of the gate with her first pick, a guy named J Rome from New Jersey, who once had a botched tonsillectomy that almost destroyed his voice. But clearly his pipes are working just fine now, as he easily slides into the top of the leaderboard after singing an urbanized version of “Tonight” alongside Nettles. Of course, he’s the very first person to perform, so no one else is even on the leaderboard at the time, but he holds the coveted spot all night. Yeah, it’s a little anti-climactic in that sense . . . and he really doesn’t blow the rest of competition away or anything. He just got lucky being the first one out.
2. Team Legend slides into second place with the second performer of the night (see a pattern here?), Johnny Gray, a “linebacker” who profusely sweats his way through “Ordinary People” with Legend. Despite the lack of glandular control, Clarkson calls him “sexy” and Nettles says he’s “warm like honey.” Mmm? Meanwhile, during the 30-second audition phase, his own mentor harps on him riffing too much and sounding “a little thin.” But he performs second, so second place is his and his alone.
3. Gospel-tinged Alexis Foster is the first to represent Team Thicke (which consists of two women, natch), singing “Magic” – which is anything but, despite Thicke’s best effort. While Foster’s voice is strong, her stage presence is stiff, and that’s being kind. Maybe it’s because she’s never worn six-inch heels and a lung-crushing dress before? If that’s the case, I forgive her for her awkward stance. But if she comes out next week in flats and a muumuu and still looks lost, she better not rank as high.
4. Ah, the “angelic” John Glosson, Nettles’ second pick, from her hometown in Georgia. He makes both his duet partner Nettles and observing judge Clarkson cry with his smooth, pitch-perfect rendition of Sugarland’s “Stay.” If they polish up his somewhat frumpy appearance, this kid could go far.
5. During Olivia Chisholm‘s brief audition with mentor Thicke, I keep having flashbacks to Growing Pains episodes, on which his dad Alan Thicke starred. It creeps me out, ’cause I think Robin’s a cutie, but it just feels wrong when Mr. Seaver’s face flashes before my eyes. Poor Olivia for having to deal with these conflicting feelings on a nightly basis – assuming she’s old enough to remember the Eighties sitcom. Anyway, reeling it back in . . . she really holds it together while singing “Lost Without You” into Robin’s big blue eyes. She deserves fifth place just for having self-control.
6. Team Legend’s second entry – 34-year-old Bridget Carrington – is a much better performer and duet partner than the sweaty linebacker, yet she winds up near the bottom after singing “Tonight (Best You Ever Had).” Why? Who knows, since all that’s involved so far is the super-secret judges’ scores. And with insightful comments like Thicke saying the sensual ballad makes him want to go “poppin'” at a club, we’ll probably never know why.
7. In the most disappointing scoring of the night, Clarkson and her pierced, pink-haired protégé (and superfan) Jordan Meredith scrape the bottom of the barrel with the Idol alum’s recent No. 1 hit “Stronger.” The most energetic and catchiest song of the night would have surely been the runaway hit had viewers been allowed to vote. Maybe Kelly pulled it out of her back pocket a little too soon?
8. Coming in dead last is the other member of Team Clarkson, Jason Farol, prompting Kelly to claim the other judges are conspiring against her. Could be! So far there’s no Adam Levine-Christina Aguilera-like beef a la The Voice, but it’s still early yet! While “Breaking Your Own Heart” certainly wasn’t the strongest duet of the night, I again think it would have scored higher with voters just because Clarkson’s involved. That said, both her team picks were skittish, need-time-to-come-out-of-their-shell types, which could either be disastrous or a stroke of genius. Only time will tell.