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Meet the ‘Duets’ Superstars: Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke, John Legend and Jennifer Nettles Take on ABC’s New Show

Hitmakers will coach unknowns – and perform with them each week – in a quest to find the next great singer

ABC is making its entrance into the reality singing competition market with Duets, a showdown that pairs "superstars" Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Nettles, John Legend and Robin Thicke with eight "amateurs" in a competition to find the best unknown singer. Part American Idol, part The Voice and part Dancing With the Stars, the show finds each superstar mentoring two amateurs and performing with them every week on a quest to be the last amateur singer standing and recipient of a Hollywood Records recording contract. 

By Nicole Pajer


ABC/Craig Sjodin

How It Works

Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Nettles, John Legend and Robin Thicke have each handpicked their amateurs from auditions that the superstars set up after browsing YouTube videos or having friends and family refer contenders. The superstars will work with these unknowns to select songs, coordinate vocal arrangements and stage presentation and, ultimately, perform live on each Duets episode. For the show's first five pretaped episodes, the eliminations will be decided by the judges. After one of the superstars sings with their partner, the three superstars who did not perform will rank the performance on a scale of 0 – 50, taking into account both the amateur's performance and presentation.

At the end of the episode, the two lowest ranked amateurs will take the microphone for an a capella showdown. The judges will vote and the amateur with the lowest score will be immediately sent home. Starting with the sixth episode, which airs on June 28th, the shows will run live and voting will be open to America. The judges will continue to provide their feedback and rankings, but the public will decide which amateurs leave and which continue on.

kelly clarkson

ABC/Bob D'Amico

Kelly Clarkson (Superstar)

Who She Is: Most well-known as the first American Idol, Clarkson has gone on to release five albums, sell 20 million records worldwide and win two Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards, two MTV Music Awards and 11 Billboard Music Awards in her career thus far.

Reality Show Cred: In addition to Idol, Clarkson placed second in the 2003 World Idol competition, and has appeared on both X Factor and Canadian Idol. Most recently, she served as an advisor to Blake Shelton's team on season two of The Voice.

"There Wasn't a Cattle Call": "I was at an award show actually singing a duet and some of the producers came up to me and said, 'We have this idea about doing a whole collaboration show.' At first I was like, "I've already done this" – but then they explained it more and told me that I got to pick my own contestants, anybody I wanted. There wasn't a cattle call for us at any one table."

Virtual Insanity: "We held several different auditions while I was on tour, but the main thing I really wanted everybody to do was submit videos online. I didn't have any money when I auditioned for Idol; they happened to be in Dallas for my audition and if it would have been anywhere else, I wouldn't have had any money to do that. I wanted to make sure everybody had a chance to audition, so I had people submit videos and I watched a hell of a lot of them."

Control Freak: "We found all our own people our own way. It put a lot of the control in our hands and I love that. I also love singing harmony, so they won me over on the aspect of being able to collaborate. It sounds cheesy, but I didn't have anybody helping me. I love that I can do this for these two kids that I picked."

Words to Live By: "How I looked at it on my show, [and on] every show is, somebody might be watching, like a manager or a label head, and [to my amateurs] I'm like , 'We need to make you shine how you want to shine, so if you don't make it, somebody will come calling from that.'"

robin thicke

ABC/Bob D'Amico

Robin Thicke (Superstar)

Who He Is: The R&B crooner has released five solo records, and has written and produced songs on over 20 gold and platinum albums for acts including Michael Jackson, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Pink and Christina Aguilera. Thicke is also famously the son of Growing Pains' Alan Thicke.

Reality Show Cred: Thicke served as a mentor to Adam Levine's team on the second season of The Voice

The Invite: "The producers called me and said, 'Do you want to be on the show and sing in front of millions of people every week?' and I said, 'Sure!' As soon as I knew they had Lionel [Richie] on the show, that was legitimate enough for me. When we lost Lionel, I got nervous, but we got John [Legend], who is incredible and so well respected, so we ended up with as good as you can possibly get."

The Underdog Advantage: "[To pick my singers], I looked at about 30 YouTube videos and picked a few people and then narrowed it down to two. I didn't get a line of a thousand people. I didn't even get a hundred. I got 30. I picked them because they had the potential, but confidence and what you do in rehearsal and what you do when the cameras start rolling are two different moments. We're the underdog wolf pack around here. I'm probably the least known, but we're working our way up. I like the underdog position; that's where I've always been."

Words to Live By: "It took me 15 years before I had a hit, so I told [my contestants], 'You can't take anything that happens on this show too seriously. This show is just a stepping stone. It's not the end of your career; it's just the beginning.'"

john legend

ABC/Craig Sjodin

John Legend (Superstar)

Who He Is: R&B singer-songwriter and piano player Legend has released four solo albums and a 2010 collaboration with the Roots, Wake Up!, scoring nine Grammy awards along the way.

Reality Show Cred: None, but Legend has experience nurturing new talent with his label, Homeschool Records, a joint venture with Atlantic. His first signing was "American Boy" singer Estelle.

Lucky Call: "[Lionel] Richie was supposed to do it, and then he wasn't able to, and they called me. I got a call from my manager saying, 'Sit down because we've got a lot to talk about.' We decided pretty much right then that we thought that it was a good idea to do it. And here we are. I'm happy to be on the show. I'm having a lot of fun."

One Direction: "We looked at YouTube videos [to pick my singer]. We did an open call audition for my second partner. Then we did a call back where we dueted with them, and a more extensive audition to see if we could really work together. Part of it was me seeing how quickly they could learn something if I taught them, and how responsive they are to musical direction. This is a high-pressure environment. I want them to be able to operate in it."

Words to Live By: "It's going to be a great experience regardless of who wins, but this would be a taking off point for [my contestants] to have a career in music, regardless if they win or not."

jennifer nettles

ABC/Bob D'Amico

Jennifer Nettles (Superstar)

Who She Is: As half of country duo Sugarland, Nettles has topped the charts and won multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM awards. In 2006, Nettles teamed up with Bon Jovi on the band's crossover hit, "Who Says You Can't Go Home."

Reality Show Cred: None.

Singing Competition Convert: "A couple of the producers approached me after the CMA Awards last year and said, 'Hey, we're going to be doing this new show. It's a music reality show competition,' and gave me the premise. At first I was hesitant. When I came through, I came up in a van, touring with five smelly guys up and down the Eastern seaboard, towing my own gear, playing the smoky bars, doing that whole scene – and so I was always a bit snooty, honestly, about television shows of this nature being an in route for someone to come into the major leagues of the industry.

The thing that attracted me the most is that the concept felt different. To be able to jump in the trenches with these contestants and perform with them and carry some of the weight of that responsibility, what a great opportunity."

Hometown Pride: "I found one [of my contestants] on YouTube and another through my own networking. He's from my hometown, he sings at my grandmother's church, he was in the same statewide performing arts troop that I was in. My mother said, 'You should really hear this guy. He sings at your nanny's church. He's really good.'"

Words to Live By: "I am not only interested in my contestants winning this, but I'm most interested in introducing America to two of the biggest new vocal talents that are out there right now. I really feel that strongly about them and their abilities and their capabilities of what they can do."


ABC/Craig Sjodin

Quddus (Host)

Who He Is: Benjamin "Quddus" Philippe is most famous for his tenure hosting MTV's Total Request Live, from 2001-2006. Since then, Quddus has gone on to serve as a correspondent on Access Hollywood, act on CW's Girlfriends, and host Nickelodeon's Dance On Sunset. He has also worked in A&R at My Space Records. 

Gut Instinct: "I got a call one day from my manager, and he said the executives at ABC wanted to meet with me about the show. Right away, I knew that this was a special project. As soon as they explained to me the concept and the people involved I said yes."

Sizing Up the Superstars: "Each member of the superstar collective brings something completely different to the table. John Legend is like this earnest, almost God-like voice. He's like our musical Morgan Freeman. Kelly Clarkson is just like you think she is. She's so sweet, so bubbly and really cool. She's been there. She has a sensitivity for what the contestants are going through that's not to be understated. Robin Thicke is our wildcard. That boy is hilarious. He will say anything. He will do anything and it's natural. That's the way he is. He's technically an R&B star, but he's a rock star. He's already said some things where we're like, 'Huh?' America is going to really all in love with him. Jennifer Nettles is what rounds it out for me. She is so amazing – always with really thoughtful things to say. She's very funny at times and very in the moment."

Dream Come True: "As a person who has always been a part of music and facilitated music, it's just an honor to be a part of a collective of really amazing people and artists and a concept that really works."


ABC/Craig Sjodin

Robert Deaton (Executive Producer)

Who He Is: Deaton has produced over 500 music videos for acts ranging from Justin Bieber and Kid Rock to country superstars Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts and Faith Hill. He is also the standing executive producer of the annual CMA Awards and CMA Music Festival. 

Hard Sell: Last fall, ABC executives asked Deaton to help collaborate with ABC Entertainments' Mark Bracco and John Saade on creating a fresh concept for a reality singing competition. After ABC was able to nail down the four superstars, Deaton was convinced to climb on board and tackle his first competition show and attempt to "present the superstars and contestants in their best light."

Sizing Up the Superstars: "I have to be a different producer for each artist that I work with. I have to get into the headspace of where they are: John is really smart and brilliant and his music ability is uncanny. Jennifer is the powerhouse singer, but also intense and ready to get to work. Kelly is the girl-next-door rock star. She is the definitive female pop star of this generation. Robin is always changing. Since his dad was in television, he understands what television is – the game and the drama of it, and he understands what is good and bad TV. From minute to minute you never know what is going to happen with Robin."


ABC/Craig Sjodin

John Beasley (Musical Director/Band Leader)

Who He Is: Beasley is known for his extensive background arranging for music competition shows. He was the Associate Musical Director and Lead Arranger for several seasons of American Idol and served as Musical Director for Pussycat Dolls Presents, The Search for the Next Doll. He also arranged music for America's Got Talent and Singing Bee.

Who You Know: Through his reality show background and referral from Rickey Minor (Music Director/Band Leader, Tonight Show Band), he was hired on as the arranger for Duets.

The Gig: Beasley will work closely with the superstars, amateurs and Duets band in coming up with original content and song arrangements for the show’s weekly performances.

The Duets Difference:"Musically, Duets is definitely a step up [from my past shows] because you ve got really great professional artists singing on every song and they are really easy to rehearse with. They come to me with ideas, whereas, on the other shows I'd have to pull it out of them. On the other shows we d have to arrange around what we thought could happen because it was live. On this show, you can really go for it."