Review: Duets Four-Star Premiere

Although some of the show’s details were as well-guarded as Fort Knox (uh, insanely complicated judging system, I’m looking at you), ABC has been hyping its new singing competition “Duets” for weeks. By combining the superstar power of Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles (of Sugarland) and Robin Thicke, ABC was attempting to create the musical equivalent of Captain Planet’s Planeteers. With each superstar wearing their unique “ring,” they have the potential to combine to form a musical super force, evidenced by the show’s opening number of “Let Me Entertain You.” Clarkson brings a powerhouse voice and a uniquely unaffected charm, while Robin Thicke is the perfect combination of smug and sexy. Jennifer Nettles seems like the ideal next-door neighbor with her twangy drawl, but she’s a force to be reckoned with on stage, and John Legend mellows out the panel with his cool charm and smooth vocals.

The show quickly launched into the live music, focusing only a bit of time on the audition process, which seemed to be random and at the superstars’ discretion. Team Jennifer hit the stage first and although we may have snarked a bit over her partner J. Rome’s cheesy photo on ABC’s website, the New Jersey native proves to be a vocal powerhouse, shining alongside Nettles on the Sugarland song “Tonight.” The audience and the judges love it (a common theme of the evening) and the show is off with a bang. We’re only one performance in and I’m already convinced that ABC picked the perfect ambassador to make country music shine on this show with Jennifer Nettles.

The smooth stylings of the Johns-squared were up next with John Legend and his amateur partner Johnny Gray taking on Legend’s “Ordinary People.” It’s cool and confident, and Kelly finds him sexy (another common theme of the evening). Robin Thicke and his partner, that unfortunate hairdo…erm, Olivia Chisholm, continue the smooth and sexy theme with “Lost Without You,” and it’s okay enough, but a bit boring.

Kelly Clarkson and the adorably emotional Jason Farol take the stage next, after an awesome audition that involved performing at a sold-out Clarkson concert in San Diego, to perform “Breaking Your Own Heart.” With a theme of greatest hits, I can’t help but wonder why Kelly and this Jason didn’t tackle “Don’t You Wanna Stay” instead. Perhaps he felt funny rocking Aldean’s typical tight pants and over-sized cowboy hat? Farol is clearly nervous but his voice blends well with Clarkson, who seems to serve as more a backup singer than duet partner. While we admire her restraint, we couldn’t help but miss her trademark wail. Farol hops into fourth place.

Round 2 begins with John Legend choosing Bridget Carrington, and I’m personally relieved that he didn’t choose the Shirley Temple lookalike who loves Farmville and pandas. Although I’d have killed for a duet of “On the Good Ship Lollipop” after that awkward audition, the pair choose “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” and it’s one of the finer vocal moments of the evening. It makes the judges all want to make out…and I’m uncomfortable.

Team Jennifer is up next, and Nettles finds her endearing bespectacled teddy bear of a duet partner, John Glosson, in her own backyard, pointing out that he sings at her “Nanny’s” church. Although the prospect of “Stay” as a duet made me nervous initially, those fears were immediately calmed when the duo began singing. Amen, praise Jesus, THIS is the performance I was waiting for. The two take it to church, Clarkson cries and calls Glosson an angel, and America gasps in shock as he only pulls a score strong enough for third place.

Hoping Jennifer’s holy inspiration will rub off, Robin and his Brandon Walsh-do find their next partner, Alexis Foster, in a gospel church. Frankly, I hate everything about his performance of “Magic” and have no idea how the heck it knocks Glosson out of 3rd place. Maybe someone should remind the judges that this isn’t golf and low scores are not a good thing.

Once again, Team Kelly closes the round, and although the show doesn’t flat out say it, it’s clear that they’re using her star power to keep the show afloat. Compare the length of her audition segments to anyone else’s and you’ll see what I mean. Clarkson chooses super fan, Jordan Meredith, with her unfortunate hair and killer voice, as her duet partner. I can’t help but wonder if she was trying to “pull a Reba” and take a fan under her proverbial wing. (We all know how well that Reba-relationship worked out for Clarkson…) The duet livens up the show and although the task is a lofty one, Jordan manages to hold her own alongside Kelly. Yet, she somehow winds up in 7th place, just ahead of teammate Jason Farol. Kelly is visibly annoyed with the results, and I can’t help but wonder if the other judges may have had it out for the original American Idol.

Pimping the show out as the only singing competition where the judges actually compete was accurate, but I can’t help but wonder how much competition was on the stage and how much was occurring as they keyed in their mysterious scores on their fancy shmancy judging tablets of doom. The judging system definitely needs tweaking (I vote Dancing-With-the-Stars-esque paddles) and more well-known songs to increase the appeal (No more Robin Thicke songs, please), but despite the kinks in the premiere episode, I can’t wait to tune in again next week.

And although I previously had my money on Clarkson taking the whole thing, Team Jennifer is clearly the dark horse here.

Final standings were: 1) J Rome; 2) Johnny Gray; 3) Alexis Foster; 4) John Glosson; 5) Olivia Chisholm; 6) Bridget Carrington; 7) Jordan Meredith; 8) Jason Farol