Tonight, the series premiere of Kelly Clarkson’s new singing competition show Duets hit ABC and proved to be very different than anything else on TV. For one, the four judges — Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke, Jennifer Nettles, and John Legend — all have to pitch in and actually help their chosen contestants battle it out on stage, singing, you guessed it, duets for their fellow judges to critique.
The judges also choose not to find contestants through a “cattle call” of thousands, as in American Idol wherein Kelly Clarkson found her own fame. Rather, they have so-called “intimate moments” with entrants and individually parse out who they’ll each vet for the show.
The episode begins with all four judges blaring out “Let Me Entertain You,” beckoning us viewers to tag along for the ride. Okay!
Host Quddus explains that each of the judges — who are appropriately seated far apart since they’ll have individual stakes in the outcome of the competition — will cherry-pick contestants to battle it out on-screen.
As for how the contestants are selected, John Legend puts it like so: “There are seven billion voices out there [in the world and] very few are unique and special, and that’s what we’re trying to find.” Kelly Clarkson also explains, “and I’m looking for those people.” Quddus adds that each judge may only select two amateurs to compete on stage for the competition.
Jennifer Nettles, who’s best known for her work in the country duo Sugarland, says she’s “super-focused on what I feel is a voice that I feel can be diverse, that can sing more than one style.” She finds a young man named Brandon, who’s got a 5-month-old and another on the way. The two blare out “If You Don’t Know Me,” but Jen needs to test the waters in New York.
After a run-through of other possibilities, a young man named J Rome from New Jersey comes in and “[steals] her heart” with “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” She’s got a tough decision ahead of her. Ultimately, Jennifer chooses J Rome over Brandon to co-perform her hit “Tonight.” His soul contrasts with her twang very well, and they leave the judges stunned, earning a standing ovation from Kelly Clarkson. Come to find out, Brandon’s just barely survived a tonsillectomy!
Quddus explains that all of the duets will be ranked by the non-performing judges based on performance and presentation and that throughout the night, each of the showings will be monitored based on those two factors on a one to 50 scale. All the competitors will then be ranked based on those scores.
As for J Rome’s work with Jennifer, Kelly admits she was curious how a voice like his would blend with Jennifer’s, but after the performance, she thinks they “sounded so great.” Robin Thicke, meanwhile, says “that’s how you kick off the season.” John Legend calls him “phenomenal.” Obviously, J Rome starts out strong with a first place ranking based on the judges’ evaluations.
John Legend’s next, and he held his series of auditions in-studio. Ultimately, John lands on a man named Johnny Gray, who he duets with on his own song “Ordinary People.” Johnny offers the song a little soul and gets the judges talking. While John first worried that Johnny went too heavy with the riffs, he scaled it back quite a bit for the song, and Robin said “I’m amazing and I’m impressed,” while Kelly said his performance was “so sexy.” Jennifer added that she “loved it” and thought it was “warm like honey.” Between the two performances so far, Johnny takes second on the scoreboard.
Next, Robin Thicke is seen hitting up a Los Angeles studio where multiple talented artists like Frank Sinatra have been found throughout music history. It comes down to two: a woman named Olivia and a man named Dante, who’s a marine that served in Afghanistan. Dante’s a little bit ahead of Robin on the rhythm and beats, but he’s got the raw talent. He and Olivia Chisholm share chemistry, though, so he lands on her for the duet.
The two team up to bring “Lost Without You” on-stage, and the judges are kind about the soft tune. John tells her she “sounds very sexy” and reminds him of Aaliyah. The rest of the judges echo the positive review, and Olivia ranks third behind the boys.
Kelly Clarkson’s audition process takes place while she is on the road touring, and she narrows it to two — Juliana and Jason — to see in person in San Diego. To throw the two a curveball, she has the two perform in front of her 6,000-person audience during her own show. Juliana kills it with “Georgia,” but Jason Farrol wins the audience; Juliana’s voice just didn’t blend with Kelly’s the way she hoped. Juliana’s understandably crushed by the decision.
Kelly and Jason duet to “Break Your Own Heart.” Jennifer says that their duet “is the kind of stuff we want to see,” and Robin calls Jason “adorable.” John appreciates Jason’s enthusiasm for the program, and he comes in fourth on the rankings.
Up next again is John Legend, who found who he thought “impressed him most live,” a woman named Bridget Carrington, who he duets with on “Tonight (The Best You Ever Had).” Kelly’s left wanting to call her man, while Jennifer’s praising Bridget’s “sophistication.” Bridget comes in fourth on the list. She’s happy to “take that,” though.
For her second contestant, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles settles on her hometown of Douglass, Georgia, where she finds John Glosson, who puts her to tears with “How Great Thou Art.” The two take the stage for “Stay,” sending Kelly Clarkson into tears. John ranks third among the contestants of the night.
Robin Thicke, too, hits familiar territory for his second contestant and auditions people in a Louisiana church. Ultimately, he lands on a gal named Alexis Foster, who shares the stage with him for “Magic.” She takes John’s place for third.
Kelly closes it out with auditions in Nashville, Tennessee. Her chosen pink-haired girl Jordan who she feels has a good blend with her. Jordan’s a superfan of Kelly’s, so she’s happy to share the stage for “Stronger.” The judges are nice, but do not vote Jordan highly on the charts. Both of Kelly’s contestants are left in the bottom two, which she finds “a little suspect.”
All eight have another chance next week to step it up before elimination, but the heat is certainly on!
What did you think of Duets? Is it the new must-see singing competition show of the summer?