Duets Recap: New Kid on the Block

meleana brown duetsABC clearly invested good money in developing Duets‘ unimonikered emcee Quddus. Unlike the hostbots of many competing reality-competition series, Quddus convincingly exhibits lifelike qualities such as humor, empathy, and even sarcasm. He’s also programmed for basic math skills and an uncanny ability to process and respond to stimuli taking place in front of him. Yes, reality TV fans, the future is here, and DWTS‘ Robo Brooke Burke might be scheduled for a summer “vacation” at the Pentium plant.

Quddus kicked off Week 2 by trying to explain how the hell this show actually works, something nobody bothered to do at any point during last week’s two-hour premiere. We’ve got eight amateurs, performing duets with their superstar mentors for three straight weeks and getting “secret scores” from their competing mentors; in Episode 3, the Bottom 2 contestants will perform an a capella singoff, and one of ’em will get the boot. And then in Week 6, viewers get to vote, though it’s unclear if judges’ scores will continue to be a factor, or how many people will go home per week. Is it possible ABC is just making up the rules as they go? Quddus isn’t going to that question no matter how many times you ask: His name is not Siri.

Also unclear: What happened to John Legend’s Week 1 contestant Johnny Gray. He had to leave the competition but we didn’t get any details on the hows and whys. Did he break some kind of rule in his ABC contract? Was he overheard backstage calling “Ordinary People” a dreary slice of neo-soul treacle? Is his head on a spike at the Mud Gate? We may never know.

Whatever the case, let’s do a quick assessment of how the eight contestants fared in Week 2, during which they had to cover classic duets. And, lest you start thinking I’m the crankiest recapper alive, let me note that the second half of the telecast was considerably stronger than the first:

Bridget Carrington (with John Legend): “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me” | The judges seemed to think this week’s Aretha Franklin-George Michael ditty was a better fit for Bridget’s voice than her Week 1 number, but I still felt like there was too much quaver and not enough oomph to leave me with any other feeling than “the Queen of Soul would not approve.” I mean, if this was a VH1 Divas Live show, Miss Aretha’s death glare would’ve been the chancla sending hellion child Bridget (and her hideous blue mylar dress) to the naughty corner somewhere backstage. Bonus points to Quddus, though, for joking that the revelation of Bridget’s spot atop the leaderboard was “anticlimactic” — since, as the night’s opening act, she didn’t yet have any competition.

Jordan Meredith (with Kelly Clarkson): “Misery” | Kelly seems like a sweet and very invested mentor. Offering a pep talk to Jordan and teammate Jason Farol, Kelly noted they were probably the least experienced vocalists in the competition, but since they had no control over such matters, they needed to focus on the variables within their grasp. “What we have control over is sounding awesome!” Kelly said, with none of the jadedness you’d expect from a seasoned vet of the music industry and the reality TV business. Unfortunately, though, while having Kelly as a mentor might be a plus, having Kelly as a duet partner is a trickier proposition. Jordan’s got solid chops, but when Kelly came in on the second verse, I was all “OOOH GIRL, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” The Lady Clarkson has such soul and power and grit that Jordan’s big notes seemed strained and a little hollow by comparison. If ole’ Pink Hair can’t find a way to either boost her confidence or differentiate herself/her vocals from Kelly, she isn’t likely to last in the competition till July.

John Glosson (with Jennifer Nettles): “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” | I agreed with Jennifer that John should’ve ended Week 1 atop the leaderboard, but he definitely suffered from a sophomore slump in Week 2. Part of it was song choice: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is peppy R&B, and John comes across as more of a country crooner. That incongrousness became more pronounced thanks to an arrangement that found both singers cranked up to 11 right from the start, and — as Robin and Kelly pointed out — some dance moves from John that seemed unnatural and a little bit cheesy. I momentarily thought my cable box had switched to a telecast of a county fair talent contest on my local cable access channel, but nope this slice of frantic amateurishness was 100 percent Big 4 network ridiculata.

Olivia Chisholm (with Robin Thicke) “Where Is the Love” | I suspect it did not help Olivia’s confidence to take the stage moments after an intro package that showed her repeatedly forgetting her lyrics, getting dressed down by her mentor, and being told she needed to strut the stage like a world-class diva. As a result, her performance was as creaky and limp as an old mattress dragged out to the curb on a rainy recycling night. I kept trying to figure out if Olivia had been saddled with a tricky harmony line or if she was simply off pitch, before eventually settling on Option B. Still, that final high note was a thing of perfect beauty — and showcased the kind of ethereal tone you don’t often hear on a reality singing competition. I say it’s too early to count out this human embodiment of a Bratz Doll.

Meleana Brown (with John Legend): “Endless Love” | I know Johnny Gray ended Week 1 at No. 2 on the leaderboard, but methinks John Legend got himself an upgrade by adding Meleana to his team. This Hawaiian beauty has a very peculiar tone — think Mariah Carey with an adenoid problem — but I mean that in the best possible way. Meleana’s rendition of “Endless Love” had all the power and precision you’d expect from a Big Diva Balladeer, but an interesting character as well. There was no explanation of whether Meleana will have to inherit Johnny’s Week 1 scores, or if she’s just going to have one less score to average into her three-week total, but I guess it fits in with the let’s-not-worry-about-the-pesky-details nature of the whole production.

Jason Farol (with Kelly Clarkson): “Whenever You Call” | Oh how Jason probably wishes Kelly hadn’t pointed out in rehearsals that he’s got a penchant for rocking back and forth when he’s nervous. Cut to half of America, midway through Jason’s performance, unable to focus on anything but the gawky hunk shuffling side to side, like a first grader who’s struggling not to make wee-wee while finishing a desperate presentation of what he did on his summer vacation. Robin was right, though, that Jason’s voice and body language really exploded on the bridge, when he stepped away from his mentor (or as John Legend put it, temporarily cut the umbilical cord). Putting it another way, Jason’s harmonies were really quite sweet, but ultimately passive. He’s got to start performing as if he’s in a competition, not belting into a hairbrush in front of his bathroom mirror, if he doesn’t want to be relegated to Kelly’s handsome shadow of a background vocalist.

J Rome (with Jennifer Nettles): “You’re the One That I Want” | The minute I heard Jennifer’s song choice for J Rome, I assumed she was attempting to sabotage her front-runner in favor of her pet contestant John. But nope, the Sugarland star was just cooking up something so crazy, it actually turned out to be genius. Because while the Grease duet is a slice of pure, plastic-wrapped Velveeta, in Jennifer and J. Rome’s hands, it got placed between two pieces of Wonder Bread, slathered in butter, and grilled to crowd-pleasing perfection. J. Rome winkingly embraced the hokum right down to his borderline comical hip swivel and side-stepping choreography, without ever acting as though he was above it. That’s a tough tightrope to walk, but it helps that the dude really has a magnetic stage presence and doesn’t really ever miss a note, either. (Plus, the half-dozen backup dancers enhanced the “just have fun” mood.) And while the judges were right that “You’re the One That I Want” isn’t a particularly challenging vocal exercise, sometimes it’s nice to have a break from bombast and glory notes, no?

Alexis Foster (with Robin Thicke): “You’re All I Need to Get By” | Note to Robin Thicke: When your contestant tells you she doesn’t feel like she has any stage presence to back up her muscular instrument, try not to put her in a deadly pair of heels, flowy belted shirt, and no frakkin’ skirt! That’s definitely not the look for a shy chick trying to hobble out from behind the piano and catch a groove. Nevertheless, if you looked away from Alexis’ expression of frozen panic — Frozen Panic would be a good name for a punk band, no? Or maybe a line of extreme TV dinners? — and just listened, her vocal was fantastic. I loved the boom and bombast she showed on the line “together we can open any door” and the riffs she threw in toward the end of the number. (Robin, to his credit, sounded incredible, too.) She…she’s all I neeeeeeed…to tune in for Episode 3.

Anyhow, with that said, here’s how the leaderboard looked for Week 2, followed by my own personal ranking for the night:

Judges’ Leaderboard
J Rome

My Rankings
J Rome

What did you think of Week 2 of Duets? Who were your favorites? And do you feel better now that we know there’ll be a public vote starting in Week 6? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. the real wendy says:

    Ummmm… I don’t think anyone watched? But thanks for the recap. I’ll read anything you write!

    • Louis says:

      That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all week!! Thanks. (I actually watched though and love Michael’s recaps.)

  2. noa says:

    “Quddus convincingly exhibits lifelike qualities”. hilarious!

  3. A says:

    I didn’t like it last week when there was new TV on, but now that I’m desperate it seemed pretty good! lol

  4. Faz says:

    Meleana got some love due to the circumstance. But, that wasn’t very good.

  5. sam says:

    Geez, what’s with the brooke burke slam, i think you meant steve jones on x factor.

    why is this show so boring, with such great celebrity singers?

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      Okay, thanks. I was having trouble figuring out why I wasn’t into this show. I love Kelly Clarkson, love Jennifer Nettles, so why wasn’t I enjoying the program more? Well, it’s boring. That’s it! The answer was just that easy. However, Mr. Slezak, I love what you write and your recap was far more interesting than the program itself.

  6. Jeremy T. says:

    I can’t be the only who who noticed that J Rome not only screwed up bad in the first verse (Electriflying, really?) but realized it and completely broke character to the point of briefly hiding his face in his hands, can I? How in God’s name does that not take away from the performance aspect, thus leaving him with the vocals for a song that everyone admits wasn’t challenging?

    Bottom line, he should have been bottom four and not tied for first.

  7. sam says:

    do you realize how difficult it is to sing “you’re the one that i want”? And that was the highlight of the evening. And what exactly happened to Johnny Gray?

  8. anibundel says:

    If Johnny Gray’s head is on a spike at the Mud Gate, do we have Tyrion or Joffrey to thank? Might it be possible that Joffrey has accidentally done something valuable?

    Deep Thoughts.

  9. Sally says:

    I thought Jordan did great! It is pretty difficult to sing with Kelly Clarkson though and not be over shadowed.

    • jen says:

      I agree. Very few female voices can hold a candle to her. Neither of her contestants really stand a chance singing next to her. I’d actually like to hear J Rome or JOhn with her.

  10. gailer says:

    I think Kelly Clarkson is picking the wrong songs for her people.
    Jennifer is a great singer, didn’t know her before.
    Robin is a hmmmm, won’t say.
    I wish Lionel Ritchie was on instead of John. Sorry.

    I like John Glosson the best out of the contestants.
    From what I found online today about the MIA contestant, it sounds like he had skeletons in his closet? He tweeted he didn’t leave for personal reasons.

  11. MA says:

    I watched! I feel almost the same as last week, but I like that the judges gave some good feedback. They actually said helpful things, while taking into account that these singers don’t inherently suck and might know something occasionally. I’m not terribly attached to any of the singers yet, but I do like Kelly’s people, the new girl, and the woman who went last. Mostly I like Kelly, though, and Jennifer Nettles is funny as hell.

  12. ASH1157 says:

    The ONLY reason I will keep watching this show is in anticipation of the delightfully wickedly funny review Michael Slezak will be writing each Friday morning afterwards. Nice job, Michael! Oh, and getting a chance to hear Kelly C. and Jennifer Nettles sing each week is a plus, too. (I also kinda dug Jennifer N’s competitive spirit).

    The tryout process for this show has doomed it to total mediocrity. Asking the judges/artists to pick their own partners?? I’m sure they had very little time or opportunity to do that (they ARE, after all, *superstars* as Quddus kept reminding us). So now we’re stuck with at least 5 or 6 contestants who appear to be afraid of their own shadows most of the time. It’s sorta painful to watch.

  13. kat says:

    I’m enjoying the show, but honestly, to watch the judges sing and not the contestants.

  14. Isabelle says:

    I’m a huge fan of Robin Thicke, watching to nsupport him but Jen and Kelly are favs of mine too. Loved what Jen did with both of her guys and what Robin did with Alexis the most this week. I will be watching next week, its a fun show and the judges are so great together. That duet wiith Kelly and Robin was downright sexy, want more of that!

  15. Scout says:

    I am only taping this to see Jennifer Nettles – who I didn’t even know before last week. And now I just love her. Go Jen go!

    • TheBeach says:

      I only knew Jennifer from Sugarland until a while back when she performed solo on one of those Kennedy Center Honors shows. I don’t remember what she sang but she blew me and the whole audience away…amazing.

  16. umbrella says:

    Meleana auditioned for American Idol 3, but forgot the lyrics

  17. Jean says:

    I’m disappointed that Kelly’s folks seem destined for early exits. I think she made her selections with American Idol Season 1 in mind. Diamonds in the rough, kids with great voices plucked from obscurity, like deer in the headlights, who will grow into seasoned performers by the end, and we’ll all be amazed and inspired by the transformation. The other pros picked more mature and experienced contestants, some of whom are already seasoned performers, and not really amateurs at all, but actual professional musicians.

    So what happens if Kelly’s amateurs get voted off in the first two eliminations? Does that mean Kelly goes too? Is it like DWTS? That’s bad news for the show if that is how it works, because I think they will be gone pretty early on.

    I think she could have picked smarter, but I think she picked emotionally. Jordan is too terrified, but even if she was not, she is too similar to Kelly. And Jason has a great voice, and sounds good with her, but he’s too much of a puppy to be seriously singing sexy duets with Kelly with any credibility. Oh well. Wish they could go back to the drawing board.

    And are the judge’s supposed to vote honestly, or strategically? Are they supposed to vote the highest scores to the best performers, or to try and position their own amateur for the win? So many questions. But I’ll come back, if only to enjoy the Michael Slezak recaps!

  18. noa says:

    is this show live? i’m still not sure..

    • MA says:

      I think I read somewhere that it’s taped until the audience voting and then it’ll be live, but I’m not sure either.

      • noa says:

        it’s just one big mystery at this point. starting to feel like Lost. maybe we’ll know what’s going on by season 6. or if it’s really like Lost- we won’t know even then…

    • Calli says:

      No, it’s not live right now. Quddus joined the EW live chat during the last show. :-)

  19. Cat says:

    I watched it for the first time last night. I could only get through half of it and of that half I only fast forwarded to the performances. I can’t help but compare it to idol. Last season of Idol spoiled me with its awesomeness.

  20. TheBeach says:

    I don’t think Robin Thicke did Olivia any favors with “Where is the Love”. He should have taken the harmony part and let her sing the melody which would have focused on her voice more. He seemed more concerned with showcasing himself than his protege.
    Nobody can sing “Endless Love” and make it anything but a major snooze fest for me.
    I was really skeptical when Jennifer said they were doing the “Grease” number but they really pulled it off and their choreography was great fun.

  21. Sandy says:

    OMG! So much hilarity in Slezak’s opening paragraph on Quddus. Right now, Duets is the only summer show I’m watching, so I’ll definitely keep tuning in. What can I say? I’m not really picky about my TV. I no longer care about the flaws. I love all 4 mentors and their music, and the amateurs all seem likeable enough. Plus, I just flat-out enjoy looking at John Legend. Not only do I dig his voice, but he has the most adorable face ever. I swear I’m not a teen fan girl.

  22. idared says:

    They’re picking these old a$$ songs again. There has got to be some more current duets to sing. I’m so sick of hearing the same freakin’ songs on every singing competition. These stars are much younger and should have a wider knowledge of more current songs. Songs their even younger duet partners can relate to and really get into. Here’s hoping next week is better. Robin is turning out to be somewhat of a diva himself. It’s no wonder Olivia sucked. Nice way to pump up your partner and give her a song that seemed way to high for her. I couldn’t bear to watch after just a few seconds. Robin threw her under the buss. That along with telling her that they had sensual chemistry. Was that supposed to make her want to drop her pants right there and then Robin?? All you probably succeeded in doing was making her feel uncomfortable around you. Instead of working on her song that night she probably worried about what other inappropriate BS you’d have to say to her. Perhaps that’s why you were so hard on her the next day. She didn’t call you from her hotel room begging you to come over. What an A$$hole.

  23. schmed says:

    An I the only one who thin k Jennifer Nettles is channeling Sue Sylvester? The show’s inoffensive enough, and I guess I’ll watch to hear some of the “superstars” (why do they keep saying that?) sing. But honestly, what kind of singer yearns to duet with someone whose musical identity will call all the shots hear. As a self=proclaimed search for “new talent,” the show is ridiculous.

  24. Todd says:

    After watching two out of two weeks, I am torn. Obviously there is some serious talent with the mentors, but the biggest thing I can see, is that this show doesn’t have the length of time to help the contestant’s grow. On Idol these kids have months to prepare for the Hollywood trip and once there, they have so many people helping them out. I love the premise and it’s like getting a free concert every week with these superstars, but it definitely needs some serious tweaking.

  25. Babygate says:

    So far, the only competitor that has really impressed me has been John. He doesn’t have the stage presence that others may have because he’s a big guy and is still trying to figure out what works best for him on stage. Ultimately, this may work against him. But his voice is magnificent. I find it polished and controlled. He can smoothly and effortlessly hit those high notes. J Rome is the 2nd best. I think Jennifer picked the best team. Robin and John were looking for the same thing and ended up picking singers that have the same style and feel and honestly are not too polished or in control of their instruments. And I thought that “You’re All I Need to Get By” was bad, and not in an ironic way. Robin sounded horrible. Those falsettos did not suit him at all. I think John picked Maleana because of looks. She has a great voice but it’s completely untrained. She missed notes and her voice was shaky. I couldn’t believe she got the first spot. Jason is too young. When he broke down crying during Kelly’s concert, she should have realized that he was not ready for this and she should have gone with the other girl. He has a good voice but he’s not bringing it. Jordan is actually very good. But she can’t compete with the powerhouse that Kelly is. With some vocal coaching though, she could be great.

  26. Anna says:

    I agree with your ranking much more than the judges. I really don’t understand the judging system for this show, but at least I don’t seem to be the only one.

  27. REGIS says:

    I think that the problem with this show, and what makes it drag a bit, is that they are singing full songs, instead of 90 second (or less) highlights of the songs, as they do on Idol and The Voice. If you don’t like the song, it feels like forever before it’s over. They should shorten the songs and then the show would fly by.