Remember that time a suddenly blonde Kelly Clarkson covered “Freedom ’90” and you went out of your mind with elation? Okay, that was last night on ABC’s Duets, and by “you,” I actually mean “me.” Plus, Kelly was actually part of a quartet with her fellow mentors Jennifer Nettles, John Legend, and Robin Thicke. But still, it was a brilliant move on the part of the show’s producers for the first live episode of the season: Reminding reality TV fans that Duets can deliver a weekly dose of the original American Idol is as obvious and easy as a church advertising the second coming of Jesus.
The real challenge for Duets fans, though, is separating the desire to hear their favorite mentor at the mic versus the responsibility of voting for the best amateur singer and trying to make that person’s music dreams a reality. I mean, if Kelly’s duet partner was a blender full of nails, half the song would still be sung by Kelly Freakin’ Clarkson. So what’s the responsible way to cast a ballot?
Whether or not voters get it right, though, I’m happy the power is in America’s hands now, as opposed to the wonky “secret scoring” leaderboard we were subjected to over the first five weeks of the series. And so without further ado, let’s rank how our five remaining singers fared this week — from worst to first.
Olivia Chisholm (with Robin Thicke): Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” | I knew we were in trouble the minute Robin picked a pop-country ballad for his smooth R&B diva. I mean, you’ve got a gal whose obvious career path is to follow in the footsteps of Aaliyah, Ashanti, and Ciara, so why make her walk a mile in somebody else’s cowboy boots at this crucial stage of the competition? And then Olivia pretty much sealed her fate when she said she wanted to prove she’s got the same vocal firepower as her competitors. Talk about the Chihuahua barking at the Doberman from behind a locked fence! Jennifer told Olivia that she looked like a million bucks, John mumbled something about how it was cool to hear her sing country, but only Kelly told the truth: Olivia was pitchy from start to finish. As dapper host Quddus summed it up as he sent Olivia back to the lounge area, “Best of luck!” Grade: C-
John Glosson (with Jennifer Nettles): Josh Groban’s “When You Say You Love Me” | Dude’s vocals are so strong they could probably lift an Oldsmobile off an elderly woman’s toe, but I was glad Mr. Legend called out the song choice as “a little syrupy.” Syrupy like being thrown headlong into a 1,000-gallon vat of Mrs. Butterworth is more accurate. Much like the case with Olivia, I felt like John strayed too far from his genre: Dude brings a little bit of torch and twang to the proceedings: He ought to be eyeing Rascal Flatts’ lunchbox, not Josh Groban’s or Michael Buble’s. And as a result, I feel like he’s likely to find himself in this week’s Bottom 2. Grade: B-
Bridget Carrington (with John Legend): Beyoncé’s “Halo” | Robin was right that Bridget’s vocal performance improved as it went along, and it occurred to me that she’s the type of vocalist who struggles with pitch when she’s not full-on belting a song. Perhaps that’s why “Halo” felt like it was cranked up to full-on “yell mode” for the last three-quarters of the song? Okay, Bridget, you can see my halo, but we don’t need to let everybody on the block know about it. John really needs to help Bridget bring more dynamics and nuance to the stage, or else she’ll Grade: B-
Jason Farol (with Kelly Clarkson): Duffy’s “Mercy” | I’ve been all “you are the weakest link, goodbye!” about Jason for five weeks running, but I’ve got to admit he upped his game this week on “Mercy.” (How awesome was it seeing Kelly push him to use a different part of his voice during the mentoring session?) Yes, Mr. Legend was right that Jason’s dance moves still seem a bit stilted — I haven’t seen pelvic undulations that awkward since the one time I watched Dance Moms — but the kid articulated his lyrics, hit 90 percent of his notes, and didn’t completely fade into the backdrop once Kelly stepped out of the “background singer” position and started hollerating. (Side note: Was it me or was Kelly’s melody line pitched insanely high, and yet she made it look effortless?) Jennifer’s critique that tennage-girl voters make Jason a serious contender seemed a little dismissive, considering her had the night’s second-best vocal, no? Grade: B+
J Rome (with Jennifer Nettles): David Guetta and Usher’s “Without You” | I’ve got to give props to John Legend for his quiet, succinct honesty as a judge: It’s true this was J Rome’s weakest vocal of the season — indeed, the opening verse seemed too low for his comfort zone. That said, it didn’t take long for the season-long front-runner to hit his stride; his riffs on the second verse seemed completelty effortless, and he’s the one contestant whose stage presence and body language never read as “amateur” opposite his “superstar” mentor. When Kelly Clarkson throws a shoe at you, you know you’ve done a damn good job. Grade: A-
What’d you think of Week 6 of Duets? Did you actually vote for any of the contestants? Who’s most likely to get the boot? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!