'Duets' Premiere Recap: Superstars Bring New Spin on the Singing Competition
'Duets' Premiere Recap: Superstars Bring New Spin on the Singing Competition
Jenn Lee
Jenn Lee
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
It's time for the premiere of the newest singing competition to join the ranks of American Idol and The Voice! How will it fair? Will its new format spark some interest despite viewer fatigue? According to host Quddus, we have nine weeks to decide. But with two hours to fill and eight duets (two each for Superstars John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Nettles and Robin Thicke), there's not much time, so let's get to it!

Before we get to the selection process of the eight amateurs and their on stage duets, a quick note about Duets scoring process. After each performance, the other three Superstars will grade the duet on a scale from 1 to 100 based on performance and presentation using their nifty Duets tablets. These secret scores will instantly be tallied and place the partner on the Duets official chart. It is this chart number that will determine their fate on the show, but Quddus assures us no one is going home until next week, so we can breathe easy tonight (which makes sense, seeing as we don't even know the contestants yet). On to the Duets!

Jennifer's First Duet: "Tonight" with J Rome
Searching from Vegas to New York, Jennifer finally settled on two guys, Brandon and J Rome. Though Brandon was impressive, it was pretty clear her pick was going to be J Rome, who "strolled in and stole my heart." The duo come out to sing her song "Tonight," and Jennifer's big, resounding voice complements J Rome's crystal-clear, soaring notes surprisingly well. When the two hold out that long "always" note together, it's pretty captivating.

The judges have nothing but positive feedback (Robin jokingly adds "I don't like you already") and J Rome is obviously placed at the top of the chart when the scores are tallied. Pretty good for a guy who just had his tonsils taken out.

John's First Duet: "Ordinary People" with Johnny Gray
While Jennifer was looking for soul and emotion, John is looking for someone who can "hit a note cleanly, purely and beautifully" (the way that he can). Johnny Gray has a decent in-person audition, but he risked too much in his runs. Still, John gives him a callback and when Johnny's told to "sing it as straight as possible," John can hear his pure voice and is won over.

The two give a good rendition of the Grammy-winner's popular single, but I worry Johnny sounds almost too much like John. In a way this can be a good thing, but it also doesn't provide the richness a more diverse pair would have. He's also sweating a lot on stage, which host Quddus helps him out with after the song is over. Robin praises Johnny's emotional connection to the song and Jennifer calls his low end "warm like honey, super-smooth." He's placed #2 on the chart, which he's happy to take.

Robin's First Duet: "Lost Without U" with Olivia Chisholm
Like Jennifer's first audition round, Robin narrows his search down to two hopefuls. Dante has raw talent but his rhythm doesn't jive with Robin's, so Olivia, a bright-eyed, reserved and clearly talented amateur, is given the coveted place next to Robin.

Olivia is very good on stage and the two offer a very suave, smooth duet together that shows off Robin's high range. But it's at this point that I'm really feeling the lack of emotional attachment with these contestants, as we know virtually nothing about Olivia, making it harder to connect with her performance.

John gives Olivia the compliment of comparing her to Aaliyah, but says she could get into the performance more. Kelly humbly says, "I'd give my left leg to look like you," while praising her "sexy and hot" voice. Clearly this performance upped the sexiness, but it's still placed at #3 (seems like there's a trend here - when will a duet trump one or more of those before it?)

Kelly's First Duet: "Breaking Your Own Heart" with Jason Farol
With Kelly's busy touring schedule, she has to fit in auditions on the road. After meeting Juliana and Jason, she likes them both so she decides to give them a surprise test: singing with her on stage in front of 60,000 people. Juliana rises to the challenge, but sings a bit "through her nose," while Kelly sings "through her gut." Jason does well, but breaks down at the end from being overcome with emotion. Kelly tells Jason there's something "super, super special" about him that reminds him of her and the kid breaks down in tears again.

Perhaps it's the slow song choice, but Kelly's voice seems to be overpowering Jason's on the Duets stage and John's facial expression seems to be echoing my sentiments about this lackluster performance. Still, the judges manage to keep the feedback positive by calling Jason "adorable" (Robin) and commending his love of being here (John). When Jason's position is revealed to be #4, the crowd gives a collective aww, indicating likability trumps Superstars and their scoring tablets.

John's Second Duet: "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)" with Bridget Carrington
This time around, John's auditions show us three different female singers: a Harvard student who wants to study pandas, a girl who's so nervous she's on the brink of hyperventilating with fandom, and Bridget, who seems calm and collected and wins John's ultimate vote.

Bridget does well on stage, holding her own even when John gets up from the piano and starts staring deeply into her eyes as they belt out some romantic lyrics to one another. Robin likes their obvious chemistry and Jennifer calls it a "classy performance with such sophistication." And surprise! Bridget's #4 on the chart, edging out Kelly's partner Jason.

Jennifer's Second Duet: "Stay" with John Glosson
It seems Jennifer can't find exactly who she's looking for, so she decides to head home. Returning to her roots in Georgia, she discovers John, who makes her cry when he sings "How Great Thou Art." Jennifer has no doubts about bringing John on as her second partner.

John has a wonderfully clear voice and a fairly high range, but the best part of his duet with Jennifer is how they are both so clearly emotionally invested in the lyrics and performance. I'm not sure if I like their voices together as much as I liked Jennifer and J Rome's, but it's still a powerful performance. Kelly seems to agree, as she's crying and calls John "an angel." John (the Superstar) calls his voice "beautiful" and "crystal clear." It's time for the results: John has moved to #3! As the sixth singer to perform, that's pretty good.

Robin's Second Duet: "Magic" with Alexis Foster
Robin decides he wants a gospel singer for his second partner because he believes they sing with most passion and soul. In a decision between Alexis with the angelic tone and Jasmine with the strong voice with a sweet subtleness that can match Robin's, we're given the first possible surprise of the night when Quddus reveals Robin's performance is with Alexis.

Alexis manages to bring an impressive attitude to go along with her voice, but to me her movements seem a bit stiff, which tells me she's not 100% comfortable on stage yet. Or maybe it's those sky-high heels. Either way, I feel like she could have a bigger stage presence and I don't find anything distinctly compelling about her voice in this performance. It's hard to really decipher the judges' always supportive feedback, but when she moves to #3 on the chart, I'm honestly surprised. Was that performance really better than Jennifer and John's?

Kelly's Second Duet: "Stronger" with Jordan Meredith
Kelly is all about the vocal chemistry and the blend when it comes to finding her partner, so she asks her last two hopefuls to perform with her at a café in Nashville. Ashley seems more experienced and comfortable in front of a crowd, but uber-Kelly Clarkson fan Jordan has an awesome tone that can't be taught, so she wins the spot, bringing her to tears a second time.

As soon as Jordan starts off Kelly's current hit single, I can hear what Kelly means about her tone. Jordan also seems much more confident (there are no tears here). The two sing simultaneously for a good portion of the song, showing they can blend and harmonize well. I like that their voices aren't identical (looking at you, Johnny), but still have a similar powerhouse sound. John says he sometimes couldn't tell the two apart (really?), which he offers as a great compliment, and Jennifer is impressed Jordan held her own in that difficult song. Robin, who seems like he's trying to be the funny, laid-back, bromance-starting judge just says "the whole stage is bubbling with good times right now!" In another surprise, Jordan is only placed at #7 on the chart, which Kelly calls out as "a little suspect" while she eyes her fellow Superstars.

Here's a summary of the Duets chart at the end of the night:

1. J Rome (Jennifer)
2. Johnny Gray (John)
3. Alexis Foster (Robin)
4. John Glosson (Jennifer)
5. Olivia Chisholm (Robin)
6. Bridget Carrington (John)
7. Jordan Meredith (Kelly)
8. Jason Fasol (Kelly)

After seeing the chart, I'm inclined to agree with Kelly - something seems off. What do you all think? Do you think the other Superstars could be threatened by Kelly and purposefully grading her duets partners lower? Or do you agree with the night's final chart? Sound off below and share your thoughts on Duets overall.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

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