But this Thursday it finally went live, and it was clear that in the time since the season's previous episodes were taped, a few things had changed. Sure, host Quddus and celebrity judge Robin Thicke were as smarmy and awkward as ever, but Kelly Clarkson was blonder and sleeker, Jennifer Nettles was pregnant-er, and four of the five remaining contestants had definitely upped their game. (That fifth contestant, Olivia Chisholm, was still terrible. Well, at least the girl is consistent.) I'm not exactly sure why the "amateurs" were, for the most part, a little less amateurish than they had been before. Maybe they'd been practicing since they'd last (dis)graced the "Duets" soundstage, or maybe now that they were competing for the public's votes, instead for the biased judges' unexplainable algorithmic scoring system, they felt newly invigorated. All I know is, for the first time this season, this really seemed like a competition here.
I'm still not loving "Duets," but I wasn't hating it this week. Baby steps...
But course, none of the five contestants performed as superbly as their mentors Kelly, Robin, Jennifer, and John Legend did during the episode-opening performance of George Michael's "Freedom '90." If there was ever a fine example that the judges are "pros" and the contestants are "amateurs," this show-'em-how-it's-done number was definitely it:
Things went downhill from there, of course, as the contestants took on "songs of this millennium"--but at least it wasn't a precipitous plummet, more of a tolerably moderate slope. So below is my recap how everyone fared this week. Enjoy.
Jennifer Nettles & John Glosson - "When You Say You Love Me"
Jennifer and John have always exhibited the smoothest and most seamless vocal blend of all the teams, which is obviously an advantage on a program called, um, "Duets." Was this an exciting performance? Not really. Was it cool, hip, or edgy? No, no, and NO...but I doubt any edgy hipsters are watching this show, anyway. Jennifer's conservative fans probably loved this "syrupy" (John Legend's description) Josh Groban cover, and it did showcase both singers' voices really nicely. If Glosson, unarguably one of the most naturally gifted vocalists on this show, ever landed a record deal, he'd probably do very well recording adult-contemporary material like this. (Side note: Quddus, please don't say stuff like "I soooo wanted you guys to kiss!" to John and Jennifer EVER again. Gross.)
Robin Thicke & Olivia Chisholm - "Need You Now"
Underdog Robin, who is probably the least-known celebrity judge on "Duets," may have had a fighting chance on this show if his other contestant, diva Alexis Foster, had stayed in the game. But his rival coaches quickly voted Alexis off the show, naturally, leaving him with only Olivia and, therefore, with about as much chance of winning "Duets" as I have of pronouncing Quddus's name correctly. Once again, Olivia sucked all the passion of a song and all the energy out of the studio with another lackluster performance. Robin chose so unwisely when he went with Olivia as his partner, especially since with his own whispery voice, he really needed a big belter to complement him. What Robin "needs now" is to figure out some loophole in the "Duets" rules that will allow Alexis to come back as a wild card.
Kelly Clarkson & Jason Farol - "Mercy"
Kelly seems to have some of her mojo back (not that she ever really lost it) with her new look (love the Duffy-inspired bouffant!). And Jason also seemed like a new man this week, much less nervous and intimidated and actually holding his own for once. Did Kelly sing concentric circles around him? Yes, duh, of course she did. She couldn't help it, even when she was playing the Supremes-style backup singer role behind him--she's KELLY CLARKSON, after all. But Jason really did step it up on "Mercy," owning the stage, commanding/demanding attention, and even busting out a few boy-band moves. Jason has been in the bottom two before (including last week, when he almost went home over Kelly's other contestant, Jordan Meredith), but I think now America will fall in love with him and keep him safe--especially if the "Duets" voter base is at all similar to "American Idol's." Jason is a damn cute boy, you know...
John Legend & Bridget Carrington - "Halo"
I sincerely hope that Olivia Chisholm, who claims to want a career like Beyonce's, was watching this performance and taking notes. Bridget may be no Sasha Fierce, but she comes closer than Olivia ever will, because she can actually sang. "Halo" was a great song choice for her, and I think just she might pull off an upset and win this competition instead of a frontrunning member of Team Nettles. Don't count out Bridget just yet. She may be John Legend's saving grace.
Jennifer Nettles & J Rome - "Without You"
J Rome is an undeniably strong soul singer, and an Usher vocal was a smart choice for him. (Kelly dug this performance so much, she threw her shoe at him--which was a compliment, in case you didn't know.) But honestly, I was too distracted by Jennifer's muggy, underbiting facial expressions, dorky-mom wedding-dance moves, and bizarrely unflattering Hammerpants to even pay much attention to J. Jennifer probably secretly embarrassed not only her duet partner, but also her unborn child, who will one day have to cite this spazzy spectacle as his/her first official television appearance. Facepalm.
So, assuming that people are still watching this show, which contestant do you think will capture the public vote, now that the decisions are out of the judges' coldly calculating hands? All I have to say is: America, please make yourself heard, do the right thing...and vote off Olivia Chisholm. K thanks.