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Fox's 'Duets' Is Music To Our Ears

NY Daily News (US)

31 August 2006

Contributed by Sue G

The two-hour premiere of "Celebrity Duets," broadcast live Tuesday night on Fox, is being repeated tonight at 8 in the show's regular time slot. It's the third reality competition series this year from "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell, who already in 2006 has inflicted on us his "American Inventor" and "America's Got Talent."

Apparently, though, the third time's the charm. "Celebrity Duets" has all the right ingredients - good premise, likable host, well-selected talent and judges - and should get even more enjoyable quickly as participants and judges find their rhythms and sea legs.

Like VH1's "But Can They Sing?," the show's concept is simple: Gather a bunch of celebrities not known for singing skills and have them compete to hear how good they are.

The difference with "Celebrity Duets," and what makes it different enough from "Idol" to work, is that these celebrities aren't asked to sing solo. They're paired with actual recording artists - a concept that actually makes things interesting.

Host Wayne Brady, who sings better than most of the contestants, is here just to think quickly and act nicely, which fits his resume perfectly. And the panel of judges is a very good fit. David Foster, who always speaks last and most cogently and candidly, is the Cowell of the group. Marie Osmond is a less wacky Paula Abdul, but has a lot more to say. And Little Richard, the wild card, is wild indeed. More on that later.

The premiere episode's "real" singers - Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Michael Bolton, Randy Travis, James Ingram, Lee Ann Womack, Peter Frampton and Michelle Williams - were paired randomly with contestants, who sang duets with two different performers per show.

Former "Talk Soup" host Hal Sparks hit the soul gold mine, drawing both Robinson and Knight. Cheech Marin may have had the toughest draw, straining to fit his vocal style with Frampton and then Travis.

Lucy Lawless, former "Xena: Warrior Princess" and current "Battlestar Galactica" Cylon, drew Bolton and Robinson, and did really nicely on the latter. Jai Rodriguez, the culture vulture on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," impressed the judges most of all on opening night.

Sparks drew the funniest criticism of the night when Marie Osmond, of all people, complained that his performance was "just a little bit white." Little Richard, meanwhile, got off the best reaction of all. After hearing Lawless' soft, sexy, Smokey singing (or singing to Smokey), Richard told her, "It made my big toe shoot up in my boot."

Add my similar review, and "Celebrity Duets" gets two toes up.