Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Celebrity Duets - Last Of The Summer Shows

Let me just state right off the bat that I'm not the best judge of singing ability at the moment. Actually I'm not the best judge of singing ability at the best of times but this cold that I'm currently suffering with has really done a number on my hearing in both ears, with the left ear totally stuffed up and ringing. So you should probably take my opinion of the singers on Celebrity Duets with a grain of salt. What you shouldn't take as a part of a sodium free diet is my assertion that this is a fun little show with people who really are able to sing, and for the most part at a pretty high level of competency.

The premise is simple enough. Eight celebrities best known for work in other fields who are less well known for their abilities as singers. The whole thing sounds like Dancing With The Stars there are a couple of significant differences. The biggest of these of course is that the stars on Dancing With The Stars have comparatively little experience with ballroom dancing. On Celebrity Duets all of the celebrities are singers with more than a little experience. Even Cheech Marin has done some singing although most of his musical experience has been in character during his animation work rather than in his own voice. A second difference is that while the stars on Dancing With The Stars work with the same partner during the entire series and learn various styles of dance with them, the celebrities on Celebrity Duets change singing partners every episode and the professional singers change every week. Also, unlike Dancing With The Stars the celebrities on this show are competing for $100,000 for their favourite charities.

So how did the celebrities do? Well on the whole not top badly at all. Lucy Lawless started the evening off, teamed with Michael Bolton to sing Bolton's Time, Love, and Tenderness and I thought she did quite well, with her strong voice working quite well with Bolton. The judges - Marie Osmond, Little Richard, and David Foster - mostly liked it although Little Richard wasn't too sure. Then again, as the evening progressed I wasn't entirely sure about Little Richard - he seemed to talk more and say less as the night progressed. Next up was Alfonso Ribiero. Although best known as Carlton on Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and the "Carlton dance" he is in fact an experienced dancer (who worked with Little Richard during one of his tours) and appeared on Broadway. Ribiero teamed with Michelle Williams from Destiny's child to sing I Knew You Were Waiting For Me and suddenly the bar went way up for the people to come. Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson was the third performer, singing Somewhere Out There with James Ingram. To me she seemed to have a "little girl's voice" and didn't really work well alongside Ingram. Cheech Marin was next, singing Baby I Love You Way alongside Peter Frampton. It wasn't great in part because I don't think Cheech was singing in his normal range and was really trying to match Frampton. The judges were not happy with it. Lea Thompson was teamed with country singer Randy Travis to do Travis's hit Forever and Ever Amen. It sounded to me as though Thompson was limited by trying to sing country as shown when her voice slipped into a bit of a bluesy style before Travis came on stage. It was something that Marie noted. Next up was what was the hit of the night. Jai Rodriguez thoroughly connected with Gladys Knight and the whole idea of duet singing, probably not surprising since he did play Angel in Rent on Broadway. The performance earned a standing ovation from the audience and the statement that Jai has set the bar for the competition. It's not a bar that the next competitor, professional wrestler Chris Jericho comes anywhere close to reaching. Part of it is choice of song and partner. He's teamed with country singer Lee Ann Womack for Mendicino County Line and it's immediately clear that soft and slow isn't Jericho's style of singing. He does badly with the song. The final celebrity to sing was actor and comedian Hal Sparks who had to sing Track Of My Tears with Smokey Robinson, a song which initially forces him into a falsetto that is not his strong point and always manages to keep him a bit higher than what his normal range probably is.

Tuesday night's episode was a two hour show, at the end of which the judges would eliminate one singer. The first duet in the second hour featured Lea Thompson and Michael Bolton and it was a much better fit for her style of singing. They did the Sinatra standard That's Life and it really gave Lea a chance to show off the jazz quality of her voice. Little Richard doesn't like it but both Osmond and Foster do. Carly Patterson also finds that her new partner sings in a style she's more comfortable with. She's singing with Lee Ann Womack. It's a nice performance and David Foster tells Patterson that if he were producing her, this is the type of music he'd have her doing. Next up were Alfonso Ribiero and James Ingram doing I'm Going To Be There. David Foster thinks that Alfonso was a bit out of tune but the other two judges loved it. Chris Jericho was teamed with Peter Frampton on Signed, Sealed, Delivered and if nothing else it really showed off just how much singing with Lee Ann Womack had restricted his singing style although at times it was hard to tell when Frampton was singing and when Jericho was. Next up was Lucy Lawless singing with Lucy Lawless. She looked gorgeous (not hard of course) but quite frankly the song wasn't exactly suited to her and she didn't deliver a great performance. Hal Sparks was teamed with Gladys Knight and the two of them did I Heard I Through The Grapevine. It was an interesting performance and Sparks voice seemed to be where it should be (although I swear he often sounded higher than Gladys). Marie summed up his performance as "a little bit white." Cheech Marin followed, teamed with Randy Travis on Pickin' Up Bones. It was definitely a song and style that was better suited to his voice which is closer to a baritone than a tenor but from what I've seen doesn't appear to have an extensive range. Foster told Cheech that while he didn't think he'd produce Cheech and didn't think Cheech would win the competition, as far as he was concerned Marin wouldn't be going home that night. The final contestant was Jai Rodriguez performing with Michelle Williams. Singing Say My Name, Say My Name it was absolutely clear to everyone that he understood how to sing duets. It was a great performance and David Foster admitted that in his mind Jai was leading the pack so far.

Unlike future episodes of the show, which will have the audience deciding who goes home, on this first show the decision was left to the judges. One by one the contestants were told that they'd be going on until only Hal, Carly and Chris remained. Then Hal was told he was safe and Carly and Chris were on the block. Finally Carly was told that she was going on and that Chris was eliminated. While I think he showed a bit more ability on his second song, this was probably the best choice.

Fox is billing this show as a Fall series. I'm not entirely convinced of this. I tend to think of it as the last Summer series. The show will be on the air for five weeks on Thursday and Friday nights. Coincidentally this will mean that the series will end just as the baseball playoffs begin. After this series ends the Thursday time slot will be taken over by the truncated order of The O.C. while the Friday time slot will be occupied by Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy. It seems at the very least to be a space filler, maybe with the hopes that if it becomes a hit in its time slot it might be renewed, and if it's a big hit, like Dancing With The Stars it might be injected into the regular season. As far as the show itself, I found it diverting and enjoyable. In truth it is less of a "reality show" or "reality-competition show" than it is a true "music-variety program" (to use the Emmy terminology). The "non-singers" on this show are for the most part actually talented singers who are either not known for their singing or have taken a career path where singing is not primarily what they do. When you consider how many of the contestants have done Broadway shows - Thompson, Lawless, Rodriguez, and Ribiero - the level of talent in this competition is apparent. At two hours the premier episode of the series was too long, but at an hour I think it will probably work better. It is true that it seems as though the class of the field at the moment are Ribiero and Rodriguez, but how well they'll adapt to a style of singing that isn't what they're used to will be telling. On the whole I enjoyed it although I can't see it as much more than a Summer series that happens to be airing at the beginning of Fall. It's not brilliant - it's not Dancing With The Stars - but it is enjoyable and in my opinion at least it's probably worth sticking with as long as there's nothing better on, and for most of its run, there really isn't.

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