At long last, the television singing competition world has come full circle. Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol winner, is now a mentor (excuse me, “superstar”) on her very own American Idol knock-off program. Welcome to Duets. Kelly opens the show singing “Let Me Entertain You” with fellow superstars Jennifer Nettles, Robin Thicke and John Legend, and, spoiler alert, it does. Hosting this mess is Quddus, plucked from TRL. He’s here to “keep it real.”

Every week the superstars give their selected amateurs “the chance of a lifetime” namely to perform with them on the Duets stage. Also vying for recording contract with Hollywood records. Between performances, these people sit in the “superstar lounges,” which are just glorified booths surrounding each superstar’s chair. The superstars “find, perform and win alongside” their amateurs. During the “perform” part, the other superstars tabulate “secret scores” on their Duets tablets. I want to like this show, but for that to happen, I’m going to need to see something a little more clever than “secret scores.” Quddus does his best to sell it, though. All of this takes place on a stage that looks like what I imagine the inside of a subwoofer is.

But who are these amateurs? Let’s find out:

Jennifer Nettles

I first fell in love with Nettles on the 54th Grammy Awards Nomination Show, when she out sang Lady Gaga during their duet of “You and I.” She seems a little crazy, but in the fun, “sparkly vest-wearing” ways. Nettles finds her first partner, J Rome, in New York City. When he was 6, his father dubbed him “man of the house,” and presumably left. He’s doing Duets for his mother and sister and generally seems like an adorable person. They perform “Tonight” and J Rome does a little too much miming while he sings (you don’t have to point to your temple every time you sing about “thinking,” dude). Other than that, and the amount of time he spent bedazzling his outfit, it goes really well, he seems like a pro and they were ridiculously connected while singing. Also he apparently almost died when his tonsils were taken out. Hard core.

Jennifer’s second partner is found in her own hometown, Douglas, Georgia. John Glosson says he likes “the way music makes his soul feel” and then makes Jennifer cry with his audition of “How Great Thou Art,” a song my Catholic Sunday School self didn’t know wasn’t about actual art until she was in high school. They perform Sugarland’s “Stay” and good lord. His voice really is something special. I smell a frontrunner. It makes Kelly cry and John loves his “crystal clear voice. 

John Legend

John decided to have his auditions in the Duets studio, so that he could show it off. It is very glitzy. His first amateur is Johnny Gray who riffed too much initially but took instruction well and nailed “Ordinary People” in the audition as well as in the performance. Robin was “amazed and impressed,” and Clarkson liked his vulnerability.

For John’s second partner, he chose Bridget Carrington. She’s the girl who comes to get all your money if you don’t pay your taxes. The perform “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” and have some powerful chemistry. Bridget seems most comfortable on stage out of all the amateurs. Nettles agrees.

Robin Thicke

Robin is the annoying one. It’s already decided. He heads to the famous Ocean Way recording studios in Los Angeles where he doesn’t pick Dante, the Marine who just got back from Afghanistan. Instead, he goes with Olivia Chisholm, who doesn’t seem to have much of a personality. They perform “Lost Without You” the singing is fine, but something about Robin and this girl creeps me out a bit. Quddus acknowledges that something was going on and he’s a little nervous to break it up. Legend basically asks Olivia to not be so boring next time.

For his second partner, Robin went gospel to a church in Los Angeles (not Scientology, don’t worry). He goes with Alexis Foster and they perform “Magic” and manage to be significantly less creepy than the first amateur, at least until Robin calls her over to his superstar lounge by yelling “come to Papa” a thousand times. All the superstars think it is some level of “awesome.”

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly conducted her search from the tour bus. I’d like to say here (so that I don’t end up repeating myself eight million times) that Clarkson is the absolute best part of this show. She is so fun and sweet. Kelly gives amateur Jason Farol one last chance to prove himself… on stage at one of her shows. Jason and Kelly sing “Poison and Wine” by The Civil Wars, who are the greatest, and he effs it up by crying like a little girl at the end. She still picks him though. They perform “Breaking Your Own Heart” aka one of the most boring songs from Kelly’s most recent album. GIMME SOME “DARK SIDE,” KELLY. Thicke thinks he’s adorable and Legend “loves how much [Jason] loves music” which says nothing about how good Jason is.

Her second amateur is Jordan Meredith. Jordan and her pink hair are “borderline obsessed” with Kelly, but I guess not enough of a crazy fan to be a security threat. They perform “Stronger” and it isn’t my personal favorite rendition of the song, but given that this number has been on every commercial for the last six months, there’s a lot to compare it to. Ironically, Jordan doesn’t seem to have the strongest voice, and sort of loses steam near the end. John sometimes couldn’t tell Jordan’s voice from Kelly’s, which is high praise. Robin likes her smile and her hair.

After all the secret scores are tallied up, the final chart looks like this:

  • J Rome – Nettles
  • Johnny Gray – Legend
  • Alexis Foster – Thicke
  • John Glosson – Nettles
  • Olivia Chisholm – Thicke
  • Bridget Carrington – Legend
  • Jordan Meredith – Clarkson
  • Jason Farol – Clarkson

Everyone is safe this week, but next week Kelly will investigate the conspiracy theory that put both her amateurs in the bottom.

Super Special Superstar Sidenotes:

  • Here’s hoping the “let’s do it”/”let’s duet” pun is only around for this first week.
  • I will never think Robin Thicke is sexy no matter how many times the producers make the amateurs and Quddus tell me he is.
  • Wouldn’t it be great if Robin Thicke saying, “anybody wanna get it poppin’?” was still something no humans had ever had to hear?
  • Someone needs to tell Kelly Clarkson and her people that this should be the absolute final promotional/product placement/advertising use of “Stronger.” I almost can’t remember a time when it wasn’t in commercials.
  • The producers might need to invest in a thesaurus or two for the superstars, because just saying “that was awesome, your voice is so clear” is not going to work for an entire season.