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Duets Recap: Points Blanked

Duets Recap: Points BlankedDuets Recap: Points Blanked

If you just tuned in to ABC’s Duets for the first time this week, congratulations! Because apparently, those of us who wasted our time on Episodes 1 and 2 were actually watching some sort of meaningless preliminary rounds that won’t have any impact on the competition.

If that’s not the case, then shame on ABC nonetheless. After all, if the judges’ “secret scores” from Rounds 1 and 2 were somehow factored in to this week’s leaderboard, then why not just say so? And if Thursday night’s leaderboard really was a three-week average, we also needed to know: Was it an average of the total “secret scores” given by the judges’ panel, or was it an average in which position on the leaderboard was equal to a certain numerical value (i.e., 8 points for first; 7 points for second, and so on…)?

Based on host Quddus’ total silence on the matter — the guy has been pretty quick on his feet to date, so I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have snuck in an explanation if there was indeed a decent one to be found – and my not-exactly-first-rate math skills, I’m pretty certain selection of the Bottom 2 contestants was based solely on this week’s proceedings.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, look at the rankings from all three weeks of competition:

WEEK 1
J Rome
*Johnny
Alexis
John
Olivia
Bridget
Jordan
Jason

WEEK 2
Meleana
J Rome
Bridget
John
Jordan
Alexis
Jason
Olivia

WEEK 3
J Rome
John
Jordan
Bridget
Meleana
Olivia
Jason
Alexis

If Alexis finished third in Week 1, and then sixth in Week 2, she’d have had to have received astronomically low scores in Week 3 for her three-week average to land her in dead last. Also, if this week’s Bottom 2 singoff was based on a three-week average, then how exactly did the production handle Meleana, who replaced Johnny Gray on John Legend’s team in Week 2, and therefore only had two sets of scores?

In my mind, Duets‘ likely tossout of Week 1 and Week 2 scores would be akin to playing the first two games of the World Series or Stanley Cup, then suddenly saying, “Actually, let’s scrap those scores, hit CTRL+ALT+DEL, and start back at the beginning.” At best, it seems like ABC was in such a hurry to premiere a singing competition the day after the American Idol finale that it was willing to make up the rules on the fly. And at worst, there’s been an inherent betrayal of those of us who invested our time and energy into Duets‘ freshman and sophomore telecasts. Yep, that’s four hours of our lives we’ll never get back!

But hey, I don’t want to sacrifice a fifth full hour kvetching at the network responsible for giving us Revenge‘s acid-tongued Victoria Grayson. (“Everytime I hug you, that warmth you feel is my hatred burning through.”) So let’s dive right in to assessing the week’s performances, in which contestants chose “artists and songs that inspire them.”

Alexis Foster (with Robin Thicke): “Killing Me Softly” | Kudos to Kelly Clarkson for pointing out Alexis’ awkward stage presence — and the way she fixates on her duet partner at the expense of connecting with the crowd. Still, while Alexis may not be blessed with terrific stage presence, I thought her vocal on “Killing Me Softly” was pretty solid — particularly her riffs toward the end of the number. Alas, though, Robin’s pre-performance instructions — “pretend you’re going home!” — would turn out to be all too prescient.

John Glosson (with Jennifer Nettles): “How Great Thou Art” | I always find it a little jarring when a reality-show contestant manages to sneak in a sad backstory without any obvious reason to do so. And whether or not it makes me a terrible, cynical human being, that was my reaction to John’s whole “anniversary of the day my mom found out she was pregnant with me/day before my brother passed away of lukemia” conversation. Honestly, I might have found his perfomance more moving if I’d simply been focusing on his big, robust voice, and the way it seamlessly intertwined with Jennifer’s equally beastly instrument. The a capella intro was a smart choice, and by the time the duo dug deep and started belting out the final refrain, I was half-expecting a divine hand to transport them from the futuristic bowling alley of the Duets set and into a more appropriate setting, like, say, a 300-year-old Italian cathedral. Two side notes: Jennifer’s “you can’t rush Jesus” is the current front-runner for Quote of the Season. And Kelly’s sweetly naive comment about “secretly trying to figure out” how to get John kicked off the show means she hasn’t quite figured out the competitive advantages of Duets’ dreadful anonymous scoring methodology.

Jordan Meredith (with Kelly Clarkson): “Mama’s Broken Heart” | Let’s be honest for a second: If both of Kelly’s contestants get booted before the live rounds, how many of us would be inclined to delete Duets from our series recording lineups and start watching The Choice pick up another hour of weekly book reading? Which is exactly why I was so completely excited to see Jordan shake off her nerves and emerge as a brassy, big-voiced front-runner on this excellent Miranda Lambert ditty. As Jennifer pointed out, this was the first week where we could heard Jordan’s voice distinctly, where she didn’t get consumed whole by Kelly’s own monster chops. Part of the reason, I think, was that Kelly held back a little, gave Jordan plenty of room — physically and vocally — to shine. But part of it was a new willingness from the pink-haired contestant to be a performer, to quash her nagging insecurities, and I credit Kelly’s rehearsal pep-talk for the change. As the first American Idol argued, Jordan wasn’t going to look stupid by getting into character, she was going to look stupid if she got kicked off the show!

Meleana Brown (with John Legend): “If I Ain’t Got You” | The judges all seemed a little ambivalent about Meleana this week, but I’d put her neck-and-neck with Jordan as the strongest shot for a female winner on Duets‘ inaugural season. I liked the husky tone she showed off on the opening verse, and the ethereral head voice she displayed on the chorus, too. Meleana has a lot of control and color in her voice, and while her exaggerated pronunciations can be a bit much, I’d still argue that if her mentor pushes her to take some risks — to push past the expectedness of Big Diva Ballads — there’s a chance I could be speed-dialing on her behalf come Week 6.

Olivia Chisholm (with Robin Thicke) “Crazy in Love” | Robin Thicke may be a bit of a cheeseball lothario, but he’s in on the joke, and therefore I’m okay with it. What I’m not okay with is statements like “let’s pretend Beyoncé retired.” Um, no, let’s not! I mean, dude might as well start imagining a world without ice cream and sauvignon blanc. A world where Game of Thrones won’t be back for Season 3. And a world where Congress passes a law limiting DVR tapings to 10 hours per week and I join the Anarchist Party. In all seriousness, though, Robin couldn’t have chosen a worse song for Olivia than “Crazy in Love,” or done it for a more ridiculous reason. “Hey, I’ve got a contestant who’s struggling with her confidence, and whose got a breathy, ethereal tone, so why not assign her a high-energy, vocally treacherous song by one of the most fearless divas in history?” Listening to Olivia gasping for breath and reducing the melody to a three-note range, the only line that rang true was “Baby you’re makin’ a fool of me.” Kelly and Jennifer were far too lenient about the performance, but at least John Legend kept it real. “Your legs!” he exclaimed, before adding that Olivia’s vocals didn’t impress him much. Personally, I thought Olivia was the weakest of the week, but I can’t say I’m unhappy that she’ll live to sing again. If Robin allows her to choose some early Aaliyah or even a Kylie Minogue number, I could easily see Olivia climbing up the secret leaderboard again.

J Rome (with Jennifer Nettles): “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” | I found J. Rome’s backstory about his late grandfather a little less unnecessary than John’s interview package, but even though he stayed mostly on pitch, I couldn’t get too excited about his choice of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” (a song that I only find acceptable in the voice of the late Laura Branigan). Also, for what it’s worth, I’d have appreciated it if J. Rome had turned outward and faced the audience a little more, instead of performing just to Jennifer on the chorus. In other words, this was fine, middle-of-the-pack stuff, but not the sort of showing that’s going to carry J. Rome to victory by the end of summer. Better luck with song choice next week, sir!

Jason Farol (with Kelly Clarkson): “Hallelujah” | I loved seeing footage of Jason surreptitiously recording his Duets audition in his car at night, so as not to alert his parents that he was going ahead and pursuing his singing dreams. And yes, it was super cute when Kelly brought Jason’s dad to rehearsal to give mild to moderate approval of his son’s life choices. Unfortunately, Mumbles McGee’s wobbly, poorly enunciated cover of “Hallelujah” may be all the evidence Ma and Pa Farol need to argue that their son needs to get back to school and do something practical with his life. When Kelly mercifully grabbed the mic and took control of the duet, it was like watching a puny mosquito get crushed beneath a kicky summer sandal. Man, couldn’t we have a week where Kelly duets with everybody?

Bridget Carrington (with John Legend): “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” | Bridget definitely looks more at ease opposite her superstar partner than most of the amateurs in the competition — new drinking game: take a shot every time Quddus says “superstar” or “amateur,” then later, bond with the E.R. nurse who’s pumping your stomach over your mutual love of Kelly Clarkson — but her singing voice is so quavery, it’s as if she’s sitting on top of the washing machine during a particularly vigorous spin cycle. Just as jarring was the way she seemed to struggle transitioning from John Legend’s Marvin Gaye-inspired tempo to the Gladys Knight-esque cadence on her own verses. Jennifer pointed out Bridget’s opening verse was a little muddy, but I thought that adjective was applicable to the entire performance, including some wonky riffs toward the end.

Anyhow, with that said, here’s how the leaderboard looked for Week 3, followed by my own personal ranking for the night:

Judges’ Leaderboard
J Rome
John
Jordan
Bridget
Meleana
Olivia
Jason
Alexis

My Rankings
Jordan
John
Meleana
J Rome
Alexis
Bridget
Jason
Olivia

With Jason and Alexis participating in the end-of-show a capella sing-off, it was pretty obvious how the results would play out? I mean, would ABC really have allowed one of Kelly Clarkson’s duet partners to go home on Week 3, meaning six full weeks where Kelly would conceivably be singing only once per 120-minute telecast? Thankfully for the show’s producers, Alexis aggressively oversang her rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” putting her on equal footing with Jason’s pitchy, murkily pronounced “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Rather than weighing in on which one deserved the boot, though, I’m more interested in debating who told the bigger lie: Kelly, when she insisted Jason never should have been in the Bottom 2 in the first place, or Robin, when he told Alexis he’s gonna take care of her “no matter what.” I leave that for you to discuss!

What did you think of Week 3 of Duets? Who were your favorites? Did the judges choose the right Bottom 2 this week? And are you as irked as me that the Week 1 and Week 2 scores didn’t appear to get factored in to the proceedings? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!


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