Marie Osmond acting as a cogent adviser is about the most impressive element in “Celebrity Duets.” The latest “American Idol” knockoff hopes to do for singing what other celeb shows have done for skating and dancing. If the two-hour debut is a sign of things to come, prepare to watch a lot of professional singers who haven’t been heard from in at least a decade.
“Duets” is Simon Cowell’s latest TV attraction, and it copies “Idol” to a T: the set, the three judges, the killer band, the screaming fans, the pre-taped interviews full of shock and awe. Difference is a host, Wayne Brady, who could outsing and outdance most of the people who take the stage and who becomes increasingly comfortable with his duties as the show wears on.
Eight “celebrities” — a gymnast, a few TV actors, a wrestler, and the “Queer Eye” guy whose role was always dubious — take turns warbling before shouting the name of an actual singer who then comes out to join them. In the premiere, each contestant sang twice, the second time around giving each pro a chance to promote his latest CD. The cast of pros changes weekly, so America won’t be blessed with Gladys Knight for the next eight weeks, but neither will viewers be wracking their brains trying to remember the name of a Lee Ann Womack hit.
In week one, judges Little Richard (the babbling slightly incoherent one), David Foster (the straight shooter trying to be clever) and Osmond (a breath of fresh air) booted off a contestant, the wrestler.
Cheech Marin and gymnast Carly Patterson should be the next to go; “Queer Eye’s” Jai Rodriguez and Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”) are the early front-runners to nap the top prize of a $100,000 donation to a charity.
To sustain interest, however, show will need to add gimmicks. As it is, the first round of pros were almost all 1980s hitmakers in pop, R&B and country. (Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child was the lone exception, and she was probably the weakest pro.) The dancing and skating shows were winners in part because there was indeed a “duo” to support week after week; here that isn’t the case. And most of the “Duets” contestants have backgrounds in singing, especially in musical theater, which makes one wonder how much any of them will really develop week to week.
In weeks to come, viewers will vote following the Thursday show, with results announced on Friday hourlong telecasts.