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Yes, people, yes! It’s time for yet another televised “singing” competition. What’s that you say? You’re on your way to chop off your ears à la Van Gogh? Well, not so hasty, if you please. I know you’ve been hurt before, but things are going to be different this time. FOX has very faithfully promised us that the people who’ve agreed to appear on this show can actually sing, and some of them even have platinum albums and Grammy awards to prove it. Still not sold? What if I drop these three irresistible words: Little. Richard. Whooooo! Aha! I know you can’t stay away now. So let’s slip and slide on in here to see what we’re working with, shall we?

The Perfect Blend of B, C, and D-Listers

We are first treated to a thrilling introduction to each of the celebrities, including brief flashes of a few glory notes from a couple of the contestants. There are also tantalizing teasers of the music legends to come – Aaron Neville, Patti Labelle, Wynonna Judd, and Chaka Khan to name a few. But before we get to the real singing superstars, we have to learn more about our “celebrities,” which for the purposes of reality tv means people who have just enough leftover limelight on them to brighten up their tunnel-ride back into the public consciousness. The lineup:

-- Chris Jericho, of WWE fame
-- Lucy Lawless, who has been stripped of her Warrior Princess ‘do, and is now sporting flowing blonde locks
-- Cheech Marin, and yes he does look sober
-- Carly Patterson, who I’m told is some sort of gymnast
-- Carlton Banks Alfonso Ribeiro, star of Silver Spoons and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
-- Jai Rodriguez, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy’s cultural expert
-- Hal Sparks, star of Queer As Folk and clip show panelist extraordinaire
-- Lea Thompson, aka Mrs. McFly

Our very genial host is one Wayne Brady, himself a stage veteran. He looks mighty enthusiastic, and wastes no time getting the crowd hyped. And then, he brings us our judges: Ms. Little Bit Country herself, Marie Osmond, Mr. Mashed Potatoes and Cranberry Sauce himself, Little Richard, and Mr. I’m Going To Have A Reality Show Hit If It Kills Me himself, record producer David Foster. So now we’re all introduced, but before this cocktail party gets too out of hand, Wayne lets the viewers know that the judges will be eliminating someone this very night. It’s time to get down to business.

The Perfect Blend of Good, Fine, and Awful

First up is Lucy Lawless, striking a theatrical pose and cutting quite a figure in a hip-length purple dress and tall, strappy sandals. She very much looks the part of a cheesy bar singer, and completes the image by tackling Michael Bolton’s “Time, Love, and Tenderness,” pretty much giving away the surprise that her duet partner is Michael Bolton. Great job getting him out of the way early, producers! Mike and Lucy are each a bit awkward, both pretty obviously suffering from first-ever-up jitters. Michael actually seems to forget Lucy is there; he spends his time staring into the audience, perhaps hoping to inspire a glimmer of recognition in someone, somewhere. Lucy is passable. She can certainly carry a tune, and while this isn’t the best vocal performance I’ve seen on television this summer, I can definitely say that I have seen much worse. Marie gives Lucy props for performing first, and tells her she did a fantastic job but that she needs to relate more. That might be easier if she’s paired with a partner who can tell that she exists. Little Richard mumbles something incomprehensible about Ma Rainey and being born at night, not last night. So it’s a guy in the Paula role this time. Huh. That’s a wacky change. For the better, in my not at all humble opinion.

Carlton Alfonso is up next. He’s excited to show America another side of himself, and I’m excited to see it. He appears onstage in a ridiculous sequin-sleeved shirt that would make Tom Jones feel a fool, but sounds quite compelling on George Michael’s “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me.” His partner is Michelle Williams, who you may recognize as the girl in the back of all the Destiny’s Child videos. Alfonso easily outsings Michelle, and brings a smile to my face with his tinny little voice. Marie loved him; he probably reminds her a bit of her brother. Little Richard was pleasantly surprised, as was David, who said he wanted to hate Alfonso but couldn’t because he was awesome. David does say he wasn’t sold on the dance moves, which causes Wayne to pop off a bit of the legendary Carlton dance, but Alfonso cuts him off saying, “That’s later!” Which sends a thrill through my soul.

Little Carly Patterson is our next contestant. She’s pert and bubbly, and all kinds of cute, but alas, her singing is flat and grating, and all kinds of suck. She sings, “Somewhere Out There,” with James Ingram, and pretty much makes a mess of the whole thing. Okay, maybe I’m being a little hard on her because I have a huge crush on James Ingram’s voice. Nah. She really does suck. However, she and James look very sweet together, rather like a prom couple, as they hold hands and put their heads together like shy young kids. But Carly seems a bit shaken by the whole experience. Marie tells her to relax and breathe, which means she sucked. Richard gives her a great confidence pep talk. Which was a sweet way of telling her she sucked. Dave says she undoubtedly has the most room for improvement. Which means she sucked. And you already know my vote.

Sorry, Cheech – He’s Not That Into You

Next up is something I never dreamed I’d have the good fortune to see: Cheech and Peter Frampton on a stage together. Singing “Baby I Love Your Way.” To each other. Frampton’s of course pretty awesome with his guitar, and doing everything possible in the world to avoid eye contact with Cheech. Cheech gives a valiant effort, but obviously he can’t stand up to Peter Frampton. However, Cheech definitely came out on top in the wardrobe side of things, looking pressed and cool in a slick leather jacket and jeans. As for judgement, Marie just loves that he’s doing the show, but wants him to think more about the nature of a duet, because he and Peter sounded like two soloists. Richard tells Cheech he has to “get out the mustard and ketchup” (ha ha, as in “catch up”), which, yes, does qualify as the most sensible thing he’s said all evening.

Lea Thompson says it’s every red-blooded American’s dream to be a rock star. So those of you who aspired to be painters and teachers and engineers, well, let’s just say I’ve got my eye on you. Lea, in an unfortunate brown sequined “country-western” getup complete with corset, is singing “Forever and Ever Amen” with my favorite aw-shucks country guy Randy Travis. I think Lea has a good enough voice, but she oversings, so her breath control is thrown way off and her notes come out very shaky. Also shaky are her awkward attempts at dancing. She looks cute with Randy though, and they work up a good enough harmony for most of the song, until a terrible sharp note ruins the ending. Randy’s very diplomatic about it all and says Lea was great with the harmony. Marie hits the ground with the “you look great” bomb. She says Lea did a good job, but singing with Randy is no easy task. Richard thought she was fantastic. David said he didn’t like some of her blues affectations, but gave another big yay for the harmony.

In Which MotherSister Falls In Love

Now up is Jai Rodriguez. Before this show I was completely unaware of his existence in the world, and for that I can not forgive myself, because Jai is an extremely handsome man. Almost too handsome to live in this world. He should be up on a cloud somewhere. With me. But, we soon find out that not only does Jai have looks, but he has a great voice too. And I’m not talking great as in, “Yeah, he’s good enough to be on Celebrity Duets.” I’m talking great as in good enough to hold his own with legendary vocal powerhouse Gladys Knight. Jai is obviously (and adorably) thrilled at the chance to sing with Gladys, and the two are absolutely awesome together on the old standard, “Since I Fell For You.” It wasn’t a perfect performance for Jai; he did have some weak moments, but overall they brought the house down, and, um. Why are they going on with this contest thing? Let’s just have Jai and Gladys sing us songs all the time. Jai gets raves from the judges, and Richard even lets out an exuberant “Whoooo!” and says they were like electricity. David Foster says Jai has just set the bar up way high.

Wrestler Chris Jericho is going to try to reach it, singing “Mendocino County Line” with Lee Ann Womack. There’s not much nice to say, so I’m going to do what my mama says and not say anything at all. Except, that I don’t know if he was in tune at all during the whole thing. Marie tells it like it is and calls Chris great eye candy, as she slams his off-pitchness in the song. David says he has a long way to go to compete with the rest.
It’s Hal Sparks’ turn to wow us now, and he’s a little hesitant. He can carry a tune, but doesn’t know if he can carry it along with a bona fide music star. I don’t know if he can either, as he starts off with a weak falsetto, before Smokey Robinson comes out to show him how it’s really done. Hal does all right, but is a bit too dramatic, and comes off as more than a little overbearing next to my Smokey’s easy grace. But he does a pretty good job, considering that his partner could make almost anyone sound like a clown by comparison. Smokey compliments Hal very graciously. But Marie keeps it real, saying he did the best he could but ouldn’t handle the key. The audience boos her, and Marie checks them saying, “Hello, I’ve sung before” which makes me love her. David says he did all right, but he probably wouldn’t make it in the studio with him. Like that’s a bad thing.

Shuffling the Dreck

It’s time for act two, and in this round all of the contestants will switch superstars. Lea’s first, this time with Michael Bolton, who Wayne generously refers to as a “soul man.” Yeah, only if he’s got a shoe franchise or something that I don’t know about. The two duet on the Sinatra classic “That’s Life,” and I have to be honest, there’s a major problem. Lea ain’t got no rhythm. She could pass muster here if she were better on beat, but she isn’t, and then she spends time and breath scrambling to get back on, and then she overcompensates and tries to fix it all by belting, and then it all turns out wrong. But I can understand her nerves; Michael Bolton is probably a bit more intimidating to sing with than Howard the Duck. Marie says she was 1,000 times better than before, but Richard liked her first song better. David agreed with Marie, and poor little Little Richard’s left out in the cold.

Carly returns, now partnered with Lee Ann Womack, singing my class song “I Hope You Dance.” Carly, the poor thing. She really tries, but she just. . . needs to be put out of her misery. She does a bit better on some of the mellower lines, but whenever real power or depth is required, she can’t deliver. Lee Ann on the other hand is charmingly Dolly-esque, which makes me happy. Marie says Carly did improve, but she still had pitch problems. Apparently Marie goes on a bit too long, because Richard gets impatient and commands her to SHUT-UP! as only he can do. David says Carly is the reason he has a job. So she’s the one we need to be forwarding all the hate mail to. Good to know.

James Ingram is back! He’s Alfonso’s partner this time, and together they sing Michael McDonald’s cleverly titled “Yah Mo B There,” and it is dreamy, which is a word I never thought I’d apply to a Michael McDonald song. The harmony goes a little wonky on some of the higher phrases, but that’s forgivable because I still hear James Ingram’s voice. Alfonso is really great, and energetic, and jazz-hands-ish. Marie loved him, said she’d see him in the finals. Richard is all hot and bothered, and now all he wants is to see the white boy dance. Alfonso promises, “If I’m in the final, you’ll get the Carlton dance.” And I now take a moment to command you all to vote Carlton into the finale. I’m completely serious. We must see the Carlton dance live in primetime, preferably with a full chorus of backup dancers in polo-necked shirts and Bermuda shorts. Let’s make it happen, people.

Who decided Little Richard was ready for Primetime TV? I owe that person a home-cooked meal.
Non-Carlton-dancing (and thus completely unimportant) Chris Jericho is back up with Peter Frampton. So, you get rock god Peter Frampton, and hardcore rocker Chris Jericho together, and what do they sing? Stevie Wonder’s soul classic “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” of course. Peter and Chris crank out what’s actually pretty milquetoast version, about as edgy as a circle and funky as a field of fresh-blooming plumeria. There was no soul there, and soulless renditions of Stevie songs make me cry. The judges were better pleased, though, and I think Chris even stunned Richard into a garbled kind of rambling praise. Or, maybe it was all that … cranberry sauce.

This go round, Smokey Robinson is paired with Lucy Lawless, and they do a pleasing enough duet on Ooh, Baby, Baby. Really the only thing I can see wrong with the performance is that it should’ve been me on stage in a gorgeous white gown singing with Smokey. But that’s not really a critique, is it? Wayne says that the two get his vote for Prom King and Queen. Marie says Lucy became the song, which is really hard to do convincingly. Richard says it "made his big toe shoot up in his booty." And I think that pretty much says it all.

Matches Made In Hell

Hal Sparks has what seems like good fortune of having Miss Gladys as his partner this time, and in a way it works out, because the boy hasn’t an ounce of soul and Gladys has it to spare. She saves them both on “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” deftly covering Hal’s out-of-place rawker screams. It’s a bit embarrassing, how mismatched they are. Marie’s with me on this one; she says Hal was “a little bit white.” And in response Hal throws up the horns. We get it, honey. You like the rock. But when Marie Osmond is telling you you’re too white, you’ve got to do some soul searching.

Speaking of mismatches, Cheech is back with none other than Randy Travis. They sit center stage and do a cute little duet of Randy’s “Digging Up Bones.” It’s kinda dull, really, but ever so cute. Especially the sight of Randy in an honest-to-goodness fringed leather coat. Marie liked the performance, but wants Cheech to smile more. Richard continues to speak in language that only he understands, and David says he wouldn’t ever sign Cheech, and that he won’t win the show, but that there’s no way he’s going home tonight. Way to be positive, Dave.

Joy of joys, Jai is closing the show! But there’s a catch – he’s singing with Michelle Williams, who still sounds a mess. Now we know for sure why she stays in the back. But she doesn’t trip on her heels, so I do have to give it up for her. It was a pretty awkward performance, but Jai sounds fabulous, easily outdoing Michelle on her own daggone song. They both kind of overdo it on the dramatics, but Jai pull the song off anyway, again earning raves from the judges, and causing David to say that Jai is definitely leading the pack.

But who’s straggling? It’s time to find out as Wayne instructs the judges to deliberate and hand in their cut for the week. The elimination is handled with a surprising and refreshing lack of melodrama as Wayne briskly tells Jai, Cheech, Lea, Alfonso, Lucy, and Hal that they are safe. Chris and Carly are unsurprisingly the two duds left. Wayne runs over their respective performances, and reveals that Carly shall stay, and Chris go. Chris takes it all in stride, and says that if Simon gets up a show called “Bad Robot Celebrity Dancing,” he’ll be there. Look for it in your local listings, spring 2007. And with that, Chris sings us out with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” thus closing his duet career.

Next week the show moves to its regular Thursday/Friday schedule, and the contestants get the chance to sing with a whole new crop of superstars. Who will they all be mismatched with next? Tune in and find out.

I’m not playing. Vote for Carlton or I’ll never speak to you again. mothersister@fansofrealitytv.c om