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Hello out there, everybody! It’s time for another round of Celebrity Duets. It seems we’re really getting down to business this week, as the show opens with ominous music of doom, ominous lighting, and Wayne Brady. I think Duets now wants to be taken seriously. Perhaps the cheesy fun of last week is gone. Perhaps Marie will do away with her sunshiny cheer and even Little Richard will be sober! And perhaps I really can buy that awesome bridge they’re always talking about in Brooklyn!

Open the door for your. . .Mystery Date

As Wayne opens the show we see our celebrities standing onstage next to their respective partners, who are secreted away behind shadowy Dating Game type panels. For a second, the nervous looks on everyone’s faces make me think that maybe the Dating Game is this week’s theme, and the celebs won’t know who their partners are until they pop out of the doors in groovy bellbottoms and feathered hair, to the tune of “Little Spanish Flea.” But, I know it could never be. FOX shows aren’t usually that clever.

We get the old montage of last week’s highs and lows -- Jai and Gladys Knight’s showstopper, Hal’s lack of soul, Chris’ and Carly’s lack of talent, and lots and lots of Little Richard’s Quotable Quips™. But tonight we’re staring with a clean slate, and hopefully, clean superstars. The power is in our hands now, as we the viewing public are responsible for voting our favorites into the next round. (Pick the Prep!)

Changing Tunes

And it’s show time now, baby! Wayne comes out on stage to a Vegas-licious fanfare and a lumbering standing ovation that would make Wayne Newton feel at home. His exuberance makes me think he’s really ready to get the show started and over with. Me too, Wayne! He brings us the judges, Marie, Little Richard, and David, who still look just a bit unsure of why they are there. Well, Richard’s got on dark glasses, so you can’t quite tell. I guess I’m the one unsure of why he’s there.

Anywhooo! Time to get down to the sanging. Hal Sparks is up first; you may remember his interesting turns last week as “that awkward white guy” on stage with Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson. Hal says that his lack of training isn’t going to stop him from working the hardest, or caring the most. And I say that working the hardest and caring the most isn’t going to turn you into a singer, but I’m just a jerk that way sometimes. Hal wants a connection with the audience, and he’s going to try to deliver with Foreigner’s power-ballad classic “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” I’m digging his classy black shirt and tie, and his singing is okay. Some of the notes are labored and overdone, but hey, that’s only because he’s trying really hard to be a singer, which you have to admit is pretty gosh-darned cute. Hal’s super-secret duet partner comes out mid-verse, and it turns out to be country luminary Wynonna, looking …um. Between the shocking red hair and the weird black and orange-striped coat, the kindest thing I can think to say is “flame broiled Whopper.” But she’s in great voice, and the two get pretty up close and personal with each other, Wynonna doing some very good-natured vocal sparring with Hal and all of his gratuitous rawker screams. They pull the song off all right, anyway, and finish to really enthusiastic applause. Hal’s family gives their boy a standing O and show the world that the Sparks family is only allowed to have one haircut between them. Wayne reins it all in, and ribs Hal a bit for some of the feisty hip moves he was putting on Wynonna. Wynonna says “Come to mama,” and gives Hal a not-so-motherly embrace. Marie continues the love-fest, retracting her previous critiques, and telling Hal he’s got a little bit of soul. Hal looks as shocked as everyone else to hear this, and I think Marie has just rocked. tha world. Richard took 59 words too many to say that Hal did a good job, and David warns him not to go from zero to 10 so quickly.

Speaking of zeros, Lea Thompson’s up next. (Okay, that was uncalled for, but it was clever, and I really had to segue somehow. Sorry, Lea! Love ya; mean it!) Last week we saw Lea sharing the stage with Randy Travis and Michael Bolton, and trying very hard to find the rhythm. Lea says she wants to do well on this show so as not to embarrass her daughters, so it’s a bit of a wonder that she comes on stage tonight bent on indulging her inner Mary Katherine Gallagher. In tippy gold heels and a red mini-dress, and singing “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” Lea does enough nervy arm flailing and leg spinning to make me jump to the conclusion that her duet partner is Molly Shannon, but before I can say, “Superstah!” Belinda Carlisle appears. They sound pretty good together, and Lea finally seems to have found the beat (maybe the Go-Go’s gave it to her! *ba dump tss*). Aside from some spaztastic dance moves and a slightly out of tune ending, I think Lea acquitted herself pretty well. But I’m not her daughter.

Afterwards, Belinda very sweetly says that she knew Lea was a good singer, but was impressed by how well Lea’s voice blended with her own. Marie loves Lea’s energy, and Richard says she reminded him of Tina Turner, “Not the voice, the legs!” Poor Lea doesn’t even have time to duck before that compliment slaps her in the back of the head.

Earache My Eye

It’s Cheech’s turn now, and he’s raring to go. Last week, David Foster threw down the gauntlet saying that Cheech probably wouldn’t win this competition, and Cheech is ready to prove him wrong, by any means necessary. He puts his bid out to the Latino community, saying a vote for Cheech is one step closer to citizenship. Yeah, but a vote for Alfonso brings us all one step closer to The Carlton Dance. I think it’s obvious which one takes precedence.

Tonight, Cheech comes out swinging on Clint Black’s “Been There,” and soon enough Clint joins him on stage. The two of them cut a strange pair – Clint all duded up in his “man in black” gear, from hat to toe, and Cheech looking significantly hipper in his slick suede coat and black slacks. But they make a great team; when Cheech takes the bottom of the harmony, his voice mellows out and his tone gets a bit fuller, so here with Clint he sounds pretty fine indeed. Clint even breaks out the harmonica in celebration. Marie loved it; Richard says Cheech went in the closet and pulled out something besides clothes, and I’m not sure I want to know what that means. But David bluntly says there’s no way Cheech will make it to the end. The producers must’ve threatened David with obscurity if he didn’t up the meanie ante this week.

Got Alfonso?

Last week, Alfonso brought the house down with James Ingram, and suffered through a song with Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams. He got raves from the audience, from Marie, and from Richard, but David Foster’s critique stuck with him. This week he’s determined to step his game up. The rigors of this show on top of his directing career are wearing on him, but he’s ready to bring the heat nonetheless. And the opening strains of his song are enough to let me know it’s already been brought. Singing “On The Wings Of Love” with Jeffrey Osborne himself, Alfonso gets his mack on in the corny yet endearing way that he is so good at, canoodling with some lucky ladies in the audience in a most gentlemanly manner, and breaking it down with some hip-swiveling moves. Plus, he sounds really, really good with Jeffrey.

Jeffrey praises Alfonso pretty generously, saying it was an incredible experience working with him, and calling him a true professional. Jeffrey is obviously on the right team. The winning team. Before the judging, we get a gratuitous shot of Tisha Campbell Martin, from the TV shows “Martin” and “My Wife and Kids” in the audience. Tisha’s known to have an absolutely lovely singing voice. Maybe this is a hint at a possible contestant on Celebrity Duets II? Dare to dream, y’all.

The judges get their verdicts in on Alfonso: Marie admires his performance skills, Richard is apparently auditioning for Def Poetry Jam, and David commends the performance but tells Alfonso to stop with the dancing. I tell David to shut the heck up, even as I implore you all to support Alfonso. Alfonso for the finale. Seriously, vote for Carlton, and Bel-Air will thank you. And dude, from what I understand those people are rich. Think about it.

Lows, and Slightly Higher Lows

Now, Carly Patterson is back and as bubbly as ever. I’ll spare you the rehashing of her past performances, because no doubt you’d like to forget them. But Carly remembers, and isn’t too satisfied. She knows she wasn’t the best (her stint in the bottom two must’ve given her a hint and a half), but this week she’s ready to do whatever it takes to catch up. Carly’s been taking all of the judges’ critiques to heart, and working diligently with her voice coaches to step her game up for this week. To wit, we see her doing vocal exercises and warm-ups long into the night. Aw, bless.

She takes the stage looking like a little spitfire in tight jeans and a red shrug, singing The Pointer Sisters’ classic “I’m So Excited.” She’s flat as a pancake for the first few measures, and Anita Pointer comes out very quickly to save her song from the Patterson treatment. Anita sounds fabulous, and yeah, Carly less so, but she gets way into the peppy festiveness of the song, and is so precious that it’s tough to dis her. Carly’s performance merits some sound dissing, but I’d much rather just pinch her cheeks and give her a pony.

Marie feels that last week Carly’s nerves were her undoing, but tonight she pushed herself this week and did a great job. There’s not enough money in Bel-Air to get me to spend the hours trying to translate what Little Richard said to the girl, but I think he liked her. David, master of the backhand, says Carly’s come a long way, but she has a long way to go. Carly says she’s been working hard, but she knows she has a lot of work to do, and she’s going to do it. Awww. A pony and a unicorn for her!

Sore Throat, Schmore Throat

Last week’s breakout favorite Jai Rodriguez thinks he might be in a bit of a bind tonight. He’s been suffering from a sore throat, and has a “static” in his voice that he doesn’t like. Jai says that if he’s off it will be impossible to hide. I think he’s got enough carryover love from last week to outlast even a Carly-like performance, but luckily that doesn’t matter. Singing “Back At One,” Jai’s sore throat is far from throwing him off, adding a nice bit of grit to his voice. He’s soon joined by Brian McKnight, and the two sound very well together. Jai does hit a few sharp notes, most notably at the ending, but it’s all overshadowed by the fantasticness of his and Brian’s overall blend.

Time must be running short, because Brian doesn’t get to say a word, and the judges, including even Richard, are uncharacteristically brief. Marie calls him “sick,” but in a good way, Richard says Jai should take his talent and run with it. David says Jai hit the jackpot with that song and that partner, and that he held his own very well. I agree; it couldn’t have worked out much better, even if he had a full voice.

It’s Hard Out Here For A Warrior Princess

Bringing up the rear tonight is Lucy Lawless, who won a few fans last week by her soulful pairings with Michael Bolton and Smokey Robinson. The audience and the judges gave her props, but Lucy wasn’t pleased with her performances. She’s hired her own vocal coach to tweak some of her rough spots, and she won’t be satisfied with less than perfection. I’m thinking she won’t be satisfied, but granted, I’m a cynic.

Tonight Lucy is singing “Whenever I Call You Friend,” and she looks stunning in her Pepto-Pink gown and long wavy locks. She sounds all right, but her part is very limited, I think she ranges over 4 or 5 notes during the whole thing, so it’s kind of bland. But there’s not really anything wrong with her singing. Marie says she missed some words, but that the audience loves Lucy. Then there’s Richard again with the secret language. David says he didn’t watch so that he could listen better, and deems Lucy’s performance good, but not great. Come on, David. She’s a crusading warlord, or a robot spy, depending on who you ask. What are you expecting? Streisand? But Lucy takes his comments with a smile, and that’s the end of that.

Did Lucy conquer enough votes to keep her in the game? Will little Carly be put out to pasture? The results show reveals all.

If you love me, keep my commandment. It’s Carlton or nothing.mothersister@fansofrealitytv.c om