Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fix It: Duets

The original title of this post was Don't Duet! Which was my feeling after the first outing of what I thought to be a complete reality competition TV fail.  I'm not saying its a success after viewing its second offering - but I'm saying its fixable.  I had high hopes for it.  I mostly like the mentor/judges/celebrity dueters - whatever you want to call them.  I really love Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Nettles.  I can appreciate John Legend, but have never understood nor enjoyed Robin Thicke and his music. So, I was curious, interested and hopeful going in.

My first reactions in short- the judging system is terribly flawed and doesn't work, the established ground rules are unclear and  this show is not even trying to help amateur  unknown singers- just promote its Celebrities.  I've already detailed how much I dislike the over-celebrity promotion of the judges/mentors/whatevers on these shows - and I really like to see that each one has a purpose and can offer something that benefits someone other than themselves.  But, this show is set up as self-promotional in every way - when each musical number is announced - the host, Quddus (the fantastic, nicely human and best part of this series) - announces "Celebrity with their duet partner ________"  Which sums up one of the shows greatest flaws - it always puts the stars first - it in no way enhances the strengths of its contestants - and so far serves only to promote its celebrities.  Even the first week, where the contestants were forced to sing a hit of their celebrity - had an undermining effect on these contestants - as there was no way a worked up 'duet' version of (i.e.)Kelly Clarkson's Stronger is going to sound better than the bona fide hit itself---starring just Kelly Clarkson.  All of the numbers were far less enjoyable than the originals- save Robin Thickes.  Because I don't care for his style, his singing or songs - I thought his stuff was much improved by his duet partners- who both sounded better to me than him.  All this belly aching aside - there is hope for this show.  I am really enjoying the banter and interaction between the celebrities and the host. And I was happy to learn that not every week required songs by the mentoring celebrities - which served to help - but here is a short list of ways to REALLY fix this show.

1. Fix the scoring.  The non-performing three judges give each contestant a score out of 100 and the contestants are ranked after each performance.  There is no way I can be convinced that a celebrity mentor will not have a natural bias for their even though they don't vote for them - if they know they are in first place- they will be more conservative in their scoring with the other contestants.  Additionally 100 possible points gives way too broad a spectrum for there not to be problems.  I think Kelly Clarkson is the nicest of the bunch and consequently would naturally give the highest scores in when she is NOT voting (on her contestants) they are already at a disadvantage...and it showed in week 1 as her 2 contestants were the bottom 2 (though they were the most amateur of the bunch-more on that below).  Give the performing judge a score - that is equal to their highest score for any other contestant.  Or give the studio audience a 50% weigh in score.  Give the celebrities a scale of 1-8 to vote on. Have them rank everyone at the end.  Many options - just fix it.
2. Clearly establish the ground rules.  I think each judge looked for a different level of amateur - Kelly sought out the most amateur, Robin sought out the ones that most effectively went with his overall 'vibe'.  Jennifer Nettles went with the best singers she could find regardless of past recording contracts and John Legend sought singers who sounded best with him and sounded most like him.  Perhaps this is supposed to be the draw of it- how effectively can these celebs find contestants...but that is revealed in the first episode.  Kelly's 'diamonds in the rough' inexperienced amateurs can not compete with Jennifer's established singers nor John's mini-mes.  I think they need to have a group meeting on what to look for...if there is another year of this.  I like the fact that they didn't show audition rounds and they made each celebrity find contestants with no established way to do this- but I think some advising would help.  I get that leaving it in the judges hands makes it more like a competition for the judges - and The VOICE does this in some fashion - but still finds a somewhat equal level of talent to compete with.  Find amateurs - or find established singers who are merely unknown and use their celebrity to make them know.  I think the latter would work best - but ultimately uniformity in this regard would make for a more competitive environment.
3. Make the show about the contestants and not their duet stars.  Quit introducing the contestants as secondary.  Help the audience know their names.  Give the contestants more of a say in what they are singing.  (I know Jennifer Nettles picking "You're the one that I want" was unconventional and because J Rome is a natural performer - it worked and was a win - but, it did nothing to help him - it didn't show his range - and it wasn't at all the kind of artist he will be- but she sure looked and sounded like Olivia Newton-John and the duet really worked for her) I think it would be interesting if the celebrities had to sing a duet of the contestants choosing...and see how these 'stars' adapted to that - instead of the other way around.  Let the contestants shine - make it about them.
4. Change up the set.  The set with each celebrity having their own entourage lounge behind them for their contestants to sit in - is awkward- its just another way to show off the stars and make their contestants play second fiddle visually.  Its a weird Godfather-like set up.  Let the contestants stay off stage or sit on either side of the celebrity - equal to them.

It can be fixed.  Jennifer Nettles is awesome.  John Legend is wonderfully critical and I think right on the money with some of his comments.  Robin Thicke is a character and fun to watch - even if I don't like to hear him sing.  Kelly Clarkson is more sweet and silly than I expected...but still very likable. And it has Quddus as host - a human and interactive host - yay! Ultimately though, all I know of this show is its celebrities - I can only tell you the name of 1 contestant - J Rome - because its unique.  I need to see how this  can benefit the contestants.  Because right now, it doesn't.  Fix it, please.

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