What do you get when American Idol (A.I) producers Fremantle Media North America teams up with Country Music Television (CMT)? A great music talent show… with a few twists.
For Open Audition Day, aspiring country music duos hit Nashville for their chance at the big brass ring. The spin on the contest is the possibility some of the couples may be split up. One or both could find themselves paired up with someone new. Single artists can also give it a go in the hopes they will find will a harmonious partner to enter the competition with. Callback Day will give the judging panel a second look at all the performers, both duos and singles, that made it through the first set of tryouts. By the end of this process, twenty singers will remain, a mixture of already paired duets and single players. As the weeks continue on, eventually one couple will emerge as the top duet and win a contract with a Nashville-based record company.
I watched the first season of Can You Duet last year and really enjoyed it. It shared a lot of elements withA.I. and was very easy to get hooked on. When it came down to the Top Ten duos, I was pretty impressed with almost all of them. But there was one that I felt stood hands and shoulders above the rest, Caitlin & Will. Put together by the judges, it was amazing to see how they gelled as a team and they certainly deserved to win. Okay. I'm not going to lie to you. It felt pretty good to have my fave singing duo win the whole enchilada.
Fast forward a year (and a week) from last season’s finale. Tonight, the first episode of Can You Duet's second season premiered. It started out with a brief recap of last year. Then, it was onto a rundown of the specifics of the competition and the end result for one pair, a recording contract with Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, Jack Ingram).
Next up was the introduction of this season’s judging panel. Speaking of the label tied to promoting the winning duo, its founder, president, and CEO Scott Borchetta is on for the duration. In his CMT blog, here’s what he had to say about the duties he took on: “There was no desire for me to be a judge. There was a desire to work with the platform and see if we could break an act out of it.” I like the way that he thinks and it makes perfect sense to me. I’m really looking forward to his input during the whole show and then seeing how Big Machine Records works with the winning duo.
Big Kenny (part of Big & Rich as well as a talented singer/songwriter in his own right) is also a panelist. On his CMT blog, he talks about how it came to be and that he actually turned down the offer three times. Here’s his reasoning: “So if I was going to be a part of something, it had to be completely truthful and of the highest caliber that we could make it. And I have to make sure that I can have an honest conversation with people.” Now that he’s on the show, he says, “I’m humbled by that process that I could be a part of something that is turning out like this. Because that’s what my heart wanted, was to be part of something.” Watching him on tonight’s premiere has me thinking he’s definitely made the right decision. What I saw was that he is being real and true while still having a blast. Can’t wait to see what else he’ll bring to the table.
Judge number three, and certainly not last by way of placement on my list, is Ms. Naomi Judd, returning from her stint last season. An accomplished singer/songwriter and author, Ms. Naomi also knows a thing or two about being part of a duo as she first reached acclaim singing with her daughter Wynonna as The Judds. She too felt similar to her fellow panelists when first asked to be on the show. She talks about that on the blog on CMT. “At first when they asked me to do this show last year, I said 'No way, Jose! My name is Judd, not Judge!’ And then I thought about it, and A) I like to believe I’ve got some experience and credibility, and B) I feel so strongly about the truth. I obviously love country music, and I’m concerned about the way country music’s going. I call it a pale counterfeit.” As for returning again? “I feel like this year is bigger, better, more!” I loved her last season because she was, in turn, kind and warm yet brutally honest when it was called for. I have no doubt that she will do the same this time around.
Up next on the show’s agenda, meeting the contestants. Perhaps because the show runs decidedly shorter than A.I. does, they need to get down to business fast. That means there wasn’t much time to waste on putting those lacking in musical abilities on the show and I’m glad of that. Instead, they showed a good mix of duos that came down to Nashville together and singles hoping to make a spark, including how some of the pairings came to be.
To let us know that it wasn’t all fun and games for the judges, Ms. Naomi stepped out from behind the table after stopping one mediocre pair. “This is boring. I can’t stand it. Stop. Please. There’s gotta be better talent out there than that.” With both Scott and Big Kenny in agreement, she stood up and said, “I’ll be right back. I’m on a mission.” Off she went out into the street, talking to this one and that until she found a duo that was more to her fancy.
Those two, The Broussards, made it through Opening Auditions and into Callback Day going into the second hour of the show. From the thousands who started the try-outs, there are now 39 performers — 16 twosomes and seven singles. And still more work to be done as at the end of the night, there would only be 20 people who would make the trip to “The Big Stage” a.k.a. Nashville’s Wild Horse Saloon.
Each of the 16 worked two-on-one with musical director Steve Mandile on making their next song be the best possible. The remaining seven solos were put in a room to duke it out in forming new partnerships with one person remaining who would perform solo. As they then worked with Steve, the original couples performed in front of the judges. This time, even though the judges could comment, no one would get a final thumbs up or down until Ms. Naomi, Big Kenny, and Scott conferred behind closed doors.
Five original duos made it:
- Chelsee & Rob
- Harmony Creek
- Steel Magnolia
- The Stellas
While I thought they were all pretty good, I was most impressed with O’Shea and The Stellas.
With the duos out of the way, it's back to the seven singles (three duos and one solo). After rehearsals with Steve, it was time to perform for the judges. From that group, only one pairing went through together, Ryan (Larkins) & Avalon (Peacock) although they were given notice that they could still be split. I’ll tell you what. These two sounded like they’ve been performing together for years not hours and will give everyone else a good run for their money so they get my vote to stay together. Here are the other eight (between singles that were kept and duos that were split during Callback) that are left unpaired by the end of the night:
- Abby Fender
- Brandon Green
- Holly Johnson
- Jonathon Cox
- Kassie Miller
- Keeira Lyn Ford
- Matt Boggs
- Memarie Gayle
They all have good chops and it will be up to the judges as to who will end up together. I have faith in their judgement. Remember, that’s what happened with Caitlin & Will last season.
So. Twenty voices. Five permanent duos and five to put together. That’s how the two-hour premiere episode went down. I can’t wait ‘til next week’s show. The Top Five original duet partners will sing and two will be sent packing. We’ll find out the fate of those still not paired up. With all the opening/callback business out of the way, we can settle in to the format of each weekly show and start cheering our favorites onto victory. See ya then.