I’m so excited now we’ve reached week four of CMT’s Can You Duet (CYD). If it wasn’t for real before, it is now. As host Lance Smith reminded us at the start of the show tonight, there are six duos left, three originals and three that have been paired up by the judges. He called them the “best of the best.” O’Shea, Steel Magnolia, and The Stellas were all kept together. Matt Boggs and Keeira Lyn Ford (as Matt & Keeira), Jonathan Cox and Brandon Green (a.k.a. JB Rocket) as well as Ryan (Larkins) & Avalon (Peacock) were those lucky to be given a second chance at the golden ring. By the end of the night, we would have our Top Five.
As always, Lance gave a bow to the panel of judges. Scott Borchetta, founder/president/CEO of Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, Jack Ingram) is the man who has to put his money where his mouth since it’s a recording contract with this label to be awarded to the winning couple. She did such a great job last year, CMT asked Naomi Judd to come back. She’s a joy to watch, so I’m glad she’d carved out a chunk of her time out of her busy schedule to be on the show again. The third judge is Big Kenny (Alphin), one half of the country duo Big & Rich. Tonight, it’s his turn in the spotlight as I talk about what he brings to the table.
Joining up with John Rich was a major career turnaround for Big Kenny (BK). He’d recorded a solo album (Live A Little) in 1999 that wasn’t released until 2005, after Big & Rich made a name for themselves. They recorded three albums—Horse of a Different Color, Comin' to Your City, and Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace – between 2004 to 2007. Even though 2007's "Lost in This Moment" was their only #1 single, "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)," "8th of November," "Holy Water," and “Big Time” all cracked the Top 20 singles charts. He is a songwriter in his own right, both as co-writer and also on his own, including Tim McGraw’s #1 single "Last Dollar (Fly Away)." He knows his way around the music biz. By the way, he has a free downloadable song on his website called “Long After I’m Gone.” It’s an amazing song with an incredible sentiment with a cool video, also on his site. Watching it you get a feel that he’s the real deal. Videos of his journey to the Sudan, showing him as he reached out to others, are also on his site as is his philosophy which states “Highlight the good, inspire greatness and encourage mutual responsibility for the betterment of humankind.”
In BK’s role as mentor on tonight’s CYD, he most certainly inspired all of them to reach levels I’m not sure even they thought they were capable of. I know all three judges were surprised at the growth they saw. Lance talked to Big Kenny. “This week you had the chance to work with all six of our duos during their rehearsal sessions. Can you give us a little preview of what we can expect tonight?” His response? “You can expect to be blown away. It’s that simple. I can’t believe the lineup that we’ve come up with so far. Good luck to all of you. May I see you at the top.”
Lance also threw another twist into the mix. At the end of each individual performance, any duo that received three yeses from the judges would automatically go on to next week’s show. Anything less and they would have to wait until the end of the show, when Lance would announce the judges' choice on who would be leaving.
Now is a good time to review Scott’s list—the things he’s looking for. They may say it in different terms, but it’s basically what Ms. Naomi and BK are wanting from every duo too. From tonight on, it would be crucial that each act bring all these things to the table:
- Undeniable talent
- Undeniable desire
- A great vocal blend
- Star power
On with the show. First up is Matt & Keeira and their segment started, as all did tonight, with a clip of their session with Big Kenny. Told they could ask him whatever they wanted, Matt asked about last week’s performance and what could they do to improve upon it. BK’s answer was “Balance. When you come together it should ignite.” Keeira’s question was about song choices. What if Big & Rich didn’t agree on a song? He said they wouldn’t do it. A song had to be something they both wanted because “without a common denominator of things they both like, it’s not real.” These are life lessons these singers are getting here. We were shown Keeira and Matt in a spat about their song choice, Garth Brooks’ “Papa Loved Mama”. Matt was psyched about it and Keeira was not, she wanted a compromise. Like last week, they sounded good together and the energy level was high. But it fell flat because they weren’t a team. They didn’t connect to one another or to the crowd.
Ms. Naomi said that tonight she may look like June Cleaver, but she’s really Marie Antoinette. She wouldn’t give them a yes. BK thought they might be the most improved from last week and they’d raised their collective energy quotient. Scott opted for a concept that we would hear a lot of during this week’s mentoring. They would need to find something unique between the two of them and work that angle. He did give the two a high five for effort.
The Stellas were up next. Marylynne thought having Big Kenny mentor them was a little bit surreal. As for himself, BK loved their voices and how they performed. They'd need to step out of themselves and work ther unique qualities. They hit the stage ready to make their mark, and they were certainly dressed for it. Well-coordinated but not matching in jeans with black and red on top. Oh, and Marylynne had on a pair of killer red boots with spiked heels. They sang Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song”, a simple, sweet song. They upped the ante when they named their two daughters in the lyrics. For me, it was a great performance. Even better, the hubby and I have something we call the chill factor, when tingles run up and down your spine. It's when an artist tells a story. It’s a rarity when I get to experience that sensation. I got the chills as I watched them.
BK said, “Thank you to whatever happened to pull them out of the woodworks of this little 800 population town in Canada. You came and showed us this God-given gift to the world. Amen!” Ms Naomi said, “You’re experimentalists, you’re unorthodox. I love the fact that you’re kind of this renegade thing but you live this organic simple life back home . I just find you enchanting and I’m going to absolutely say yes.” I was surprised at Mr. Borchetta’s response, especially as he reminded us that they are one of his favorites in the whole show. He thought it was the least interesting song they’d done so far.
Up next were Steel Magnolia and Joshua quickly cut to the chase during their time with Big Kenny. “What do we have to do to win?” His response was, “To be great. It involves everything from the way you look to just the presence you give off.” He called it “lightning in a jar.” BK went on to say it was how the two played off of their sexual energy that drew him to them. He could tell they enjoyed being there singing together. They sang the Steeler’s Wheel song “Stuck In the Middle With You” and right from the get-go, with the way they were dressed, you could tell they were there to win. Joshua wore a retro black suit with a skinny black tie, sleeves rolled up. Meghan just blew everyone else out of the water with her looks and attitude. She had on a sparkly iridescent mini dress with some fierce pink pointy-toed stilettos with a silver heel. Her updo went great with the whole swingin’ '60s, London Mod look, including the black velvet bow she wore in her hair, just like my older cousins used to do when I was a kid. As for her attitude, she strode to the front of the stage, saying, “This is a song for anybody that stayed out too late. Maybe you partied too long and wound up somewhere you shouldn’t have been.” She remembered to relate to the audience and her partner and even gave backup band Sixwire a nod and a wink a couple of times. Josh took a moment to step out from behind the mic stand and do a bit of footwork. Major chill factor for me… twice in one night!
The judges were pleased too. BK said he finally got their name, he’s the tree and she’s the flower. And then, “Look at that. Y’all have become an act here tonight, they may be unstoppable.” He was in. Ms. Naomi went wild as she explained that they gave her the zips, the zowies, and the woohoos and the a-has. In her excitement she flounced up her multi-colored frothy underslips and as she sat, said, “That would be a yes.” Had I hallucinated or was Scott Borchetta smiling? He asked, “It’s a cable show, so can we cuss?” Then he leaned over to his mic and said, “Hell, yes.” Which made Steel Magnolia the first group to get a guaranteed spot on next week’s show.
O’Shea were next. Jay asked BK what he thought they were lacking. He thought they looked pretty slick and could they make it a little bit raw, to add a bit of an edge to their originality. He said, “They look like they are an act in a show. Instead, they have to act like they are the show.” Last night, Jay wore a simple button-down shift in a neutral that played up her classic looks and red hair. Mark had on a brown, long-sleeved shirt with rolled-up cuffs and some very cool, funky jeans to offset his angelic face—two separate styles that seemed to complement each other nonetheless. Their song was Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and they started it out with Mark on his acoustic guitar. Along with their look, their performance was different than any they'd done before with subtle changes on both accounts that took my breathe away. They sounded so amazing together and they've learned lessons that could very well take them to the top.
Scott said they did a great job and it knocked everybody down. He gave them a rousing yes. Big Kenny told them, “It’s so awesome to sit here and watch people improve so drastically over such a short period of time. You’re a whole new act here tonight.” He also gave them a yes. Ms. Naomi mentioned that she, along with others, had felt O’Shea was too slick, too poppy, but that tonight they flipped her like a pancake. Her yes gave them the three they’d need to go onto next week’s show.
It was Ryan & Avalon’s turn. Their session with Big Kenny was all about performance. They would sing a Collective Soul song called “Shine”. Ryan reasoned that the song had a lot of energy, which they haven’t brought to the table yet. BK was concerned more about the actual singing as sometimes they aren’t always in tune. “One wrong note tonight could send you home,” he warned them. They started by making a bolder stand with their look. Avalon wore a red dress with black accents that went well with Ryan’s black, long-sleeved shirt and slacks. For them, it was a big step. About half way through the song their energy kicked into a higher gear. That got a good response from the audience and I enjoyed it but I wasn't sure it would be enough.
BK didn’t think the song accentuated that their look or energy. Ms. Naomi said the song choice didn’t do it for her either. As for Scott, he’d said all along they sing like they’ve been doing it for five years. He loved what they were doing and he would “make sure they make it to the next round.” With only his one yes vote, they would have to wait.
Last up was JB Rocket (Jonathan Cox and Brandon Green) to sing Diamond Rio’s “Meet In The Middle". BK’s hip to the fact that their looks will draw in the ladies “from eight to eighty.” The important thing would be for these two to find their unique voice during the competition. Their goal was to show how much they’ve progressed and to “blow everyone out of the water.” They were dressed casually and rocked their look. I thought they sounded great together. No chills, but great anyway. They were worked towards relating to each other and to the audience.
Scott loved their musical style. As he put it “You pick out something cool and you come up with a great, different, arrangement. I’m just diggin’ it. I’m a yes.” BK felt something was off but he wasn’t sure what. Ms. Naomi also gave them her yes. But as Lance pointed out, it’s not the unanimous three required so they had to wait.
Everyone had sung and the camera scanned the four duos left standing onstage. I felt there was only one choice as to who should be asked to leave. Steel Magnolia and O’Shea had gotten the go ahead for next week, so it was between Matt & Keeira, The Stellas, Ryan & Avalon, and JB Rocket as to who would leave. Keeira wasn't looking too happy. And with good reason. She and Matt were let go. In closing, Scott echoed something Matt said earlier. They are both lead singers. Singing with a partner as a duet is not for either one of them.
Like last week, I’m not ready to pick a winner yet but O’Shea, Steel Magnolia and The Stellas all caught my eye from the beginning and have improved each week. But I’m not going to discount JB Rocket and Ryan & Avalon just yet. I should have a clearer view after next week's show.
Lance closed as he said next week Wynonna would stop by to help Ms. Naomi work with the final five duos. He asked, “Are you sure about that, Naomi?” Her response? “It’s gonna be a combination of Family Feud, Survivor, and America’s Dumbest Criminals. Plan your life around it.” You couldn’t keep me away. In the meantime, let me know what you think. Was your favorite kept or let go? Talk to me. And I’ll see ya next week.