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TV Review: Can You Duet Season – The Final Top Three Duos Perform

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One week away from CMT’s Can You Duet (CYD) season finale or, as host Lance Smith noted, “only one week away from crowning country music’s next great duo.” Seven days. And what happened? Something went haywire between CMT’s programming and our cable provider. Instead of viewing the show on Saturday in the early afternoon, the HD version didn’t start until 10:30 PDT. If that wasn’t bad enough, which it was for me, the whole show wasn’t there — only the last half hour. I managed to find CYD on the standard channel, set it to record, and wouldn’t you know, the same thing happened. Sunday, ditto.

Tonight, I finally got to watch the whole show at one time. Now, I know that I could have written this up only talking about the last 30 minutes, but I just couldn’t do it. I mean, what if something amazing happened during the first two performances? Suppose Ryan & Avalon totally blew me out of the water and I thought "pick them now and forget everybody else"? Actually, they did do a… oops. I’m getting away from things here. First things first.

This week’s show began with all three duos, Steel Magnolia, Ryan & Avalon, and JB Rocket singing Big & Rich’s “Big Time” all together. What a great way to start the show. Not only do I dig the tune, but I finally got what I’d been looking for all season. Individually and as pairs, each one of them broke down that fourth wall as they connected not just with their audience but to those of us watching at home. Everyone looked very loose and natural, like they were having a total blast.

After Lance intro’d each pair, he gave some love to the judging panel. Big Kenny (BK) was grinning from ear to ear, due in part to the fact that he, along with his partner John Rich, co-wrote the opening song with Angie Aparo. Ms. Naomi Judd looked pretty happy too. As Lance recalled her musical accomplishment of having 20 top-selling singles during her career as one half of The Judds, along with daughter Wynonna, I was thinking that’s certainly something to smile about. Scott Borchetta, founder, president, and CEO of both Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, Jack Ingram) and Valory Music Co. (Reba, Jewel, Emerson Drive) had a mood to match his peers. Later on in the show one of his acts would be singing. The panel had another reason to be excited. With three acts left in the competition, each judge got to pick one of the duos to mentor in the past week.

One last piece of business before we go on. Let me once again remind you of what Scott and the other judges are looking for as they review each act:

  • Undeniable talent
  • Undeniable desire
  • Character
  • Individuality
  • A great vocal blend
  • Star power

Up first to perform was Ryan & Avalon. The song they selected was “American Track” and BK mentored their session. Or to be more precise as Avalon put it, “He decided to take upon himself to actually produce the song for us which was incredible.” Ryan said they would “lay it all on the line, it’s all or nothing.”

It was definitely cool to watch Big Kenny in action and working with him definitely infused life into their performance. For once they looked like they were into the crowd in front of them and themselves working as a team. For me it was a case of not quite enough and a bit too late in the game for the pair. BK and Ms. Naomi were tripping on how Avalon put herself out there on the stage instead of being aloof. Scott admitted they showed us something different and did a good job. 

Steel Magnolia’s turn was next. Scott was their mentor and his input centered around their singing and Meghan’s in particular as he encouraged her to stretch her vocal range out of her comfort zone. After she complied he noted that he got a tingle down his spine during their rehearsal. The song they chose was one done by Ms. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, “I Need You.” Prior to performing, Josh said, “The song is so passionate we want to do it justice so the song will speak for itself.”

It certainly worked for me, my chill factor kicked into high gear a few bars in and kept on for the whole tune. Scott loved their versatility, saying that whether they were doing a Ryan Adams type of song or “now, pulling off a Tim & Faith song, you still make it your own each week.” He also noted how strong their song (selection) sense has been. Big Kenny thought it was great and “your dynamic is so great. Fantastic job." Rounding out the trifecta, Ms. Naomi stated, “You guys are such scene stealers you leave me wanting more.”

As I mentioned earlier, part of the Big Machine Records family would be singing during the show. Kate & Kacey came out on stage. If their name sounds familiar to you, these twins were on last year’s Can You Duet singing as the Coppolas. That’s where Scott Borchetta first found out about them. If it sounds like a fairy tale to you, it was to the girls as well. “It’s a dream come true for us,” they said and then launched into their new radio single “Dreaming Love”. After the song, they had some advice for the three remaining couples. “Just be yourself and believe in yourselves because you just don’t know what’s gonna happen. You're about to go on the craziest, wildest ride of your life.”

The only ones left now were JB Rocket and Ms. Naomi. I thought it cool she had a chance to mentor them again. After all, she’s been pretty keen on them for the entire contest. As part of her process, Ms. Naomi selected the song they would sing, Garth Brooks' “More Than A Memory.” Her reasoning was the need for them to do a ballad to show the depth of repertoire. The pointers she gave were about their performance and once the session was over both guys said they were looking forward to hitting the stage.

I thought it was a good song choice for them and the way their vocals were arranged was terrific. Jonathan took the lead vocals soaring up to a point where Brandon kicked in and blended so sweetly I got those chills again… very powerful.  Ms. Naomi called them “the male equivalent of Taylor Swift for the new generation.” Scott agreed it was a great song choice and “tonight you even looked like you were supposed to be together. Congratulations on a really strong performance.” BK joked about the fact that as a pair they didn’t look symmetrical standing together on stage. They even pulled Lance up on stage which evened out the geometry of it all. Of course, that’d make them a trio and not a very good one according to what Lance said about his own singing abilities.

Now everyone had sung, so all three duos came onstage for the dreaded end of the episode someone’s-going-to-leave section. Just as I thought it would happen, Ryan & Avalon were sent packing. If you’re one of their many fans, don’t despair. Not only did they say they’d keep going on, Scott Borchetta made them promise to stay together.

Now we are less than one week away from the season finale. Last year, I really liked the final Top Four partners but Caitlin & Will were head and shoulders about the rest. This year, I can’t make that distinction between JB Rocket and Steel Magnolia… I’d be happy if either one of them took home the big prize. Kate & Kasey’s performance tonight was another reminder that being in the contest and doing great work could lead to a recording contract even if you didn’t come in first place.

Next week’s show should definitely be exciting. Besides hearing the final results of the competition, Caitlin & Will will perform. How do you feel about it? Excited? Upset because your fave didn’t make it this far? Talk to me.

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