Here we are. Can You Duet (CYD), second week. We have 20 people in the running, five duos that made it through the initial auditions without being sent home or split up. The remaining ten are singers that either came to the show solo in hopes of finding a partner or were separated by the judges from whomever it was they had originally paired up with.
Tonight, it’s all about the five sets of singers who were successful in staying together. They’ll each do their cover version of others’ songs with the hope that they will perform well enough to continue on in the competition. After all of them do their thing, they hear from each panel member as to what they thought of the performance. Later the judges will confer and two pairs will be sent packing.
The judging panel for this season holds two performers and one music executive. Naomi Judd and Big Kenny both know a thing or two about being part of a country music duo. Ms. Naomi, on top of being a songwriter and author, was one half of the award-winning, multi-platinum selling twosome, The Judds, teaming up with her daughter Wynonna. Big Kenny (BK) partners up with John Rich as recording artists Big & Rich who also have multi-platinum records and the pair have also seen success in writing songs for other singers. As the weeks go on during CYD, I’ll talk more about how their talents have led them to being placed on the panel and what they bring to the table.
For now let’s talk more about Scott Borchetta, the third judge, one with whom many country music fans may not be familiar. His name may not ring a bell, but I’ll bet there’s at least one or two acts on his label, Big Machine Records, that will. As founder, president, and CEO of the company whose roster includes Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, and Jack Ingram, he has to have a firm grasp of every aspect of the music industry in order for his team to do their job and do it well. A musician himself, he’s worked in radio promotion and at the Dreamworks label. In an interview with Nashville Music Guide, he was asked what his main responsibilities were and his answer was, “We all wear all hats. I just end up steering most of the time…”
You may be wondering why this is so important. Tonight on the show Scott told us what it was he’s looking for during his stint on the panel. Here’s what goes through his mind as he checks out each set of performers:
- Undeniable talent
- Undeniable desire
- A great vocal blend
- Star power
For him it has to be the whole package. What he wants is for the act to “shine brighter than the sun.” I can tell you from my own experience working in music that he’s right on the money as to what it takes to make it. Having musical abilities, no matter how incredible they are, is just not enough to get to the top. And that’s not being cynical, it’s being real. Look at your personal faves and I’ll bet that everything that Scott is looking for can be attributed to whoever it is that you like to listen to. Keep that in mind while watching the show this season, particularly during times when you feel like he might be a bit harsh in his judgments.
Back to the show. Backup instrumentals for last week’s auditions were at a minimum. Sixwire is the house band for CYD and so tonight we saw them for the first time this year. I found out about them watching The Next Great American Band in 2007 and was rooting for them to win. It’s good to be able to see them perform again, even as backup. Their 2002 record was just re-issued but I'm hoping one of these days they’ll put out some new music.
But I digress… again. As I said earlier, the five original duos would be reduced to three, which means it’s performance time. This is when I’m really glad to have a DVR. It gives me a luxury the judges don’t have, that of replay. I didn’t need it tonight though. The three pairs who impressed me the most this week are the same ones as last. I think that O’Shea, Steel Magnolia, and The Stellas all are strong contenders. The judges are going to have to step it up big time to put any new couples into my top three.
O’Shea are a husband and wife team originally from Australia, now based in Nashville. They did Faith Hill's “I’m The Lucky One.” Scott thought it wasn’t the best song to show off “what got them this far.” Ms. Naomi said they were catchy and commercial. I’m not sure, by the way she said it, if she was giving them a compliment or not because she then asked Scott if he thought they were pop. BK said, “It looks like you came with your A game” and he couldn’t think of any tips for the next time they sing. I liked their version of the song. Maybe the beginning of the song was a wee bit shaky but the rest was tight. Mainly what I look for, on top of musical talent, is how an act relates to each other and to the audience as well. I have to say that they did do both of those things. Not a lot, but enough to know it’s something they can work on in the future.
Steel Magnolia performed Ryan Adams’ “When The Stars Go Blue,” a song covered by quite a few acts, most notably Tim McGraw. According to Big Kenny, they have "the ju-ju," that energy that comes back towards you. Or as Ms. Naomi put it, they were “so sexy and provocative” and have chemistry. Scott approved of the song choice, he said they nailed it. I agree with both BK and Scott when they also stated that the twosome need to work more with their voices separately and together. I think it wouldn’t sound so much like two people just singing in harmony together. They definitely can relate well together while on stage, but except for one or two times at the beginning when Meghan migrated towards the audience, we might not as well have been around at all. The ability to do that factors into the character and star power that Scott mentioned earlier and it’s something they’ll need to address.
The Stellas are Canadians or, as Scott put it, they are “like a freight train coming down from Canada to crash through the US border” when he critiqued their cover of Lucinda Williams' “Can’t Let Go." They so impressed Ms. Naomi that all she could say was, “That’s what I’m talking about.” BK was a bit wordier, his bottom line being that they’ve sung together for so long that it’s instinctual. I concur with the esteemed panel on this, especially since I snapped back to total attention at their opening bars of the song… technically they were flawless and their vocals are so very natural together. My big but is all about how they relate, both to one another and to the audience. And that was nada, not happening in the least, no way. The great thing is that it’s something they can work on. I’m thinking that with the ease they have as a singing duo they should be able to turn it around in no time.
There you have the top three acts of the night. Of course we had to say goodbye to someone, so Chelsee & Rob as well as Harmon Creek were shown the door. I think every one could have predicted that outcome. I’m not saying they’re without talent. They are just not at the same level as O’Shea, Steel Magnolia, and The Stellas are. What Big Kenny had to say about Harmon Creek could apply to Chelsee & Rob too — it seems like they just haven’t completely matured yet.
Oh, I almost forgot. There was a cameo by Joey + Rory, alumni of last season's CYD. They were one of my favorites last year and it's too bad we didn't get to hear them sing tonight. Show host Lance Smith mentioned there would be more surprise appearances later on in the season so I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.
Two weeks down and five more to go. In store for the next episode of Can You Duet, the ten remaining singles are paired up by the judges. They will all perform and five duos will again be pared down to three.
What do you think about the end results of tonight's show? Were one of your favorites sent home? Talk to me. And I'll see ya next week.