The concept? To take famous celebrities (actors, comedians, etc.) and pair them up with lengendary singers, different ones each week. These duos would then sing live, in front of a studio audience and let America vote each week for who they thought was the best Non-Singing Celebrity (NSC) on that show. The NonPro with the least amount of votes each week would leave the show until there is but one left standing there on stage. And what would a contest be without some gold at the end of the rainbow? In this particular pot is $100,000 (USD) to be awarded to a charity of the winner's choice.
There are five contestants left. Cheech of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, Jai Rodriguez ("Culture Vulture" on Bravo's Queer Eye For The Straight Guy), Xena Warrior Princess's Lucy Lawless, actor/comedian Hal Sparks, and Alfonso Ribeiro of Silver Spoons and The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air have made it this far since the beginning of the competition. They would now go head to head on this show to see who will reign supreme on next week's season finale.
Celebrity Duets, like many contests, had to have a host/hostess. That role is filled by the multi-talented Mr. Wayne Brady. Star of the now defunct variety hour, The Wayne Brady Show, he first gained prominence as an improvisational artist on Drew Carey's Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Those successes are what made Wayne a natural as a liaison between the performers, the audience (both live and at home), and a panel of judges.
Brady began as usual with a warm greeting to all watching. He continued on to explain that this show was pivotal. Two NSCs would be voted off and the three remaining would battle it out to the finish on next week's season finale. The fate of the outcome is in America's dialing fingers as they call in their votes at the end of the show.
The celebrity judging panel, a TV Reality/talent show staple only on the show at this point, as commentators are welcomed. All three brought their own musical pedigrees to the table. Marie Osmond started her singing career at an early age and has since also become known as an actress and author. Little Richard helped pioneer Rock and Roll history at during its early stages. David Foster provided the "insider's" point of view with an impressive resume of number one hit songs that he had written and/or arranged while working with mega-stars like Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion.
With all business out of the way, the real show began.
Jai Rodriguez/Patti LaBelle. In a pre-song interview, Jai is floored when he reads the name of his partner. "This is like a dream come true and a curse. I think, for me, this week is going to be harder than ever before because my artist is so strong vocally." What an understatement! Ms. LaBelle's fierce vocal ability made her a top-notch headliner years ago and she has not lost a bit of it. Jai started "Lady Marmalade" as a solo onstage, high energy, saucy dance moves, and some pretty strong vocals of his own. When Patti joined in, it was as if they'd caught fire in a duet not sung in typical harmony but in counterpoint to one another. They were playful and their joy in working together showed. Marie's comment of "Jai, you smoked it" was interrupted by David Foster, tired of being delegated to the position of last to speak on the panel. He stated "You killed it," but meant it in the most flattering way possible. Little Richard's comments should be a TV show on their own. Suffice it to say, he agreed with both of the other judges. The in-house audience must have thought so, too, as the duo received a standing ovation.
Lucy Lawless/Richard Marx. The video clip before her song showed Lucy asking her performance consulting team, "Are you sure this isn't going to be too hard for me?" Last week she'd won the title "top vote getter" and Lucy was feeling the pressure to maintain that position. They sang "Waiting For You" and I think her nerves were showing as her vocals were a bit off; only a smidge, though. I have enjoyed her past performances but this one left me a bit flat. I lay the blame partially on the song itself but mostly the wishy-washy arrangement. There was no room for her to shine in what I thought was nothing more than a role as "glorified backup singer." But what do I know? She also received a standing ovation and the judges all gave her glowing reviews.
Hal Sparks/Dee Snider. Last week David Foster told Hal "you think you are a Rock Star and I don't believe you are." This was addressed in the video clip as Hal said, "My real reaction is I don't necessarily know that you know Rock. And it's certainly not the kind that I like." He did his homework for this week by heading out to the local Hard Rock scene to sing onstage with various bands — he definitely did not want to be one of the two NSCs to get the boot this week. Sadly, I don't think it worked, but as with Lucy's performance, I don't think it was his fault. The staging of this duet, from his look to the guitar he was playing, rang of fakery to me. He was dressed in what I can only think of as what corporate media "suits" think Heavy Metal is: headset microphone, eyeliner, brand new instrument, shiny clothes. Dee, on the other hand, personified the real deal indeed: long hair, dark shades, hand-held mic, dressed in black from head to toe. This made for a glaringly ugly comparison between the two. Hal's heavy-handed slant on certain lyrics, to highlight Foster's attitude about this genre, didn't help matters any either. Would "We're Not Gonna Take It" end up being prophetic for Mr. Sparks? Marie liked his enthusiasm, but not his screeching vocals and noted that, while Dee Snider also screamed the words, there was an element of tune and voice control to his singing. I was pretty sure Little Richard liked it, which is one of the beauties of his critiques. You can't tell what he said, but you had to dig the way he said it. David's assessment surprised me. Seriously. He would like to take Hal into the studio, "I can make you sound better and you can teach me how to rock."
Cheech Marin/Al Jarreau. The pre-song clip told us where Cheech's head was at, being a Top Five contender. "I'm gonna have as much fun as possible." And he did, as he and Al riffed and scatted their way through "We're In This Love Together." So he made a few mistakes in his performance, I couldn't have cared less because he reminded me of an uncle or family friend who always grabs the mic at get-togethers and sings just because they can, not because it's perfect. Marie said "I love you, Cheech, and I'm gonna give my time to David Foster." In other words, that's all she had to say on the matter. "I didn't know you could sing jazz. I'm very surprised," claimed Little Richard. David told us that he had a vested interest in this one, "It's not exactly the way I wrote that song, but nevertheless, you gotta lotta _______ (TV censored) to get up there and sing with Al Jarreau. I really love you for it. You did okay."
Alfonso Ribeiro/Chaka Khan. Alfonso also chose to do a David Foster song. "It's a risky choice, I know," but he had to step up his game in order for him to win. It was hit and miss for me watching at home. When he was on, he was sizzling, which made the shakier parts of his vocals stand out even more. Judge David finally got to comment first for a change. He thought "he was great and had no complaints." Marie thought he and Ms. Khan "could have sung together for years." "You sounded better than I thought" said Little Richard.
This concluded the singing portion of the show. Or, at least for the contestants, that is. Each episode has brought various changes to the non-contest segments of the show, like fine tuning it. Let me tell you, I dug it. Totally.
For example, after all contestants sang, Patti LaBelle came back on and sang "All Alone" with Wayne Brady. Not only was it a lovely touch, but the two performed well together and they also received a warm reception from the audience.
Finished with his duet, and with his host hat back in place, Wayne reminded everyone of which phone numbers to dial for each NSC as they ran highlights of the performances. One last prod to vote and a reminder that two would leave on the next show. That will leave three for the season finale next week.
I still think Jai is the one to beat for the top prize. However, it's not my call, but the voting public's, which it makes it anyone's for the taking.