Celebrity Duets TV Series


Cowell’s New Show Falls Flat

Year(s): 2006
Network: Fox
Creator: Simon Cowell
Principal cast: Wayne Brady (host), Little Richard, David Foster, Marie Osmond (judges)

Summary: American Idol with B-list celebs competing with help from music all-stars.

Not everything Simon Cowell touches turns to gold. The television and music producer may seem to be a modern Midas, but his Celebrity Duets offering failed so horribly that every other network show had better ratings during Duets’ finale.

The premise was simple. Mix Cowell’s ratings monster American Idol with Battle of the Network Stars or similar fare. Throw in an affable host and more guest stars than The Love Boat ever dreamed of casting, and Fox thought it had a new hit.

Host Wayne Brady was superb, showing the world what Ryan Seacrest with singing and comedic talent could do with his nervous Idols. Brady was flustered a few times during the live show, but managed to corral the squabbling judges (multi-Grammy winner David Foster and singers Little Richard and Marie Osmond) and hold his own with superstars of other eras. Lest you think this was a variety show with ready-to-retire stars, among the show’s guest stars were Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, Boyz II Men and Jesse McCartney.

The concept was similar to Idol, but with two important variants: the duet format and the pairing each week of the B-list celebs with a music legend. Each legend would work with his/her celeb and Idol bandleader Ricky Miner to craft a duet for one of the legend’s most famous songs. There were some fine moments and some painful moments, but perhaps the most interesting was seeing how the legends had aged.

Give credit to Cowell for enticing a varied group of contestants to risk their reputations by singing. Included in the competing group were TV stars Jai Rodriguez (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), Lea Thompson and Xena‘s Lucy Lawless. Joining them were wrestler Chris Jericho, comedian Cheech Marin and even a gymnast. Lawless was one of the finalists, as was comedian Hal Sparks (who once had a band), but the surprise winner was Alfonso Riberio. Like its Idol predecessor, there was musical background in the winner’s circle. Legend has it that Riberio (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Silver Spoons) was discovered by Michael Jackson, and later appeared on records and Broadway. This was a striking similarity to Idol’s season 5 winner, Taylor Hicks, who had already completed two independent albums when he won the competition.

The guest stars were top-notch, a mix of light rock, country and R&B superstars. “This is musical royalty,” chirped host Brady when Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight sang together. But Brady, who ultimately came out best in this show, got his own licks in, singing on different nights with Patti LaBelle and Boyz II Men.

American fans never warmed to the show, however, and that plus the critics’ lack of interest already signals that there won’t be a repeat. One only hopes Brady finds another show and starts appearing regularly on television again. His days from the What’s My Line faux improv show allowed us to see flashes of brilliance. His work on Celebrity Duets was mostly brilliant.

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