With “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “Dancing With the Stars” out of the way, we have three more competition shows in our midst.
Already, NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” is under way and tonight, “So You Think You Can Dance” on Fox and the new “Duets” debuts tonight.
Kelly Clarkson and “Duets” creator Robert Deaton talked to the press yesterday.
Clarkson was especially gabby.
Deaton, who had produced the CMA Awards, was approached by ABC to do a music show last fall. They decided early on they needed big stars and wanted them actively involved. To do so, they came up with “Duets.”
The convinced Clarkson, Lionel Richie (replaced at the last second by John Legend), Sugarland lead singer and local Jennifer Nettles and R&B star Robin Thicke to sign on. The four singers scoured the country for talent and each found two to work with. The winner gets a recording contract.
I was the first journalist on the line so I got to ask the open-ended, “How did this come about and why did [Kelly] get involved.” (After all these years, this is actually the first time I’ve ever conversed with Clarkson.)
“I was captivated by the idea,” Clarkson said. “Robert mentioned the CMA Awards. My favorite part of awards shows are the collaborations, the mix of people who aren’t normally on stage together. That’s what drew me to the idea of the show.” She said she didn’t just want to be a judge. “That’s not my style,” she said. “I love the fact we also get to walk the walk. We have to be part of it every week… we get to perform with the other stars on the show. It was kind of fun.”
She said that it was especially challenging to find singers who could harmonize well. “It’s a bit of an art,” she said. “You have to know when to shine and when to pull back. Not only the contestants but all of us.”
Losing Richie was a disappointment. (Apparently, the success of his album “Tuskegee” meant his obligations got too heavy. Then again, it’s not as if Clarkson is twiddling her thumbs. She just had a No. 1 single and is in the midst of touring to promote her current album).
Clarkson said she picked two singers “who were like me when I started on ‘Idol.’ ”
She also liked the idea of working on a new show because that’s what “Idol” was in 2002. “No one’s jaded or entitled.”
On “Idol” at the time, “nobody knew what they were doing. The show blew up at the top four,” she said. She then repeated her description of it at the time: “Ghetto Idol.” “We just didn’t have anything they have now. We couldn’t get songs cleared. We didn’t have people helping us as contestants. I love the fact, 10 years later, I get to actually be that person for two of these contestants. I get to handpick them. I get to actually help and give someone a chance.”
She admitted it all felt a bit nostalgic.
Clarkson has built a thick skin over the past 10 years, absorbing a steady drumbeat of complaints from inside and outside the industry about her weight, her sexual preferences, her musical choices. She’s proud when fans come up and say they love what a great example she is, how she exudes confidence no matter what challenges she faces. Citing Jennifer Lopez and Paula Abdul and others, “we’re all examples in our own way. We all stand up for some group of kids,” she said.
One reporter asked why she’s lost weight in recent months. She noted that she has fluctuated about 20 pounds for years. She credits her boyfriend Brandon Blackstock for inspiring her to work out. “I’m kind of that girl,” she said. “I tend to tone up or get fit whenever i want. And I choose to. My boyfriend and I are really into it at the moment. I’d love to say it’s for work. It wasn’t.”
Clarkson said she had two weeks to find her two singers. Legend, who came in to replace Richie, had only one. He watched YouTube clips and 300 people out of Los Angeles.
She then raved about Legend: “He is such an artist. He brings musicianship and integrity, an underground indie level of integrity and artistry. I’ve been super impressed. You get your own John Legend concert ever week. It’s kind of ridiculous… His critiques are amazing.”
Who’s her biggest competition on “Duets”?
She cited Nettles. “We all have really great people. I think she did a great job nailing people that really shine with her. I think if you ask Robin and John, they’d answer that, too. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see the show.”
As for the music business herself, she repeated what Bo Bice told me last week: being on “Idol” does not guarantee success. “It’s hard work,” she said. “The four years after ‘Idol’ was grueling. I had no life. I went overseas and had to break in as a new artist because they didn’t have ‘Idol.’ I tell the people who are with me on the show that this is your 15 minutes in front of the world. What you do afterwards is what counts. Find a good group of people, a great manager and a great band. A great production team. It takes a village! And persistence.”
And she reminded the reporter that coming off “Idol” was a bit of a hindrance at first. “Everyone hated ‘Idol’!” she said. “I was getting bashed left and right! I did all these state fairs. I joked that I started playing in cow manure. I still do! You have to work the markets. You have to be there for your fans.”
“Duets,” 8 p.m. ABC, Thursdays
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk