The show opens with a brightly-lit performance by the four judges (coaches? professionals? I'm not sure what to call them just yet!) - they're singing 'Let Me Entertain You'. As the song draws to a close, we're introduced to the host, Quddus, and urged to "give it up" for our four singers. They then take their seats in the "superstar lounge" - basically four Voice-style seats that are far apart and have their own fancy little computers and look like something out of Star Trek.
For those unfamiliar with how the show is going to go down, every week the amateurs will get to take to the stage with their duet partners as they vie for a recording contract with Hollywood Records, home of (let me Google quickly)... Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus and Idol alum Stefano Langone. Oh dear.
The one thing Duets has going for it is that it cuts out the middle man - we don't have to watch a bunch of painful, pointless auditions - the professionals (we're going with that name for Clarkson and co. for now) have already found the amateurs they want to work with. Not to mention, considering the previews of the upcoming season they show, they've already filmed the entire thing, encouraging complete passivity from the viewers.
First off on her search for her duet partners (each professional gets two) is Jennifer Nettles. She's pared down all the audition tapes to choose her favourites, who are then invited to come sing for her in person. She's looking for someone who can sing multiple styles and with whom she has chemistry on stage.
The first person who sticks out to Jennifer is Brandon, who comes to perform a trial run with the Sugarland singer to see how they sound together. Jennifer is pleased with his performance, but wants to do further auditions in New York (where she's seeing a whole new batch of talent). In particular, she is in love with soul singer J Rome's voice - and he's got a great "I'm doing this for my family" story, as well.
Turns out, J Rome really did win her over, as he becomes her first duet partner, and they give the show's first "live" performance of Sugarland's 'Tonight'. They actually sound quite good together despite their disparate styles. J Rome has a lot of charisma and the fact that he can sing a song clearly so far from his background genre says a lot for him - it suits him, for sure.
The superstars now (save Jennifer) get to rate J Rome's score - two separate ones based on performance and presentation, between 0 and 100. Kelly admits that she was nervous about how they'd blend styles, but she thinks they sounded "so great". Robin is also a big fan, joking that he isn't fond of J Rome since he's so handsome and has a great voice. "That's how you kick off a season of Duets," he adds. John is also pleased, telling J Rome that he looks and sounds like a star.
As the first to perform, J Rome is obviously at the top of the chart. We don't get to see his individual scores, but the leaderboard will shift throughout the night as more acts take the stage.
Next to begin the hunt for his partner is John Legend. He doesn't go far, mind - he holds auditions right in the Duets studio. John does seem to be a bit up himself, unfortunately, insisting what a good judge he is in determining whether someone is a good singer or not due to his years of experience, yada yada.
The first person to catch John's eye is a guy named Johnny Gray, though he's concerned that Johnny riffs too much. They sing 'Ordinary People' together during a call back which, admittedly, sounds really gorgeous. He instructs him to scale it back and is pleased with the result, eventually inviting Johnny to perform with him on stage as his first amateur contestant.
Since 'Ordinary People' went over so well, they perform it again. I'm a little confused, though - didn't will.i.am claim he wrote this song? Because John just said he did. Well, whoever wrote it should be proud - it's really great. Nicely paced, their voices work well together, and it's just really great. So great, in fact, that Robin gives it a standing ovation.
Robin recalls opening up for John Legend in the past, where he got to hear the song every night. Robin's amazed and impressed with the emotion that Johnny has in it. Kelly appreciates the joy and vulnerability that he shows on stage, and Jennifer also loves it, saying that his lower register is "warm like honey". Still, once the leaderboard is revealed, he's only landed in second place.
Speaking of Robin, he's next out to search for his first contestant. He wants to find people with great energy and a lot of soul - not to mention someone who fits with his own style. Two singers catch his eye - Dante and Olivia - so they perform one more time with him. He's a little concerned with Dante's timing. Olivia is a great singer, but he wants to make sure the chemistry is there. It's a tough decision, but he ends up going with Olivia Chisholm.
The pair then take to the Duets stage to sing Robin's hit 'Lost Without You'. They do have good chemistry, and Olivia has a great voice - I could totally hear her on a record, like, tomorrow. On a side note, this song is really ridiculous, but I suppose it's a case of different strokes for different folks. Ahem.
John thinks that she sounded really sexy, almost like Aaliyah with the "subtle, sexy approach". However, he says that she could get into it even more and feel even more comfortable. Jennifer loves it as well, saying that her voice is authentic in the genre. Kelly would give her left leg to look like Olivia, adding that she looks "so sexy and so beautiful". She lands in third place on the leaderboard.
Finally, Kelly heads out on the road to look for her duet partner. She holds auditions while out on tour, and has really connected with Jason and Julianna. However, she wants to throw one more curveball at them - she makes them get on stage with her during one of her concerts. Jason Farol becomes emotional on stage but it hardly matters - Kelly picks him.
They pair up on the Duets stage for a version of 'Breaking Your Own Heart'. It sounds good, but it seems as if nerves may have gotten to Jason, as he just doesn't seem to be on the same level as the other amateurs who have come before him. He does have a lovely voice, of course; maybe he just needs to loosen up.
Jennifer thinks that when his voice opens up, it lights up the room, calling it "fantastic". Robin can come to the only conclusion that he's "adorable" - his face, his voice, etc. John loves how much he loves being here and loves music, congratulating him on getting through. That's not much positive feedback. Unsurprisingly, he ends up in fourth place. Not much shaking up happening yet.
For the second round, John is back out looking for his second duet partner. After meeting with a few different female singers, he ends up with a former IRS agent Bridget Carrington, and they hit the Duets stage to perform his song 'Tonight (Best You Ever Had)'. They've got good chemistry and sound good together - I'd listen to it!
Robin says that the performance made him want to "go to the club and get it poppin'", though Kelly would rather "call [her] man". Robin goes on to say that they have a chemistry that works, while Jennifer adds that there was "such sophistication" and it was a "classy" performance. Kelly thinks it was "hot and sexy" and that she did great with John's "smooth tone". She ends up in fourth place, just above Jason.
Next, Jennifer is out to look for her second contestant... at the Georgia 4H headquarters. However, she eventually connects really well with John Glosson, a gospel singer at Jennifer's nanny's church. She's reduced to tears listening to him, so it's pretty clear he's heading to the show with her.
They head to the Duets stage for a performance of her hit song 'Stay'. Who knew Jennifer Nettles was so great? I'm sure a lot of Sugarland fans, but since I don't listen to them, this show has really introduced me to her and I think she's great! As for the performance, the pair blend incredibly well. This guy doesn't strike me as having superstar quality (despite having a really great, strong voice), but it is good, nonetheless.
Kelly says that he's "like an angel" as she wipes tears from her eyes. John really loves his "crystal clear" voice and the way he blended with Jennifer. Robin appreciates that he could hold his own with a voice as strong as Jennifer's, as well as the fact that he still managed to make it his own. He ends up in third place after that performance - whaaaaat? It wasn't that good!
Off to search for his final partner, Robin is looking for a gospel singer, as no-one will sing with more passion and soul. He's brought it down to two contestants - Alexis and Jasmine. Both are great singers, but it ends up being Alexis Foster who gets through. Alexis and Robin take to the Duets stage to perform 'Magic'. Alexis seems to be overdoing it just a bit and is slightly awkward, despite having a great voice. She's clearly not used to being on TV, but hopefully she'll loosen up over time.
Kelly loves that she seems so happy on stage and has such a beautiful voice, while John praises her clear tone. Jennifer feels the magic, calling it "fantastic" and applauding her for getting the crowd into it. She lands in third place. Really? What is happening?!
Finally, it's Kelly's turn to fill her final spot. Two girls stand out to her, Ashley and Jordan, the latter of whom is a rather big fan of the 'Stronger' singer. After a final sing-off, it's Jordan Meredith who makes a bigger impact and is invited to join the Duets stage alongside her hero.
Once there, they perform... well, 'Stronger'. Jordan's got a bit of something about her - a rocky edge and a great tone that really does blend well with Kelly. Sure, she's extremely nervous and needs more experience on stage, but the basics are there so there's plenty to build on.
John thinks that Kelly did a great job finding someone who matches her tone, which is a huge compliment. Jennifer agrees, saying that at times she couldn't tell the two singers apart. Robin loves her smile, her hair and her voice, adding that the stage is "bubbling with good times" following their performance. She lands in seventh place.
And that ends the performances for the first episode! Next week, the amateurs will tackle classic duets and someone will be heading home from the competition.
At the end of the first episode, the leaderboard is as follows:
1. J Rome
2. Johnny Gray
3. Alexis Foster
4. John Glosson
5. Olivia Chisolm
6. Bridget Carrington
7. Jordan Meredith
8. Jason Farol
Duets continues Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC.