The first episode of "Celebrity Duets" will not feature an "American Idol"-style montage of famous people singing horrendously and generally making a spectacle of themselves.
But it's not for a lack of material, according to "Duets" creator (and "Idol" judge) Simon Cowell.
"It's the same kind of thing that happens on 'Idol' -- a lot of people who obviously think they're fantastic in the shower," he says. "We put them in a recording studio and they were absolutely hopeless."
Humiliating celebrities in front of millions of viewers would probably be bad business for both Cowell and FOX, which premieres the show at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday. Whatever audition tapes or footage exist, then, will probably never see the light of day. Besides, Cowell reasons, viewers would probably rather see good singers.
"Mike Darnell [head of reality programming at FOX], he was very clear with me from day one," Cowell says. "He said, 'One of the reasons I'm going to make this is that these people have to be good because otherwise, it's not a show you're going to want to watch.' We want some fantastic performances and some surprisingly good performances."
"Celebrity Duets," which premieres Tuesday, will pair people like actresses Lea Thompson and Lucy Lawless, "Queer Eye's" Jai Rodriguez and former WWE champion Chris Jericho with a roster of recording artists that includes Patti LaBelle, Smokey Robinson, Brian McKnight, Belinda Carlisle and Randy Travis, among others. The "non-singers," as Cowell calls them, will have had some time to prepare for their duet, but the audience won't know who the celebs are paired with until they hit the stage.
Music producer David Foster -- who appeared as a guest coach on "American Idol" last season -- and singers Little Richard and Marie Osmond will serve as judges. The audience will get to vote for their favorites starting next week, when the show moves to Thursday nights. Wayne Brady hosts.
Cowell wants the judges to be as honest as he is on "Idol," even if that means bruising an ego or two.
"You know the rules" as a participant, Cowell says. "You know you're going to get praise or not. Every one of them was prepared for that when they entered into the show. Certainly with David, I mean they'll get a very, very honest critique each time because David, probably more than anyone else other than me, knows what he's talking about."
The "non-singers" in "Duets" aren't complete novices. Jericho has fronted a heavy-metal band called Fozzy, and Rodriguez, Lawless, Thompson and fellow contestant Alfonso Ribeiro all have some musical theater experience. Still, Cowell thinks having them sing with legends like Robinson, LaBelle or Gladys Knight could be a daunting task.
"They're treating this very, very seriously," Cowell says of the celebrity participants. "They'll be as prepared as they can possibly be, but that can all fall apart on the night with nerves. I think the point where when you're on stage and you've started a song, and then you look behind you and on walks Gladys Knight -- I mean, that's a scary moment."
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