Simon sings a Not-So-Simple Song
Idol judge and reality TV entrepreneur Simon Cowell faced critics via conference call about two hours ago to talk up his new Celebrity Duets show. And even as he was selling us on the concept, he was quite willing to admit who he was ripping off to make it happen.
"I really liked Dancing with the Stars," said Cowell, quickly copping to critics' early tagline for the show, Dancing-meets-American Idol. "I thought it was a great format, but I always thought it would work better as a singing show,rather than dancing. But to make it work, we had to bring in legendary artists...We went into this thinking if we could get the Smokey Robinsons and the Gladys Knights, it would work. I never in a billion years thought we could actually get them."
Turns out, he got them and more. Duets, which debuts Aug. 29, will feature singing greats (James Ingram, Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle) and the not-so-great (Michael Bolton, Randy Travis, Belinda Carlisle) paired with the requisite crop of C- and D-list celebs looking for a career boost (Lucy Lawless, Cheech Marin, Lea Thompson). Each episode features the celebs duetting with two different singing greats at different times -- the audience doesn't know who will share the stage until they step in the spotlight.
Mega-producer David Foster is the Cowell of the bunch -- the centerpiece judge who offers rudely on-target assessments passed off as honesty -- joined by Little Richard and another judge who hasn't been confimed (Cowell expects to finalize that deal in next few days, probably a female recording artist).
Executive roducer Cowell insists each of these celebrities has a good voice -- "We auditioned them three or four times...(Fox) was honest with me, the only reason we're putting this on is, these people have to be good" -- and in the back of their minds, probably believes success will lead to a Taylor Hicks-level record deal.
"No one was booked for comedy value," he insisted. "they've been taking vocal lessons, practicing for weeks...for the non-sngers, this is outide ther comfort zone. And because the're more high profile, there's more at stake if it all goes wrong."
Since this is a Fox show, Cowell may even make an appearance (another contractual uncertainty to be worked out soon), and ultra-likable Wayne Brady is hosting. And according to Cowell, one castmember was an immediate hire, the moment his name was mentioned.
"Someone said Little Richard and I said, 'Book him,' " Cowell said. "So many of these knock off shows, the panel is so dull. But Little Richard is interesting, he an artist and a personality...It wasn't obvious, and that's what I liked about it. I based it on 'Who would I want to see?' And everytime I've seen this guy interviewed, I'm genuinely interested by him."
So with Foster as the Jerky Judge and Little Richard as the Crazy Judge, all Cowell needs is the Comforting Judge (perhaps Deborah Gibson, who honed her nurturing skills tolerating the rugrats on American Juniors so many years ago). And the consummately in-command Cowell only came close to losing his cool one time: When a critic dared ask who was he centerpiece judge on American Idol.
"Me, of course," he said in a tone that left some doubt as to whether he was kidding or not. "why would you even ask that?" Why indeed.
Fox Starts Fall Season Tonite
Normally, its the fourth-place networks which start their schedules early, despearate to hook viewers before the flood of new fall shows washes away their new offerings. But Fox is jumping the gun this year, continuing their recent strategy of debuting stuff all over the map so no one really knows when their new series are on.
Prison Break at 8 tonight, and a new kidnapping series, Vanished, starts at 9 p.m. comes back to new episodes
The most interesting element of the new Prison Break is Invasion's William Fichtner addition as a super-sharp F.B.I. agent with an almost supernatural ability to figure out Scofield's moves as eight guys from the prison escape and try to stay free (he deduces, for instance, that the tattoo is the key to the plan). The usual outlandish stuff happens otherwise -- T-Bag somehow keeps causing trouble even with a hand cut off and Veronica meets an unexpected fate. This is a drama for people who think 24 is too plausible.
Vanished is a bad Ransom ripoff with a twist: the missing woman, a Senator's wife, is not who she appears to be. It's a sure bet audiences lose interest by the third episode.