We've seen ordinary kids rise to the top of the American Idol heap. Now the likes of Lucy Lawless, Alfonso Ribeiro, Cheech Marin, Lea Thompson, WWE champ Chris Jericho, Olympian Carly Patterson and other celebs will put their singing to the test on Celebrity Duets, which premieres August 29 on Fox.
They'll be paired with singers such as Clint Black, Peter Frampton, Macy Gray, Patti LaBelle, Aaron Neville, Smokey Robinson and Dionne Warwick. Should be quite the spectacle. And who better to give fans the scoop on this latest experiment than Simon Cowell, who talked to TV Guide in an exclusive interview this week.
Simon Cowell: Yes, we are. I've got to be honest with you, I truthfully did not think we were ever going to make the show, and I'll tell you why. We basically said to the producers, "If you can find us 10 legendary names for this show, we're going to make it, and if you don't, we can't." I gave them a 10 percent chance of proceeding.
TV Guide: Because this doesn't work if the pros are chumps.
Cowell: Absolutely. We had to have literally the best singers in the world, we felt, and I think they've pretty much done that.
TV Guide: Will each week's performance night be taped, or broadcast live?
Cowell: That's a very good question. I think it's going to be shot as all live.
Cowell: Well, I can tell you exclusively that we have just signed Little Richard. I'm really thrilled, we're very happy. We've also got [music producer] David Foster, and we have one more to fill. I think I know who it is, but it's not confirmed yet.
TV Guide: I'm guessing it will be a female?
Cowell: Looks like it, yeah, and she will be well known. David was the first choice and then somebody said to me recently, "What about Little Richard? You'll never get him, but give it a go." Well, we've confirmed him. It's great news, and it all adds to the craziness of the show.
TV Guide: Will the duets have to tackle different musical styles each week?
Cowell: Eventually, as the show narrows down, it will become themed. On the first show they're going to sing two songs each, so they will have to choose two different disciplines on the first night â€” like, an up-tempo song and a ballad, or a rock song and a country song.
TV Guide: Will the pairings always be male-female?
Cowell: Not necessarily, no.
TV Guide: Is there anything else that has not yet been reported? Any scoop?
Cowell: Yes, we just confirmed Gladys Knight as one of the singers.
TV Guide: Wow....
Cowell: Yeah. The great thing about the show is that every week more and more people are phoning up saying they want to be a part of the show.
TV Guide: Aren't the celebrities going to get nervous now, seeing the heavyweights they'll be partnering with?
Cowell: Oh god, yeah. This would be hard enough if we were asking them to sing on their own. But add in the fact that you're singing with Smokey Robinson, Gladys Night, Patti Labelle.... It's a nightmare.
TV Guide: Readers of my news blog have noted that many of the celebs, like Lucy Lawless, Jai Rodriguez and Alfonso Ribeiro, have experience singing on stage....
Cowell: It would have been very easy, to be honest with you, to just put people up there for the sake of a "car crash," but that's funny for about a second. Much like Dancing with the Stars, which I'm a big fan of, you actually want to find people who are good. Who knows what could come out of this at the end, but they're taking it really seriously. And because they are, we felt it was right that everyone who came on the show had to be auditioned. They have got to sing.
TV Guide: Any early handicapping from you?
Cowell: Oh no, it's too early to tell at the moment.
TV Guide: Switching topics, America's Got Talent was a big summer hit. Still, might there be changes for Season 2?
Cowell: Yeah, a lot of changes. Whenever we make a show, you look at it and you keep the areas that are working and you fix what you think could be better. It's much, much easier making a second season than it is a first season. But it will be bigger, better, funnier, the new [season] for sure.
TV Guide: I know "the Hoff" [David Hasselhoff] has been doing some grumbling. [In the August 7 TV Guide, he said he's been tempted to "take my [buzzer] and go home."] Any chance he might not return as a judge?
Cowell: No, we dealt with that. I called him when I read the article and said, "Is there something you want to tell me?" [Hasselhoff said] "Simon, it was my sense of humor, I was being funny.... I hope you didn't take it the wrong way" â€” and I think he genuinely felt it. I think he was trying to be English in his humor, and it didn't come off. [Laughs] He sent me a note saying he loves the show and wants to be a part of it, and we love having him on the show.
TV Guide: And what's your take on the songwriting "competition within the competition" planned for the upcoming season of American Idol?
Cowell: Look, it's always worth trying new things. My feeling is that we're going to get a lot of songs written with the words "moment," "proud" and "blessed" in them. [Laughs] I think that will be the recurring theme. If we find a hit, fantastic. If we don't, we've given it a go.