With So You Think You Can Dance over and American Idol only just beginning its first round of nationwide auditions, Fox and Simon Cowell have generously cooked up Celebrity Duets (premieres Aug. 29, at 8 p.m. ET), a quickie, two-month talent show that mixes elements of Idol and Dancing With the Stars. Eight celebrities will sing with a roster of established music artists — including Smokey Robinson, Kenny Loggins, Patti LaBelle, and Peter Frampton — that will change every week, and America will whittle down the celebs until one remains to claim $100,000 for the charity of his or her choice.
We caught up with four of the competing celebrities — ex-pro wrestler Chris Jericho, actor Hal Sparks (Queer as Folk), actress Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess), and Queer Eye guy Jai Rodriguez — as well the show’s host, Wayne Brady (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), and one of its judges, legendary music producer David Foster. (The other judges are Marie Osmond and Little Richard — yes, that’s right: Little Richard.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get on the show? Did you have to audition?
[The producers] said, ”Come down and do some singing for the show.” I was like, ”Well, I don’t know… audition?” I was expecting to go in there and, like, stand on a platform and have Simon [Cowell] at a table going, [in a British accent] ”That was absolutely rotten. It’s terrible.” But what they wanted me to do was go into the studio and jam with [Duets and American Idol musical director] Ricky Minor. They sent me a list of songs, and I had to choose one from there. At the bottom, I see ”Spinning Wheel,” by Blood, Sweat and Tears. I was like, Ahh, that’s my style. I’m a rock guy. You can’t stuff me in a Celine Dion bag.
[For the audition], I did ”Spinning Wheel,” did Metallica [”Enter Sandman”], two times each. And then they said, ”We’re going to send it to Simon. He’s in London — we’re going to digitally e-mail it to him.” The next day they called me and said I had the gig.
Who would you most like to sing with?
Smokey Robinson. C’mon — is there a more legendary singer? [And] Belinda Carlisle, I’ve had a crush on since I was 11, when ”Beauty and the Beat” came out and they were sitting in the steam room [on the cover]: I was like, Oh my god, this is almost a half-naked woman; I love her! And now I might get a chance to sing with her. That’s going to be kind of full circle.
Which two celebrity contestants are you most intimidated by?
When I saw the final list, I was like, I’m going to go online and find out what these guys got. I have a band. We’ve done three records. We’ve done some pretty extensive touring overseas and stuff. [But] Lucy Lawless — well, she’s only a Broadway singer with Grease. Jai Rodriguez — well, he’s only singing in Rent on Broadway. Hal Sparks has a band. Alfonso Ribeiro is, like, a trained choir singer. Cheech Marin has ”Earache My Eye.” Who doesn’t love that song? Everybody on this show has the chops, so to me, who am I not intimidated by? Because everybody’s got it.
I almost didn’t recognize you, with your long beautiful blond hair.
What were you expecting? Xena?
Yeah, well, Xena a little bit, maybe.
Really? Well, that’s interesting. I think everybody still thinks of me that way.
Do you think this show will be a good way to introduce yourself anew?
Yeah, though I never really considered it, because I’ve looked this way for a long time now. I was only dyeing my hair black for Xena. But yeah, I think that would be a fun little byproduct [of the show].
What did you audition with?
I chose ”I Will Survive” from the songlist they gave us, and [for] my own, I did a Dan Hicks song [laughs], because I’m such an enormous fan of his. I did ”I’m an Old Cowhand From Rio Grande.” Everybody goes, ”Wha?” But it’s a really charming song about a girl who’s not really a cowboy, just kind of likes them. Which I do. [Laughs]
Who among the musical guests are you gunning to work with?
Oh, these people like Chaka Khan. Patti LaBelle. Peter Frampton?! That is too good, man. That is a real legend right there. See, my brothers were really into Peter Frampton — they’re a bit older than me, and I just heard this music endlessly at a time in my life when I was just becoming conscious of rock and roll, and Peter Frampton kind of sums it up for me. But Smokey — I mean, oh my God, the epitome of class and the Motown sound, and still doing it. God bless him.
Some of the other contestants have really started developing a singing career — what is your singing experience?
I have performed for audiences, but it was more kind of therapy. I sang as a teenager as the lead in the school plays, and it was really a great joyous thing for me. Then I got hooked into opera and started studying opera. It was bad for me. I was too young. I didn’t have the right voice, and I lost the joy of it. So the last few years, I did a few benefits, and I did sing on Broadway, which took me back to my schooldays a little bit. That was a great adventure — I played Rizzo in Grease, just during the hiatus from Xena. I sang on SNL — I did a Stevie Nicks impression. This is my problem; I’ve been doing impressions of people my whole life, and now I can’t do that anymore. Now it’s got to be Lucy. I’m really excited to see what happens.
Next page: Jai Rodriguez and Hal Sparks