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Posted at 06:30 PM ET, 03/08/2012

ABC joins reality singing competition war with ‘Duets’

Kelly Clarkson (Matt Sayles - AP)

ABC has finally jumped into the crowded world of TV singing competitions, announcing Thursday that it will unveil “Duets” this summer.

So, you know how one of the best parts of Fox’s “American Idol” is the finale, in which each of the Top-10 Idolettes sings a duet with a personal singing “idol” — such as Adam Lambert and Kiss, or Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts? Well, “Duets” will do that every week — sort of.

Like “Idol” and NBC’s “The Voice,” ABC’s “Duets” will also feature a panel of celebrity judges: ABC has signed up “American Idol” first-season winner Kelly Clarkson; Motown star-turned-songwriter/singer Lionel Richie; Sugarland frontwoman Jennifer Nettles; and R&B crooner Robin Thicke.

The four will scour the country to find “undiscovered talent worthy of being their protégés,” the network said in its announcement. That pool will get whittled down until each pro singer picks two contestants to be his or her duet partners, and those finalists will perform with the pros eack week in a live telecast.

Which means that four mentors on “Duets” will actually perform live every week. That’s unlike, say, this week’s “American Idol” episode, in which novices sang tunes made famous by Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston — while pros Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler sat and critiqued them.

Eventually — ABC’s announcement was thin on details – one duet duo will be named the winner, and the rookie singer will be awarded a record deal with Hollywood Records, the label owned by ABC parent Disney.

While the TV landscape is now littered with singing shows — including former “Idol” judge Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor” on Fox — and there’s been much talk about “singing-show fatigue,” these shows are still enormous draws.

Last week, for instance, “Idol’s” Thursday broadcast was the country’s most watched program, averaging nearly 19 million viewers, while ‘The Voice” averaged 15 million and ranked No. 6 — behind three nights of “Idol” and CBS’s two “NCIS” shows. And among 18- to 49-year-olds — the age bracket that is the currency of broadcast television — the three nights of “Idol” and one night of “The Voice” were the nation’s four most watched programs.

ABC’s “Duets” is not even the first time a broadcast network has tried a celebrity-duet competition.

Fox bought and aired “Celebrity Duets” back in 2006, but it was far more like ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” in that it involved C-listers paired with singing pros as they competed for a prize. ”The X Factor” creator/former “Idol” judge Cowell was among the producers of that dismal series, which was put out of its misery after one season.

NBC recently opened up this summer for a new singing competition when it announced that it would air the third edition of “The Voice” in the fall. That singing competition — in which Cee-Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine pick aspiring singers to join their “teams” before seeing what they look like — aired its first season last summer; the second edition has been giving “Idol” a ratings run for its money in the first quarter.

ABC is no doubt counting on Clarkson’s “Idol” connection to help put over “Duets” — she being most famously the first-season winner of the Fox singing show that started the craze in this country. Clarkson’s been a frequent chart-topper ever since winning “Idol” — which, you’ll recall, also launched in the summer, way back in 2002.

Coincidentally, both Clarkson and Thicke were guest-mentors on this week’s episode of “The Voice.”

Thursday’s announcement leaves CBS the only major English-language broadcast network without a singing competition. Heck, even CW recently announced plans for a singing show: “The Star Next Door,” in which Gloria Estefan, John Rich and other pros will travel to aspiring singers’ homes to get them ready to compete on a stage, presumably in Los Angeles.

CBS fills its summers with the exhibitionists-in-a-glass-house reality series “Big Brother,” which is pretty cheap as programming goes and does well for the network, particularly with younger viewers. The show, however, lacks the enormous ancillary upside of a singing competition: no finalists to go on tour, no music download revenue sharing, no signing of winner to parent company’s record label, etc.

The next move is yours, CBS.

By  |  06:30 PM ET, 03/08/2012

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