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Duets’ Robin Thicke Judges Pop’s Weirdest Pairings

Singer Robin Thicke arrives at the 2012 Billboard Music Awards held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

R&B singer-songwriter Robin Thicke traveled across the country to find potential singing partners for Duets, this year’s 53rd singing competition premiering on ABC tonight. In honor of the occasion, we asked Thicke, whose parents Alan Thicke and Gloria Loring wrote and sang the themes for Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, to weigh in on some of pop’s strangest pairings. “Once you have two energies, it’s all about how the energies come together, you know? It could be explosive or completely boring,” he says. And no, we didn’t ask him about “Ebony and Ivory” because, really, hasn’t it all been said?

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony decided to sample Phil Collins’s “Take Me Home” for their 2003 single “Home.” Collins was so cool with it, he sang the chorus himself, earning him the nickname Chrome Bone from the group.

Robin’s Response: He hasn’t heard it. “I like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. They’re original. No one ever really sounded like them. I’m going to say thumbs up for that one.”

“Whatzupwitu,” a track on Eddie Murphy’s third studio album, paired the comedian with Michael Jackson. In 1999, MTV viewers voted the single’s music video the third worst in history, and the channel stopped playing it permanently.

Robin’s Response: It doesn’t work. “I’ll say that I’m a huge fan of both of them individually. [Laughs.] I definitely remember that — and I remember the video, too. There were clouds, and they were up in the sky. It looked like a Sesame Street video. The song was like (sings), ‘What’s up with you … ’ Michael could sing the phone book and it would sound incredible, but I like them separate better.”

For 1985’s Live Aid, David Bowie and Mick Jagger wanted to perform Martha Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street.” Instead, they shot this video together:

Robin’s Response: It works. “I was just a baby when I saw that, and I loved it. I thought it was so much fun. It worked because the energy it gave off. Obviously, you can talk about outfits and dance moves, and there it’s not so good, but I still give it a rock-and-roll thumbs-up.” 

For his album The Return of Bruno, Bruce Willis enlisted the Pointer Sisters’ June to cover “Respect Yourself.” It reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Robin’s Response: It works. “I actually liked it when Bruce Willis sang, I’ll be honest. He’s like a soulful cat, you know? I approve. He reminds me of myself sometimes.” 

Easy-listening met disco when Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer teamed up to kiss off men in “No More Tears (Enough is Enough).”

Robin’s Response: It works. “You’re talking about two of the best ever. It sounded like rose petals in a French garden. I know when Barbra sings, it’s like rose petals, and then Donna is bringing the celebration with the gold headpiece. Yes.”

Johnny Cash visited The Muppet Show in 1980 and sang a mash-up of “Orange Blossom Special” and “Jackson” with Miss Piggy, backed by Lubbock Lou and his Jughuggers.

Robin’s Response: He hasn’t heard it. “But I’m sure it was the saddest, most introspective song ever performed on The Muppets Show. [Editor’s note: Nope.] Did Johnny wear black?”

Eminem and Elton John surprised everyone when they came together to perform the rapper’s hit “Stan” at the 2001 Grammy awards.

Robin’s Response: It works. “That was classic. That was unity personified. That was Americana. It was bizarre and uncomfortable, but that’s what society is in many areas and many minds. It was nice to see that there was some sort of an olive branch to hang onto.”

Madonna guest-starred — with a cane! — in Britney Spears’ “Me Against the Music,” a track off the younger pop star’s 2003 album, In the Zone.

Robin’s Response: It works. “Yeah, I kinda liked that. I gotta be honest. It was a guilty pleasure. I think the perv in me likes it.”

Duets’ Robin Thicke Judges Pop’s Weird Pairings