For Kelly Clarkson, life on Duets has been a case of perpetual deja vu.The Grammy-winning North Texan is one of four "superstar" singers attached to the music reality-competition show, which premieres Thursday on ABC.Clarkson and the three other music artists -- John Legend, Robin Thicke and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland -- each handpicked two amateurs to be contestants on the show.A recording contract with Hollywood Records will go to the winner.One twist that distinguishes Duets from other TV talent shows is that the celebs aren't just judges and/or mentors.As the show's title suggests, they also will step onstage to sing duets with the wannabes."I love that we get to compete along with them, instead of just watching," Clarkson says. "But it's way more challenging than I thought it would be."The performance aspect of the show also has triggered many freaky flashback moments for Clarkson, whose career was kick-started a decade ago by competing on and winning American Idol.Almost daily on Duets, something will happen or someone will say something that takes her back to the chapter in her life when she was just an unknown with a big voice and big dreams.For example, on the first day of rehearsals, a producer gave feedback to one of Clarkson's two amateurs. When the amateur was performing, the singer was pure charisma and "all in." But once the music stopped, that individual's dynamic stage presence just faded away.Try to bring out more of that performance personality, the producer advised.That observation sparked a vivid memory for Clarkson."That was exactly the first note that I ever got from the producers on American Idol!" she says.Robert Deaton, the executive producer, says the oft-heard comments coming out of Clarkson's mouth now are "I know exactly what you're going through" and "I know exactly how it feels.""These are true amateurs who our superstars are working with," Deaton says. "They have never been on a stage of this magnitude. They have never been on network television. Everything is new."Even something as fundamental in this business as in-ear monitors is new to them. These amateurs have never worn those things."We all can imagine the pressure that these kids are under. But Kelly, because she relates back to her experiences on American Idol, actually knows exactly what they're going through."Decade of fameClarkson has enjoyed so much success in her career that it's easy to forget that her breakthrough happened a mere 10 years ago.Since bursting onto the music scene, she has released five studio albums (Thankful, Breakaway, My December, All I Ever Wanted and Stronger), sold more than 10 million albums in the U.S. and 21 million worldwide, and had 10 singles in the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.She's won two Grammys, four American Music Awards and a Country Music Association Award, among others.Her latest album debuted at No. 2, and her single Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) became the third No. 1 hit of her career.In the wake of all that success, Clarkson was enthusiastic about participating in Duets, she says, because it represents a chance to "give back" and to help someone who is just like she once was."The simple fact that I get to go out and find two people I believe in, sing with them every week and help them accomplish their dreams is an amazing thing," she says.Looking back, Clarkson wishes she had had a seasoned pro to mentor her when she was competing on American Idol. No one was really offering her much guidance in those early days, she says, "and I could have really used it."Duets is unique also because the audition process is completely different from other TV singing competitions, she notes.The show invited people to submit audition tapes via YouTube. After the producers culled through thousands of a cappella performances, they forwarded links to the superstars.From that talent pool, they drafted some of the singers whom they will mentor, perform with and ultimately judge.But that wasn't the only search method used.Thicke, for example, wanted to work with someone who had a gospel music background, so he went to Los Angeles churches in pursuit of an amateur with the right stuff.Meanwhile, Nettles, who got her start singing in Georgia's 4-H Clovers & Co. performing-arts group, hoped to find somebody from that group to partner up with -- and she did. Contestant John Glosson comes from Nettles' hometown of Douglas, Ga.The two aspiring singers Clarkson selected are Jason Farol of Torrance, Calif., whose specialty areas include jazz, blues and R&B, and Jordan Meredith of Kimberly, Wis., a beauty-school student who loves all genres, from country to pop to rock."I can't wait for people to hear my partners," Clarkson says.Fort Worth connectionNorth Texas viewers also might take interest in one of Legend's partners, 37-year-old Johnny Gray of Shoreline, Wash., who is a Fort Worth native. Gray works as a karaoke DJ, has a gospel background and has a "soulful voice [that] can handle any genre, from Reba McEntire to Brian McKnight," according to the show website.In theory, there's nothing really at stake for the four stars.But the reality is that they've all gotten very competitive, in part because they've bonded so much with their amateur partners that they don't want to let them down and will do anything to help them.On the Duets Facebook page, Clarkson recently issued an open challenge to her rivals."I'm excited to annihilate Robin Thicke's team," she said. "Yeah, Robin, I'm coming for you. And, Jennifer, you're going down. I'm taking it."Given Clarkson's track record as a TV talent show champ, it would be unwise to bet against her.
7 p.m. Thursday