'Rising Star' Recap: Kesha Brings the Whimsy As Duel Round Kicks Off

ABC/Bob D'Amico
Rising Star: Kesha, Ludacris and Brad Paisley

What’s the saying—every party has a pooper, and every reality singing competition has a frontrunner? (Something like that.) It seems Rising Star’s frontrunner is Jesse Kinch, and this party’s pooper is the judges' voting power in the Duel rounds. That these “duels” are actually two side-by-side solo performances, nixing the somewhat hard to judge duet-style the Other Show That Must Not Be Named is much appreciated for our at-home, non-professional-musician judging purposes. But the actual judges’ judging in this first Duel round…less so. Those 7% votes quickly become much more powerful when half of the remaining contestants need to be eliminated.

Just in case you missed the Duel round rules: Two contestants are pitted against each other in a head-to-head battle; the first contestant performs on stage free of the Wall, earning the judges and America’s votes, and setting the bar for the second contestant; the second contestant performs behind the Wall and must earn a higher percentage vote than the first contestant for the Wall to raise, signaling their victory.

The good news is that almost all of the contestants improved on their audition-round performances; the bad news is that two of the three head-to-head battles this week featured major discrepancy between the judges’ votes and America’s, making our votes at home seem far less powerful than we were originally promised. Oh Kesha, what will we do with you and your whimsical ways?

The judges did fare well in their mentoring role, giving solid performance advice and honest assessments of each contestant’s competition, even if it was a simple, “You should go ahead and sing better than them.” And with the west coast’s vote mattering for real this time—they can save one eliminated contestant—sounding better is just as important as whatever criteria the judges ultimately used to decide on their right-swipes.

‘Rising Star’ Recap: Josh Groban, Ludacris and a Whole Load More Cat Banter Lights Up Episode 3

Duel of the Pretty Young Things You Can’t Quite Remember

Alice Lee, “Wings” vs. Lisa Punch, “Perfect” 

Even though Lisa Punch (what a name!) admitted to not really having a grasp on mildly important musical elements, like “pitches” and “keys,” it was Alice Lee (also a solid name) who seemed to run out of breath, and therefore pitch, midway through her Little Mix cover. Lisa lacked the freedom of being able to perform without the Wall between her and the audience, but her P!nk tune still picked up more and more energy as it went along. For the judges, though, it wasn’t enough. Luda said he’s heard her sound better and Brad decided that Alice is more prepared to win. A full leather outfit does suggest a victorious spirit. 

WINNER: Alice Lee advances with 48% of America’s vote + 21% from all three judges = 69% overall; Lisa Punch earned 59% of America’s vote + 7% from Kesha =  66% overall

Words with Kesha: “Your energy was great, your hair was moving.”

‘Rising Star’ Recap: Loving Josh Groban and Where it Works 'Shockingly Well' vs. the Competition

Duel of the Beautiful Women with Lovely Voices Will Never Win

Megan Tibbits, “Summertime” vs. Sarah Darling, “I Hope You Dance,” 

The judges were entirely correct in their assessments that Megan Tibbits improved astronomically from her original audition (harp sold separately) with her jazzy, guitar-strumming cover, and Sarah Darling probably didn’t sink her teeth into “I Hope You Dance,” quite as much as she could have. And yet, Sarah was still the better singer and made the smarter vocal choices. But once again, the judges disagreed with America, siding with improvement over control. At least Brad Paisley invited Sarah to sing with him at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville this weekend. Oh yeah, and she makes French macarons for a living, so she kind of already won.

WINNER: Megan Tibbits advances with 50% of America’s vote + 21% from all three judges = 71% overall; Sarah Darling earned 61% of America’s vote + 7% from Brad = 68% overall

Words by Kesha: “I am obsessed with you. I’ve, like, been dreaming about you. Seriously.”

'Rising Star' Recap: Josh Groban Ups His Sock Game, Second Episode Ups Its Talent Game

Duel of Jesse Kinch and His Opening Act

Will Roth, “Wrecking Ball” vs. Jesse Kinch, “Whipping Post”

Will Roth did the best he could—he had an interesting song choice, he braided his hair just right, and he worked the growl in his voice to its maximum potential. Unfortunately, he mostly talked his way through the verses of “Wrecking Ball,” and even more unfortunately, he was matched up against Jesse Kinch, the main standout from the audition rounds. And Jesse didn’t disappoint tonight, bringing out another rocking, soul-filled, big hair and shifty eye infused performance of the Allman Brother’s “Whipping Post,” that had Luda standing on his chair and Twitter proclaiming a Rising Star winner.

WINNER: Jesse Kinch advances with 69% of America’s vote + 21% from all three judges = 90% overall; Will Roth earned 43% of America’s vote + 14% from Brad and Kesha = 57% overall

Words by Kesha: “That just felt good.”

And with that—the first Duel to make it above the “C-“ line—Capitol Records released their white knuckle grip on the drafted outgoing text to Josh Groban: “How serious are you about this record deal?” They might just get a viable recording artist, yet. With one or two more potential contenders still coming in the next two weeks of Duel rounds (and a West Coast save for Lucy Punch), perhaps the judges can even regroup to see what’s causing the disconnect between their professional opinion and the audience that’s supposed to be holding the power of the singing show gods within our very iPads.