Rising Star: Kesha, Ludacris and Brad Paisley

Rising Star: Kesha, Ludacris and Brad Paisley

ABC/Bob D'Amico

In cloudy, smoke monster letters, "Rising Star" informs us that each of the contestants tonight are getting the chance to, “Write. Their. Future.” And what an odd future "Rising Star" writes for itself from week to week. After some annoyance regarding the judges’ 7% votes overruling America’s votes in all but one of the Duels last week, Brad, Kesha, and Luda turned things around tonight by just voting "yes" for everyone, with Brad and Luda each only voting "no" one time. 

But the judges dictating so much of who stayed and who went last week wasn’t a problem with the judges and the different noises they seemed to be hearing, but a problem with the construct of the show. The good thing about a show as “live” as "Rising Star" is that it can change as it goes to adapt to its audience; the bad things is it can’t change so much that it reveals a flaw in the series’ core concept, meaning we’ve still got to look at that damn wall, and continue to not know if we should vote for the first Duel contestant, for fear that the second contestant might be better. Oh well, whoever goes through is Capitol Records’ concern now…we’re doing all we can, here.

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So, with the judges liking a strong stage presence, as much as a flat note, as much as generally hitting a mark without throwing up or anything this week, the most interesting part of the episode became—no, still not the singing—watching a 20-year-old learn a record-contract-size lesson in humility. Gabrielle Nicole is the young woman that gave a standout performance of “My Man” in her audition (90% of votes), and promptly followed it up by turning an innocent Joshua-Winslow-Groban-in-the-audience bit into the identifiable moment when she lost what was probably around a 40% chance to win this competition.

'Rising Star': What to Expect During the Duels 

Gabrielle errantly quipping that all the other contestants should be scared of going against her, and her resulting low voter turnout tonight, showed that above all else, America wants to find someone who dreams of being a star, but never believed those dreams could come true until we, as a television audience, lifted them up to their greatest heights and gave them their dream. We will settle for nothing less than humbleness and a “respectable” voice! On "Rising Star," we can occasionally expect both of those things at the same time, but if not, just enjoy Brad and Josh’s friendly hatred and hacking of each other’s Twitter accounts.

Gabrielle Nicole, “River Deep Mountain High” vs. Macy Kate, “Demons” 

In the Judges Words: “The Battle of the Extremely Confident Women”

In Other Words: “The Girl Who Turned People Off vs. the Girl Who People Suspected Was an Insta-Plant”

Macy Kate’s 113,000+ followers on Instagram could possibly help account for her winning this Duel, but they couldn’t possibly account for Gabrielle’s surprisingly low 49%, and that’s with the judges full 21%. While “River Deep Mountain High” didn’t reach the vocal level of Gabrielle’s first importance, she was the only contestant to give so much to her performance that it actually evoked an emotion, not just a tally of reached or missed notes…even if that emotion was mostly desperation to make her star quality outshine her pride, that, at least, was palpable. But Macy gave a much improved performance from her original audition which was overshadowed with, “Hey guys, we can totally tell that Macy already knew she was performing tonight, so knock it off with this ‘Instagram winner pulled from the audience’ bit,” anyway. The judges agree that Macy’s performance finished strong, but seem to prefer Gabrielle—unfortunately, even the more forgiving West Coast can’t save her.

WINNER: Macy Kate advances with Kesha and Luda’s votes, and 80% overall; Gabrielle Nicole earned all three judges, and 49% overall

Sonnet Simmons, “Feeling Good” vs. April Lockhart, “Animal” 

In the Judges Words: “The Battle of the Quirky, Unique Voices”

In Other Words: “Can She Sing Like That and Stay on Pitch? Vs. Can She Sing Like That and Stay In Tune?”

Sonnet started her performance looking lovely (and like Alison Krause), and at times had a nice fluttery quality in her low range, but also attempted and failed to hit about seven too many strained high notes. Whereas Sonnet knows she needs to work on letting her guard down, April is just a basket of sunshine and pigtail-buns. She has an interesting voice to match her look, but I wish she would focus a little more on harnessing the growl sneaking in, and less on some of the unnecessary melody changes. April and her spunk grab 3% more of the vote in the last five seconds, but Sonnet and her potential to keep growing grab the West Coast save.

WINNER: April advances with all three judges, and 76% overall; Sonnet earned all three judges, and 73% overall

Austin French, “I Don’t Want to Be” vs. Adam Jaymes, “Free Fallin’”

In the Judges Words: “YOU ARE BOTH EXACTLY THE SAME”

In Other Words: “Me = ‘Maaaaaaaay’ vs. Free = ‘Fraaaaaaay’”

The judges/experts are surely clowning us by continually insisting upon how very similar these two WGWGs are. But after their performances it’s clear that Austin’s voice is superior, even if Kesha is far more excited about hitting on Adam. Both guys choose songs that are highly definitive of their original singer’s specific artistry—and in Austin’s case, nearly a decade of CW programming—making their performances sound like more like coffee house covers than they probably intended. But Austin showed some soul, and Luda says his optimistic presence will keep people on his side, while Brad adds on his ability to never miss a note…that is a very welcome ability

WINNER: Austin advances with all three judges, and 81% overall; Adam’s earned Kesha and Brad’s vote, and 53% overall

Next week is the final round of duels, and the last chance for someone to rise above the pack before solo rounds begin; fingers crossed for a standout, or at least a sock update from Josh.

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