Rising Star: Ludacris, Kesha, Brad Paisley and Josh Groban

Rising Star: Ludacris, Kesha, Brad Paisley and Josh Groban

ABC/Bob D'Amico

No matter the show, no matter the judges, no matter their chairs’ ability to spin or rise…it always comes down to song choice, doesn’t it? 

Alas, in the first round of solo performances following the Duels, the contestants of Rising Star couldn’t choose a song that suited their voice and the allotted 90-second timeframe to save their lives. And with only seven spots available and one West Coast save, every choice mattered tonight. Odd then, that the show chose not to have the “experts” mentor the contestants this week, or even have a say in their song -- these industry novices were out there on their own like it was any old Capitol Records karaoke competition, apparently.

The judges also had their 7% vote allotment lowered to 5% tonight, seemingly as a bit of fan service for some of us (“over here, over here!”) who felt 21% was a little too much power for the singing competition that claims to be “in America’s hands.” Tonight, the Top 7 contestants with the highest percentages are headed into the quarterfinals, plus a patented West Coast save. And just when you thought, maybe with all the self-correcting this show has been doing, you might be safe from the Wall that Killed Stage Presence -- Josh Groban announces that after the first seven performers set the percentages to beat, the next six will have to raise the wall to knock out the lowest percentage already through to join the Top 7 in the blue chairs (these chairs are not red, I tell you!).

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Macy Kate, “Who Knew” 61%

When will these youngsters learn that P!NK is next to impossible to perform live unless you are P!NK, and suspended in mid-air by just a ribbon? After sabotaging her with that “Instagram surprise” business in the first episode, producers are still trying to endear us to Macy Kate, and gives her a sweet little intro package about not having many friends back home, but finding a bestie in April Lockhart. Rising Star: bringing friends together! Unfortunately, while her performance had sass and energy, it didn’t have much pitch to speak of. 

STATUS: All three judges voted "yes" for her “rad” performance, but she was the second to land in the hot seat and is eliminated by Audrey Kate Geiger.

Shameia Crawford, “Next to Me” 76%

Shameia is still trying to shake her backup singer past and step into the spotlight, and it’s a pretty poignant moment when the camera hits her and we can now see that she has her own backup singers (that Josh thankfully shouts out for a job well done).  I don’t know why more people don’t sing this Emeli Sande song in competition because it has all the right moves, and Luda particularly likes how Shameia and the band have arranged it. Kesha tells her she is “NOT a background singer anymore, girlfriend.”

STATUS: Through to Quarter-Finals

Joshua Peavy, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” 83%

I don’t remember exactly where Joshua is from, but he says Los Angeles like “Laws An-gil-us,” so naturally he’ll be singing Michael Bolton. In true Bolton form, Joshua can belt it out, and the judges love how he incorporated the emotion of seeing his family in the audience into his performance. But by far the best part of the critique is that when Josh Groban starts to throw to the judges, it becomes clear the audio isn’t working, and some producer screams from the back of the room: “JOSH! WE’RE GOING TO A BREAK RIGHT NOW.” And, bless him, Groban throws to that break like his life depends on it.

STATUS: Through to Quarter-Finals

April Lockhart, “Iris” 73%

April is most excited that she’s been inspiring other young people with disabilities, and she seems just as sweet as they come. That is even further evidenced by her dressing like a Lite-Brite for her Goo Goo Dolls cover. It’s the first performance the judges officially deem a bad song choice, but they also like her and think she could be a recording artist.

STATUS: Through to Quarter-Finals

Maneepat Molloy, “Stars” 70%

Maneepat has worked each week on being more confident on stage, and each week that has made her voice shine through more and more as one of the technically best in the competition. But the judges were in disagreement tonight if this was strong not only vocally, but as a performance. Kesha thought she continued to improve, but Brad said she’s already “there” as a singer, but has a long way to go as a performer.

STATUS: Through to Quarter-Finals

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Dana Williams, “Latch” 65%

Of all the Sam Smith vocals in all the land, why did Dana choose this Disclosure track? It’s a lovely and subtle performance, but subtle doesn’t generally raise the wall, as evidenced by Luda’s declaration of anger at America. Kesha loved it, but Brad thought it was a bad song choice, and the whole audience boos him. At least he has his Grammys to comfort him.

Status: Dana earned the West Coast save, taking her score from 60% to 65%!

Alice Lee, “The Story” 42%

I didn’t realize Alice Lee was still in the competition, but was very glad to see her awesome parents returning to my screen, and may have welled up just a tiny bit when her mom looked just as excited to clap for her daughter in the audience for a score that would clearly eliminate her soon, as she had been for any other performance. Brad tells her he thought she needed a few more days with the song, and she handles the critique and impending elimination with grace.

Status: First in the hot seat and eliminated by Jesse Kinch

<ENTER THE WALL>

Jesse Kinch, “Seven Nation Army” 87%

Rising Star’s very own super star does it again, this time singing a more current song by The White Stripes to show that, not only is he a kick-ass performer, he’s also relevant, and most importantly, he knows that’s it’s important to be relevant. The judges are on their feet, but have nothing particularly constructive to say because it seems like Jesse won this weeks ago. Kesha’s feedback: “I don’t…I won’t…I literally can’t.” And she doesn’t.

STATUS: Through to Quarter-Finals

Megan Tibbits, “Home” 31%

Megan has all the spunk and cheeriness of a girl who drinks oversized mugs of tea with her five roommates in L.A., but as Luda says, when the focus is off of her harp or guitar, her vocals just aren’t there. The judges agree she made a risky song choice that didn’t pay off.

STATUS: Does not raise the wall.

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Lisa Punch, “Girl on Fire” 59%

I’m not exactly sure what to make of Lisa Punch’s performance, but it was certainly something. Brad calls her moves “choreography,” but I call them, “trying to make the best of the one-foot-in-diameter circle she was given to move in behind the wall.” Luda says she fought for every second and Kesha doesn’t “know what the deal is.” I do: Lisa’s score was the product of a wall-hindered performance that only half of the contestants had to deal with.

STATUS: Does not raise the wall.

Audrey Kate Geiger, “The Big Bang” 62%

In theory, this was not a terrible song choice for Audrey Kate; melodically, it rises and falls nicely, and it shows off her interesting tone. But it never connects with the audience and rather than railing on the wall again, I’ll let Brad explain: “There are songs we do in our shows that are fun and then…there’s the money.” She’s got to bring the money, “like Jerry McGuire.” Tonight was the night of Brad.

STATUS: Through to Quarter-Finals (barely!)

Austin French, “If I Ain’t Got You” 83%

Well, Austin French got married this week, so it would be completely understandable if he was a little underprepared or overwhelmed. But instead, he gives probably his best performance yet and the sweetest little finger-point I’ve ever seen to his new wife when the wall rises just in time to croon, “if I ain’t got you.” Luda said it had some pitchy places, but all the judges love how happy he makes them and the audience.

STATUS: Through to Quarter-Finals

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Sonnet Simmons, “Young and Beautiful” 30%

Sonnet is noticeably singing with a newly found British accent and it doesn’t go over well with the audience…or the judges. They deem her performance too pitchy and not the right song choice (drink!), and give something I never thought I would see in this portion of the show: three nos. I guess for all of her protesting, Kesha is willing to be a dream killer. But, not really. She tells Sonnet, “Don’t let this stop you, only let this make you stronger.”

STATUS: Does not raise the wall.

In the edgy cityscape intro that opened the show, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the 13 contestants left were decidedly un-edgy, and a whopping 10 out of 13 were female. Interestingly, all three of the males left earned the highest scores of the night, suggesting that Rising Star might be going the way of its ancestor, American Idol. But if a White Guy With Guitar is going to win this thing, at least his is electric.