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

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

ABC/Bob D'Amico

In the quarter-finals of Rising Star, Josh Groban -- in addition to wearing a very dangerous pair of barracuda socks -- kept telling us that eight singers would be competing for our votes tonight, but what he probably should have been saying is, “Three singers are competing for your votes, and there will also be some other music sounds.” This show has been a waiting game to see if anyone can catch up to its frontrunner for a few weeks now, and while it suddenly seems more plausible for that to happen, it also seems to have given the judges some freedom to reconsider their voting style and get a little, uh, creative this week.

Everyone started this live television experiment thinking Ludacris would be the official Mean Judge, but it’s Brad Paisley who has taken over as the graphic-tee-wearing dispenser of truth. And while his critiques are usually right on the money, his voting is about as consistent as Kesha’s hair color (a particularly enticing shade of highlighter tonight) from episode to episode. If it weren’t for the pretty clear discrepancy between who should stay and who should go each week, Brad’s varying standards might seem unfair, but as it is, America really does seem to be in charge of assigning this Capitol Records contract.

Not to mention, Kesha is still keeping things totally just by throwing her 3% vote at everyone who spells their name correctly. Tonight, five contestants move forward, plus one West Coast save, and with any luck those six Semi-Finalists will get a little guidance from the experts next week, because for the last two episodes they seem to have been flying with nothing but a binder of laminated karaoke classics and Josh Groban’s gentle presence to guide them.

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Joshua Peavy, “American Woman” 71% 

The market for pop-(soft) rock male ballad singers is not the biggest or most modern in the current recording artist landscape; so, while Joshua has a nice voice, and certainly deserves to be in the Top 8, it’s hard to imagine him making any sort of splash in the music industry if he wins. With “American Woman,” he moved in a slightly more specific direction than the Michael Bolton covers of previous weeks and earned the blue arrow from all three judges. Josh Groban perhaps said it best though, when joining Joshua onstage: “The was pretty cool.” Pretty cool, indeed.

Dana Williams, “Human” 57% 

Dana has gotten to the Top 8 of America’s third favorite singing show by the skin of her teeth and the mercy of the West Coast vote. For the most part, she’s deserved every one of those saves, but tonight she reached her metaphorical Rising Star wall (not to worry, the real one is still looming over everyone’s heads and still hasn’t showed my Facebook profile picture once). “Human” is somehow made up entirely of melodic swells, showing off Dana’s range and vibrato, but according to Luda, it also meant that she didn’t take 100% advantage of every second onstage.

April Lockhart, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” 27%

This was an unfortunate situation. Is anyone mentoring these contestants right now, or do they just have them cooped up all week in a hotel ballroom with a keyboard and a fruit tray? An ominous hush fell over my couch when Brad ended April’s pre-performance package saying, “Maybe we’re just finding that there isn’t anything that she doesn’t sound cool doing.” They did it; they found the thing. Or rather, April found it for herself, and no one was pleased with her song choice or weak execution, earning down votes from Brad and Luda, and a yes with a shrug from Kesha. 

Maneepat Molloy, “Your Song” 46%

“Your Song” is a good cover choice for these kinds of shows because it’s easily adaptable to different singers’ styles and bleeds emotional connection; but Maneepat, at the tender age of 16, and probably with not much of an idea for the kind of artist she’d like to be beyond “good singer,” couldn’t quite make it her own. Kesha gave another patented shrug-yes saying, “This is a singing competition and you sing real good.” Brad and Luda -- and, I have to assume, about 15 former “singing competition” winners with less than prosperous music careers -- disagree with that sentiment, but the West Coast chose to give Maneepat another shot.

Audrey Kate Geiger, “New York State of Mind” 85%

Kesha said Audrey Kate is the kind of girl every guy falls in love with (Jesse blushingly seconded), and after a poor song choice last week, she made the judges fall back in love with her in a jazzy lounge performance of “New York State of Mind.” Knowing that Audrey Kate is some sort of Zen New York yogi, it’s been difficult to reconcile that personality with her more buttoned up performances. But tonight’s performance finally gave some insight into both her struggling musician persona, and the kind of musician she might want to one day become. Brad broke it down re: both Audrey Kate and Rising Star: “As we get our legs this first season, we have a couple of stars on this show…you’re one of them.”

Austin French, “House of the Rising Sun” 89% 

Austin has been slowly creeping up the ranks, and tonight, became the first person to beat Jesse Kinch in voting percentages. You know what they say about the power of positivity -- just that it’s, you know, positive -- and Austin might just be the most positively happy little guy out there. I sometimes feel like Austin is affecting emotion while performing, as opposed to actually feeling it, though; perhaps because, as nice as he sounded, it’s hard to imagine a boy like Austin being “poor” or “ruined” in any way. Brad inexplicably says he’s never liked this song, but Kesha thinks he just wants Austin to sing one of his songs. (Please, oh please, make it the MySpace-referencing “Online.”)

Shameia Crawford, “Skyscraper” 53%

All of Shameia’s fellow contestants describe her as quite serious and focused behind the scenes, but I think Kesha describes the Shameia we see best when she says, “Girl can sing, girl is beautiful.” Indeed, she can, and she is, but the former part of that equation was hindered a bit this week by the vocally relentless arrangement of her song. Brad said she needs to watch screaming everything to give a more dynamic performance, and though she still got all three judges votes, it wasn’t enough to raise the wall or earn one more West Coast save.

Jesse Kinch, “Money (That’s What I Want)” 88%

Maneepat isn’t saying she swoons when Jesse sings, but she’s not saying doesn’t either, and Rising Star isn’t saying Jesse has had this in the bag for weeks but…they’re not exactly trying to imply otherwise either. Jesse got the closing spot this week, and after a venture into the current millennium’s catalog last Sunday, brought it back to an era he seems more comfortable with again tonight. Stylistically and vocally he was only matched by Audrey Kate, but Brad votes no because he thought it was a clichéd song choice and he wants to see something unique from him each week.

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Yes, Brad is getting a little stingier with his Expert vote, but with the way the judges’ stock is dropping each week, the final decision really might be solely in our hands by the end of this. You’re probably (and hopefully, I think) looking at your Final 3 in tonight’s top scorers, so start tweeting song suggestions and juicing up your iPad, because someone is getting that record contract, and Brad seems to think they’re still getting their legs. Let the stars rise!