Rising Star: Kesha, Ludacris and Brad Paisley

Rising Star: Kesha, Ludacris and Brad Paisley

ABC/Bob D'Amico

"Rising Star," with its live audience interaction, remains a uniquely fresh concept (outside of dystopian YA literature). The technology works, the judges are a classic reality show blend of salty and sweet, and the host is unlike any other on TV.

I realized halfway through my Sunday evening that I was actually excited to see what would happen on the sophomore episode of "Rising Star." Because that's the thrill of live TV — it's not just that something could go wrong, or that Kesha could test the censors like Groban teased last week…it’s the opportunity to self-correct while the meter is still running, to be a different show ever week.

"Rising Star" Recap: Episode 1

"Rising Star" was a better show in its second week. Its premiere was kind of like any pilot for a new show: with all the setting up and exposition, you can hardly see the trees for the giant interactive wall that could potentially have your face on it. The second episode was a tighter two hours, with less chit chat, more performances, more engaging talent, and a nearly suspicious amount of close calls in the voting. Like last week, the technology still stood out as impressive, but in a show that’s supposed to revolutionize competitive reality television, "Rising Star"'s most surprising revelation is turning out to be its host.

Josh Groban is a wonderfully confusing little ball of impromptu humor, dorky socks, and funny guy wit, isn’t he? His transitions aren’t smooth…they’re smart. Not to mention, he is Jeff-Probst-levels of dedicated to this show – guy is in on "Rising Star," which continues to suggest to the audience that there is something there to be in on, even if it’s just Groban’s socks (or glasses, which – let’s be clear – are definitely real). In addition to mentoring every single contestant and taking on normal hosting responsibilities, this is a live show with very real live stakes; when someone doesn’t make it through, Groban’s response has to be immediate, sympathetic, and still get us from Point A to Point Luda.

"Rising Star": The Billboard Cover Story | Photo Shoot

And apparently, if one of those stakes actually ends up being that your family’s house burns down while you’re on the show, Groban will also personally step in and pledge his fealty to getting you back on your feet…but a little more on that later. Let’s get to the second most interesting part of "Rising Star": the music.

Shameia Crawford, “We Are Young”

Shameia is a backup singer who has the stunning appearance of a lead singer and the song choice of someone who didn’t quite understand the “wall” concept. While fun.’s “We Are Young” is a favorite anthem of youths everywhere, it takes forever to build any momentum and Shameia’s belting vocals are much more impressive than her lower register. Brad, who generally offers the most constructive critiques, said that her start was weak, and even though it built to something that all three judges voted for, you gave to grab the at-home audience’s attention immediately.

Status: Shameia garnered an edge-of-your-seat 69% of the votes on the East Coast, and after much prompting from the judges and a little twitter campaigning, was saved by the West Coast vote.

April Lockhart, “Say You’ll Be There”

April has the bangs and vocals of a cool YouTube star, and she kind of is. When she sits down to rehearsal with Josh and says “Can I have my thing?” we discover that due to amniotic band syndrome, April has been missing her left hand since birth, and her “thing” is “Birdy,” a tool with a beak-like pick that attaches to her left arm so she can strum her guitar. It is…impressive. Even more impressive is her surprising Spice Girls song choice, and even better than that, is April’s effortless stage presence at only 18. Her vocals weren’t perfect, but Luda says that his faith that she’ll work hard to get better like she obviously has her whole life is what made him swipe yes.

Status: Advances with all three judges votes, 85% overall, and the tears of her precious dad who cautiously bought her her first guitar and is now bawling in the audience.

Austin French, “Georgia on My Mind”

Austin has sparkly eyes, a nice worship leader voice, and a fiancé he met at church. He puts enough soul in “Georgia on My Mind” to get all three judges votes, but given that Brad says that he voted for him because he liked watching him overcome his nerves, Austin might not ultimately be our Rising-est Star.

Status: Advances with all three judges, and 87% overall

A Groban Notable: “Up next, an all-girl threesome…they made me say that.”

Trinitii ("Problem" by Ariana Grande)

Cassie, Lauren and Jessica make up this threesome, and if you think those names imply they will be good rappers, you are wrong, and also, what are you thinking? Ariana Grande is quite literally a high standard to match, and Trinitii tries a little too hard to hit all the right notes. Brad says it needed to be better and Kesha, who voted yes, says to nix the rapping.

Status: Rejected with Kesha’s vote, and 30% overall

A Groban Notable: “If I think it seems awkward, it really must be awkward” – true and sound advice during the rehearsal package.

Alice J. Lee, “You and I”

Somewhere around Alice Lee, I begin to notice that just about everyone who auditions on "Rising Star" is very young and unreasonably attractive…I guess that’s one way to subvert "The Voice" concept of the blind audition. "Rising Star" wants a star! And Alice already kind of is one, as a lead cast member in the off-Broadway production of Heathers: The Musical, which she got on an open casting call as a college freshman. While it takes a long to get to that all important “YOU AND IIIIII” in her performance, Alice’s vocals are as technically proficient as we’ve heard from anyone. The judges agree that her Broadway tendencies weren’t a perfect match for the bluesy song, but there’s a lot of potential in her.

Status: Advances with Ludacris and Kesha’s votes, 73% overall, and precious head-bopping from her proud mom who kept her purse right next to her while she cheered on her daughter

Rye Davis, “When You Say Nothing at All”

Rye is a tall drink of water, former minor league baseball player, current cattle farmer, who doesn’t bring much to “When You Say Nothing at All.” Important question: Is there anyone helping these contestants pick songs that cater to the limited time frame and voting structure of this show???

Status: Rejected with none of the judges’ votes, and 45% overall

Sonnet Simmons, “Wicked Game”

Sonnet tells Josh she was born in Greece, but grew up in L.A. and Josh is all, “So you’re Greek, then?” and Sonnet’s all “Naw, I was born into A CULT that my mom joined when she was 18 and escaped when I was five.” Backpacking through Europe: not for everyone. Sonnet’s ability to soar on big notes as well as more vulnerable moments outshines her crazy backstory, but it certainly doesn’t hurt in adding to the eeriness of that song. Luda appreciates her bold song choice, Brad was pleasantly puzzled, and Kesha very sensitively says she’s obsessed with cults and wants to start one, to which Sonnet replies, “You’d probably have a nice cult,” with a pretty pointed look. Keep your eye on this one, she’s interesting. Also keep your eye out for Kesha’s cat cult, if you’re into that sort of thing

Status: Advances with all three judges votes, and 81% overall

A Groban Notable: “Oh…that is a complicated story.”

Deedra Ervin, “Anything Could Happen”

Oh no. This is not fair. They can’t tell us that Deedra’s family’s house just burned down, show a lingering image of a charred guitar, have the first 10 seconds of her performance sound super promising and then rapidly decline into nervous energy. Deedra gets very emotional when the wall rises at the end of her song, and it seems to be more about seeing the judges and audience on their feet, thanking her for her service in the Army, than about not getting 70% of the vote. There’s something very nice about how Luda, Kesha, and Brad often stand up out of excitement and stay standing to address the contestants eye to eye.

Status: Rejected with no judges’ votes, and 26% overall

A Groban Notable: Josh just said he and "Rising Star" will do everything they can to make sure Deedra and her family have the help they need during this hard time. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Will Roth, “Sweater Weather”

Will has a lot of jobs – vet tech by day, private investigator by night – a lot of beard, and a lot of growl to his voice. It’s, well, a lot to take in, and it’s difficult to tell what’s good singing vs. bold performing, but there will be time to see, because the judges vote yes for Will’s confidence (and beard).

Status: Advanced with all three judges’ votes, and 83% overall

A Kesha Notable: Kesha taking offense that Josh doesn’t know about her love for beards is a wonderful little nugget of insight into what I can only imagine is a very dynamic relationship.

Egypt Dixon, “Fancy”

I understand letting an 18-year-old make her own artistic decisions, but shouldn’t someone have wielded a firmer hand here? A rapper on this show is interesting; a singer who doesn’t actually seem particularly interested in a rapping career is a little painful. The judges all agree they wish they could hear something else, because Egypt seems to have a good voice.

Status: Rejected with Kesha’s vote, and 44% overall

Adam Jaymes, “I Won’t Give Up”

Adam (or Cute Adam, as you’re probably referring to him in your head), delivers a performance with a lot of passion, a little precision, and heaps of stage presence. “I Won’t Give Up” is a risky song choice, entirely reliant on a key change three quarters of the way into the song, but it pays off as much because Adam shows potential and vulnerability, as because all the judges think he’s serving Justin Timberlake realness.

Status: Advances with all three judges votes, and 87% overall

Megan Tibbits, “All of Me”

Megan plays the harp – that is neat. Megan doesn’t sing as well as the other contestants while she plays the harp – that is less neat. She’s beautiful with a weird energy, and nowhere is that more evident than when she’s beautifully playing the harp and weirdly breathing her way through “All of Me.” I get what the producers were going for, but are they really trying to give a record contract to a harp player?

Status: Megan earns Kesha and Brad’s votes, is rejected with 68% of the East Coast vote, and then SAVED by the West Coast!

More interesting than "Rising Star"'s more successful second run, showcasing talent, both in the contestants and on the judging panel tonight, is that the energy this week was that of an entirely different show than last week. I’ll definitely be tuning in to see what kind of network notes Luda, Kesha and Brad have taken to heart, if there’s anyone auditioning with less than perfect bone structure, and how producers will try to manipulate the order of the singers this time. Oh and the upped “sock game,” I’ll definitely be tuning in for that.

Although, how you top Scrabble socks, a literal sock game, I have no idea.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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