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

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

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

Theoretically, Rising Star was made for this moment in time. Sure, it’s silly, confusing, absurdly self-serious, and Josh Groban’s glasses are almost definitely not a real prescription; but—BUT—I, like many people, still haven’t grown tired of watching talented strangers shock me with their talent on television. It is truly nuts that there is enough vocal talent in the United States alone to fill up a Top 20 for 13 seasons on American Idol and six seasons on The Voice, and still not even scratch the surface. 

But people are tired of the retro American Idol format, and The Voice doesn’t seem to be able to produce a marketable recording artist…the space is wide open for other methods of getting beautiful novice music into our brain while we judge from our lofty couch-perches.

Now, suddenly, Josh Groban has started showing up on my TV, preempting my Youtube videos, and covering my Times Square billboards, telling me he has just the new show for me, if only I’m willing to listen to him say “revolutionize” 700 times. On Rising Star, I can take my many judgments, normally confined to the confining walls of my living room, and give them power. If you’re telling me that I can not only hold a person’s fate in the music industry in my very hands, but could also potentially get my Facebook profile picture that I haven’t changed in three years on a giant televised wall…yeah, I’mma do it.

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In this regard, Rising Star worked shockingly well. The “revolutionary live technology” that Groban cannot stop insisting is going to change the way we watch television forever, works just fine. There are over one million app downloads, #RisingStar is trending on Twitter… but I do have one complaint: in two hours of television, there was just 15 minutes of singing.

Three stars rose to the top tonight: Ludacris as a reality TV truth-speaker, Josh Groban’s nervous laughter, and yes, one actual contestant, Jesse Kinch. On a show like The Voice, that the judges are the best thing about it is a kind of a hindrance, because the talent is there; Rising Star, on the other hand, was quite lucky to have Ludacris and his ability to smile his way through super sick burns, and threaten the audience into submission. We don’t have time for boos — this is LIVE, aren’t you listening to Josh Groban?? We are changing television foreverrr! 

Everything on Rising Star seems to escalate quickly except for the actual competition, so suddenly we’ve gone from Groban introducing the Panel of Experts—Brad Paisley, Kesha, and Ludacris—to JG telling Luda to call him “MC Tiddlywinks,” and Paisley saying Kesha is “Bill Clinton’s type.” Groban tries to tell us what they’re like, and I can see it: Kesha is your cousin that gives you cigarettes, Paisley is your gruff, but well-intentioned dad, Ludacris is your cool, kind of mean older brother, and Josh Groban is your neighbor that will not stop coming over to show you magic tricks. I don’t know that hosting is his ideal gig, but I really enjoyed watching him stumble through live TV, resulting in statements like, “Thank you very much, it’s just ketchup and baby tears,” when someone complimented his hair.

It takes 70% of the vote to raise the completely unnecessary three-story wall, revealing the contestant we’ve all already seen, with the judges each able to contribute a vote worth 7%, and the audience making up the rest of the votes via the app. The wall is surely a metaphor for something, but nobody has any clue what it is, because we’re all too busy thinking about how if someone doesn’t make it through in the East Coast airing, the West Coast can still vote them through, like taking someone’s leftovers from the work refrigerator simpy because they’re there. Let’s get down to it, because no matter which coast votes them in, eventually, someone is going to win this thing.

Joshua Peavy, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”?

Sad or Trying Situation: Joshua is a youth minister trying to inspire his youths; he’s wearing one of the larger cross necklaces I’ve ever seen, and an unexpected man scarf in rehearsals.

Performance: Joshua has a nice voice. Yep.

Best/Worst Judge’s Comment: Ludacris says the pressure of the crowd can “either bust pipes or reveal a diamond,” and Joshua harnessed their energy (and according to Ludacris’ earrings, which JG says he loaned him, diamonds are a good thing).

Status: advanced with all three judges’ votes and 87% total

Lisa Punch, “How Will I Know”?

Sad or Trying Situation: Subverts her sad story by letting ABC pitch her as the girl who lives in a 2-bedroom apartment with 13 of her family members, but adding, “I’m pretty sure we will get [a bigger] place, so no worries.”

Performance: Lisa is the second “nice voice, yeah, totally” of the night, and the point when I start to get a little suspicious of just how much my television experience will really be revolutionized tonight.

Best/Worst Judge’s Comment: Brad tells her to watch her pitch, “but I didn’t care about that, because you meant every word,” continuing to prove that reality TV judges care about pitch with absolutely zero consistency.

Status: advanced with all three judges’ votes, and 80% total

Maneepat Myra Molloy, “Con Te Partiro”?

Sad or Trying Situation: Her dad put a video of her performing in a talent show on Youtube, where it got millions of hits, so they moved from Bangkok to L.A. for her to pursue music. Who are these families that do this???

Performance: Proof that people hadn’t quite figured out that they were going to have to say no at some point. Pretty, but weak.

Best/Worst Judges’ Comment: When Luda says that Maneepat just kind of stood there, Kesha says that presence can be learned, which contradicts every single other thing she’s ever said about what she’s looking for in a contestant. ALERT: Kesha has a tender and breakable heart.

Status: advanced with Brad and Kesha’s votes, and 87% total 

Daniel & Olivia, “Counting Stars”?

Sad or Trying Situation: They met when he hired her as a voice teacher

Performance: He should have hired a different voice teacher

Best/Worst Judges’ Comment: What I just said may have seemed harsh, but it is nothing in comparison to Luda: “You know when people get drunk and go to a karaoke bar?” Actually, Brad’s may have been undercover meaner: “I felt like it was unpleasant, but sweet.” WOW.

Status: No judges’ vote, 6% total, aka, yikes.

Jesse Kinch, “I Put a Spell on You”

Sad or Trying Situation: Much like Ludacris, if Jesse wasn’t smiling while he said how different he is than everyone else, and how much he thinks current music pales in comparison to former generations, he would sound like much more of a doucher.

Performance: As it is, he’s a soft-spoken kid with a huge rocker singing voice, surprising stage presence, and even more surprising sex appeal.

Best/Worst Judges’ Comment: Luda, who hasn’t been particularly taken with anyone, stays on his feet for most of the critique and says that Jesse used every single second of his minute and a half.

Status: advanced with all three judges’ votes, and 92% total

BONUS Weirdest Groban-ism: “There were some very funny-smelling things walking through this room while you were singing.” WHAT. 

Beyond 5, “Wake Me Up”?

Sad or Trying Situation: I thought this boy band was about to be the second coming of Backstreet Boys, meets One Direction from the way Josh Groban was hyping their performance at every single commercial break: “Find out what happens when five teenage boys with great haircuts and very tight jeans take the stage.” You OK, Groban?

Performance: They were actually the second coming of Dream Street, signature moves and everything.

Best/Worst Judges’ Comment: Kesha and Brad both tell them they mostly voted for them because they’re from Nashville, and Luda tells them their solos were pretty rough, AKA, the chipmunk-voiced fella should not be taking the leads.

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Status: rejected with Brad and Kesha’s votes, and 46% total

Sarah Darling, “Merry Go Round”?

Sad or Trying Situation: At 32, Sarah is feeling too old to catch a break in Nashville. Woof.

Sad or Trying Situation: She has a crystal clear tone and perfectly restrained voice, but never shows much of her range in the song choice.

Best/Worst Judges’ Comment: Brad awkwardly informs the world that they have some mutual friends, probably because Sarah is already kind of a professional singer.

Status: advanced with all three judges’ votes, and 89% total 

Colin Huntley, “Sing”

Overall, I think Kesha said it best:

Status: rejected with no judges’ votes, and 38% total

Summer Collins, “Classic”?

Sad or Trying Situation: Summer’s mother died of leukemia when she was 10, and she wants to help heal people with her music, the way music helped heal her.

Performance: Unfortunately, Summer is the third (fourth, if you include Maneepat, who got through) teenage act whose voice is not at all ready for this kind of platform.

Best/Worst Judges’ Comment: Brad says he bets she’s a songwriter, to which she replies, “I’ll write a song about this.” Touché. 

Status: rejected with no judges’ votes, and 36% total

Macy Kate, “Me and My Broken Heart”?

Weird Situation: Oh, Macy Kate…it’s not your fault they made you do this. You didn’t ask ABC if you could sit in the audience pretending to not know that you were going to be asked to perform tonight after submitting an Instagram audition. You did somehow accrue 89,000 followers on Instagram (now 105,000 and counting since the show aired), which I’m sure ABC was into. You did your best to act surprised and not ready to sprint back to hair in makeup in your stage-ready thigh-high boots as soon as JG stuck a mic in your face…but this was just all a little too weird. 

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Performance: Despite having “only an hour to prepare,” Macy made a great song choice and sang well, either because Macy Kate is a consummate professional, or because she’s been preparing for this performance for days. She’s got a Demi Lovato vibe to her, and it’s very insane that she’s only 16.

This exchange: Macy:“I love you, Kesha!” Kesha:“I love you too!” Macy: “You’re so pretty!” OK…she’s definitely 16.

Status: advanced with all three judges’ votes, and 93% total

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Of the latter five acts, three were rejected, one of which was hyped all episode. "Rising Star" is a unique concept that actually works, but it’s still a singing show, and that’s where ABC should focus -- possibly by cutting the live pre-stage interviews and predicting a little more accurately who the at-home audience will respond to well. We really just want to see some good singers and have sole control of their fate, as promised.

Ludacris will keep being cool, Kesha will figure out how to tell people no, Brad will stop saying weird stuff (maybe), and Josh Groban…well, I might be the only one, but I hope that mess stays exactly as is.