'Rising Star' Recap: With a Record Contract Pending, Contestants Show Their True Artistic Colors

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

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

Tonight’s Rising Star began with Josh Groban accepting his official ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which makes sense, because this show is a lot like scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed: there’s a good bit of secondhand embarrassment, occasionally something is interesting enough to make you stop for a little while, and Karen G won’t stop posting her Rising Star votes every other second.

The Final 6 contestants are being trimmed down to the Final 4 (three voted through, plus one zany West Coast save, of course), as are the judges’ votes, finally getting down to a manageable 1%. But tonight isn’t about who’s battling elimination in the Hot Seat -- I simply love the subtlety of red chairs being demonized on this show -- or the judges offering a littler personal mentoring before each performance. No, the Semi-Final episode of Rising Star was all about figuring out what kind of record each of these contestants would make. And just in time too, as one of them will be handed a Capitol Records contract in just a week. Coincidentally, only one of them, maybe two, are anywhere near ready for that.

I know that behind closed doors, just about every recording artist is molded and shaped into what’s ultimately put in front of us on albums, interviews, and music videos through an elaborate series of levers, pulleys, and psychological conditioning. But I still like to think that these contestants have a firm enough artistic head on their shoulders to have at least considered what kind of album they’d like to start creating in a week; and while peeling back the curtain on the creative process in the pre-performance package worked in favor of a few, it left plenty to be desired artistically in others. As Josh Groban will tell you, “An entertainer gives people what they want; an artist gives people what they didn’t know they wanted.” He read that on a pair of socks somewhere.

'Rising Star' Recap: Brad Get Serious, Contestants Culled On Quarter-Finals Night

Austin French, “Love Runs Out” 81%

Austin usurped the top spot from Jesse Kinch last week, and wasn’t looking to follow it up with complacency. The judges loved his movement and use of the stage, and he’s certainly always energetic, but for me, knowing what was coming after watching him plan all of that very movement with Kesha and Luda zapped most of the originality they were so excited about. Of course, even the most dynamic performers plan plenty of their on-stage “spontaneity,” but pulling away the smoke and mirrors didn’t do Austin -- who I have to assume, if cut, bleeds the sweetest flavor of vanilla -- any favors. Still, a sunny disposition and infectious smile will get you far (like, very close to winning this completion), and Austin is basically an emoji at this point.

Maneepat Molloy, “Chandelier” 27%

I know Sia has an 11-year-old in the “Chandelier” video and all, but how many people did this 16-year-old singing the lyric, “I'm the one ‘for a good time call’” go through before it made it to air? Too many! Uncomfortable lyrics aside, this song, full of vocal transitions, also exposed that Maneepat’s voice is still developing; for every lovely note she hit, there was a dud or a forced falsetto to follow. The girl could lead a show choir to the greatest of victories, but as the votes show, it’s not quite time for her own album. One of these singing shows will still be around for her in a few years, and until then, I hear the kids are pretty into this thing called the you-tubes.

Jesse Kinch, “Billie Jean” 83% 

Brad did the unthinkable last week and swiped "no" on future Rising Star winner, Jesse Kinch. Turns out, he was looking for the resident rocker to “surprise [him] in ways that he didn’t expect,” so Jesse decided to show a softer side this week by reinterpreting a Michael Jackson classic as a climbing rock ballad. The judges’ heads seemed like they might explode from all of the originality. It was nice to actually hear what Jesse’s voice sounds like at an eight, but the guy is still his best at 10. His commitment to the softer verses as much as the big chorus he more comfortable with was impressive though, and America agreed, putting him back on top, only a few percentage points lower than what his normal, louder antics bring in.

Dana Williams, “Sunday Morning” 75%

From 57% last week, to 75% and a permanent positon in the Finale this week, Dana is the personification of Rising Star voting. Unlike a lot of audience-judged shows, where a select few generally take the top spots and hold onto them with a strong fan base, Rising Star voting seems to be on a by-performance basis. Dana has been in and out of West Coast saves, but this week, she gave her best performance yet -- soulful, right in her vocal wheelhouse, and with perfect mermaid waves in her hair -- and the voters turned up. Consistency isn’t key, but equal parts occasional great performance, and Twitter rallying for West Coast saves, are. Just ask…

Audrey Kate Geiger, “Killing Me Softly” 69% 

…Audrey Kate, who gave her all-star performance last week, dropped down again after a nice, but not particularly showy performance this week, and ultimately earned the West Coast save. The judges love Audrey’s “unique” tone, and while it brought something special to “New York State of Mind,” it may not be the kind of voice that emotes the pain of “Killing Me Softly” as readily. Kesha and Luda both go on and on about her low score being “a song choice thing,” to which I say, "What song was she singing while you were telling her how to wave her arms for maximum effect???"

Joshua Peavy, “What Hurts the Most” 72%

Versatility is good, but in Joshua’s case, sometimes (as in, when you’re eight weeks into something), you’ve just got to stick with the pop-rock ballads you know and love. In his Mentoring Sesh with B-Rad Paisley & Joshy G., Brad threw out a “Why not country?” to which Joshua was all, “Sure, I’ll change my entire outlook on music up until this point if you think it’ll help.” And hey, maybe Joshua really does want to be a country artist deep down inside…but that’s a decision he should be pretty concrete about pre-record-contract. Brad was quite indignant about Luda’s down-vote on the Rascal Flatts cover, but as a leader in country music, surely he was aware that Joshua’s performance was…not his best.

For a competition that started off with a finalist group mostly comprised of pretty female pop singers, Rising Star has actually ended up with a fairly dynamic Final Four. And as Luda, the only judge who handed out a single negative vote tonight, is keen to point out, they all seem to “want it.” Will wanting it be enough? Doesn’t matter -- somebody is getting that Capitol Records contract.

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