'Rising Star' Recap: Season One Winner Crowned as Voting Proves its Worth

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

Tonight, a Capitol Records contract was awarded, and not even a West Coast save could have made its recipient anybody but Jesse Kinch. With 10 episodes under its belt, a few disappointed teenager in its wake, and hopefully not too much permanent follicle damage to Kesha’s hair, the Wall made its final descent on Rising Star…and with a pretty solid winner at the end of this thing. The journey to Rising Star’s finale didn’t have time to waste with sob stories or group rounds, but it hasn’t exactly been a nail-biter either. That’s mostly due to a handful of singers rising above the pack early on and staying there. So this last turn around the Wall with that Final Four, at least, was pretty entertaining!

On a night when most of America’s hottest pop singers were picking up their trophies at MTV’s Video Music Awards, Rising Star was crowning its first (and maybe final) winner -- and Jesse Kinch might just go on to make a record that people want to hear, and music videos that people want to see. For the grand occasion, Josh Groban wore a tux, Brad Paisley wore his most formal graphic tee, Kesha’s hair finally went full Lite-Brite, and Ludacris invited us into his home. What a time to be a Rising Star fan -- the few, the proud, the owners of one more now-useless app. 

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In the final round, the rules were simple and finally felt fair. Two sets pairs would face off against each other, and the winners from those battles would perform one more time for the title. With one, maybe two last chances to show us why we should vote for them, it was time to give us performances that we could expect out of these artists at a concert, songs and sounds that we would want to hear on their album. Up until now, our votes have been a means to an end, and have had a second chance tied to them in the West Coast save; but tonight, they’re final and definitive. Up first…

Dana Williams, “At Last” vs. Jesse Kinch, “Fortunate Son”

In her mentoring session with Dana, Kesha helped her pick out clothes for her “look,” whereas Brad brought Jesse on stage to perform with him in front of a huge audience…that was pretty indicative of how the battle would proceed. This duo was an excellent case of picking a song that is completely defined by the sound of its original recording and either soaring or settling with it. Dana gave a lovely performance with a solid vocal, but she didn’t do anything to “At Last” that we haven’t heard before, and she certainly didn’t reach any Etta James levels of dynamic. The moment he opened his mouth on this Creedence Clearwater Revival track, it was clear that Jesse’s voice was made to sing this song. Even if it was nothing more than a perfect cover, he was going to sound great. And he did; Kesha said he slaughtered her face, which America quantified with an 87% vote, beating Dana’s 30%.

Austin French, “In Love with a Girl” vs. Audrey Kate, “Love Me Like a Man”

Once again, Austin’s performing onstage at a concert with mentor Josh Groban, versus Audrey Kate’s tour of the Luda mansion, fishing included, which turned out to foreshadow success. Austin chose a song that fully encompasses the kind of artist it seems like he would want to be, and as a result, it was easy to imagine him recording something like it, which translated to a respectable 70% vote. Audrey Kate sounded good and looked great, but simultaneously gave us nothing new, nor anything signature. Her voice is unique, but she’s only shown brief glimpses that she would know how to apply it to the current music landscape in either an interesting or popular way, and her 49% takes her out of the competition. But Brad is looking forward to her album, and I bet that comes with at least some Twitter endorsement!

And this is where things -- I’m not kidding -- get interesting. Josh informs us that both artists will perform with the wall up, and for the first time ever, both the audience and the performers won’t be able to see the rising scale as the votes come in. That means no amping up the perfromance for those final votes, no slagging off when you know you’ve won…just give one great final performance.

Jesse Kinch, “Love Reign O’er Me”

Jesse rose to the occasion, singing a song by The Who that was both a bit out of his comfort zone, but well within his wheelhouse. With a band of all female strings players standing around him, the performance seemed edgy from the top, and explored a few areas of Jesse’s voice I had never heard before. It might not have been his biggest performance, but it was definitely his most important.

Austin French, “Bless the Broken Road”

I noticed that Austin sounded right at home singing country with Brad in his earlier package, and interestingly, his vocal on Rascal Flatts’ country track was probably his best yet, and certainly his most genuinely heartfelt. Having his extremely sweet wife to croon to in the audience probably didn’t hurt. I wonder how the French Fries would respond to a country switchover…

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And the winner is: JESSE KINCH! Wasn’t it always going to be Jesse Kinch? And good for Rising Star. They didn’t quite revolutionize the singing competition like they thought they would, but they squeaked a solid and marketable winner out, as evidenced by Jesse’s charmingly laid back version of being overwhelmed at winning, and seamless transition into his winner’s performance of “I Put a Spell on You.” Look out for Jesse Kinch -- if his album does well, we might just get a second chance at live-voting our way through another season of America’s app-iest singing show.