How Jesse Kinch Won ‘Rising Star’

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

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

Four contestants braved the intimidating "Wall" of viewer votes on the season finale of Rising Star on Sunday night, but only one emerged victorious — 20-year-old rocker Jesse Kinch was named the series inaugural champion over worship leader Austin French, soulful crooner Dana Williams, and edgy singer Audrey Kate Geiger.

All three experts noted Kinch's star power during the final episode of the ABC series, which features a live voting system via smartphone app. "We found a f—ing rock god in the making!" Kesha told The Hollywood Reporter of Kinch, who rocked his rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son." "At the very beginning, when I heard Jesse open his mouth, I thought he would probably win this competition, and after spending time with him, he’s just ready for this. He’s such an artist."

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Kinch said he was focused on "nothing but the song — I always say no matter what, it’s about the music, it’s about the song. That’s always been my philosophy." That mindset paid off, as Kinch earned a 76-percent vote with The Who's "Reign O’er Me" to fellow finalist French's 61 percent on "Bless the Broken Road" by Rascal Flatts, and nabbed the grand prize of a recording contract with Capitol Records.

Host and mentor Josh Groban hopes for Kinch, "I want to make sure that guy can do two hours a night until he’s ninety years old, because [his voice] is a great instrument, and I want to keep hearing it." Ludacris advised the winner after the finale, "You gotta prove that you're able to do it on your own. ... He has to prove that he can write songs and just be great with his own individual music, as opposed to just singing other people's songs."

Brad Paisley noticeably gave Kinch the only red-arrow "no" vote, and suggested that the singer keep that in mind as he moves forward. "When he was in the middle, he sang 'Money,' which was a song The Beatles covered, and I felt like that's a tired cover," Paisley told THR. "I just kept saying, 'When you've got your album, I want you to think about that red arrow. When you release a single, red arrow. Next single, red arrow. Is this a red arrow or a blue arrow? Is this going to raise the Wall or not?' For me that was one of the most important things I've ever gotten to do."

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The final week had each of the remaining singers undergo a last intimate mentoring session with one of the experts. Kinch was paired with Paisley to learn importance of connecting with a massive audience. "Mentoring was something where I could stress the importance of reacting and relating with these people [who] are always there for you, if you do the right things in your career," Paisley said.

While mentoring Williams, Kesha emphasized the importance of personal branding. "I’ve always wanted a mentor in the industry when I was coming up as a young artist — I wish I’d had that," she said. "More than anything, it’s so important to be yourself. And to be able to tell her that, look her in the eyes and make sure she knows that she needs to stay true to herself, it’s just one person but it feels really good."

ABC has not yet announced if Rising Star will be picked up for a second season, but the experts shared their suggestions on how the show could be improved. "I would love for the experts to have a hand in picking who’s in it," said Paisley. "I think it would be really neat if we went around America — me, Kesha, Luda, Josh walk in a club and say, 'You’re coming.'" Ludacris also wants to focus on the talent next season. "Even better competition — hell yeah."

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