Even though it’s been proven repeatedly that we’re on reality TV singing show overload at this point, ABC ignored all the red flags and premiered “Rising Star” on Sunday night, a new competition that promises to be different than all the others.
That part is true: It relies solely on people downloading an app and voting in real-time. But otherwise? It’s pretty much just your standard singing competition series. There are contestants, judges, a banter-y host, sad backstories, a record contract prize; the only difference is that there’s a lot more technology involved. At the end of the day, though ABC has hyped the show like no other, it was ultimately a pretty lackluster viewing experience.
As a result, here are some of the lessons learned from watching the two-hour premiere Sunday night:
1) How this show actually works.
A lot of vague phrases like “app” and “panel of experts” have been tossed around as the network tried to describe the show before it started, but here’s how it actually works in action.
Just like “The Voice,” the show travels the country and looks for the best singers, so you won’t see any train wreck auditions. They each get one minute and 30 seconds to sing one song on stage in front of a live studio audience. Each contestant is placed behind The Wall (which host Josh Groban said is the most important part of the show), an enormous ceiling-to-floor interactive screen between them and the “experts,” Brad Paisley, Kesha and Ludacris and the audience.
Then, the voting starts. To vote, people at home need to download the “Rising Star” ABC app (so, they also need an iPhone, iPad or Android device) and sign in via Facebook or Twitter. Right as the contestant is introduced, Groban tells everyone to “check in” on their app — if they don’t check in, they can’t vote. Once checked in, viewers can swipe to the left (blue) to send the person through to the next round, or right (red) to reject them. (If you check in but don’t swipe, your vote counts as a “no.”) While the show is heavily billed as “the only show where America gets to decide!” the experts get a say: Brad, Kesha and Ludacris each get a vote too, and their opinion counts for 7 percent each of the actual total.
As soon as a person gets at least 70 percent “yes” votes, then the wall magically rises and they can face the audience and experts, with praise lavished on them when the song is complete. If the total of “yes” votes doesn’t hit 70 percent, the wall remains down the whole time. And when the song is over, the singer has to go through a sad little door to and listen to the experts explain why they didn’t make it through.
Oh, and when you vote, you can choose whether or not you want your picture shown; if you do, your face could wind up on the giant wall. And the contestants see the wall in real-time just like the audience, with the amount of “yes” votes in a thermometer-type graphic that shows if it’s rising or not. So they can see if they’re inching toward 70 percent, or completely failing.
2) The only way the West Coast can participate is helping singers who get rejected.
So, how does the West Coast come into play if the show is totally live in Eastern, Central and Mountain time? It doesn’t, really — the only way the votes matter is if a singer has been rejected in the initial airing. The West Coast gets to vote, too, and if they vote higher than 70 percent, then the person is saved, and they can go through to the next round. No word if the contestants are allowed to lobby people on Twitter for that sort of save.
Anyway, it works like this: In the West Coast feed, the viewers see how the East Coast voted. Then, while the experts are talking, a small graphic appears on screen that says “Did the West Coast save [contestant]?” The thermometer is shown on screen again to illustrate how the West Coast voted.
Six people made it through the premiere, and four were eliminated: Duo Daniel & Olivia, boy band Beyond 5, Colin Huntley and Summer Collins. None of them got 70 percent of the vote on the West Coast, though, so they stayed rejected.
3) The “high stakes” are pretty anti-climactic.
The main problem with the show is that the exciting part is supposed to be watching the interactive wall for the votes to tip past 70 percent so the contestant can move on. The only issue is…well, it’s not very exciting to stare at a wall, no matter how many fun graphics fly by.
It even seems to affect the energy of the live studio audience — because the singer is behind the wall, they’re simply watching the contestant perform on a screen. If the wall is lifted, the singer comes out in person. But otherwise, the studio audience may as well be watching at home.
4) Reality singing shows rely more heavily on the judges personalities than you’d think.
Brad, Kesha and Ludacris were…fine. Luda even had a few funny moments, including taking matters into his own hands and pressing “no” on Brad’s voting device when a lame singer was performing. But mostly, the judges didn’t seem very connected (literally, they were sitting on these weird airport lounge chair/desk contraptions that looked very far away from each other) and mostly didn’t banter with each other at all. As “The Voice” has shown us, judge chemistry plays a huge part, and this trio has a long way to go.
5) It’s never a good idea to have more talking than singing… on a singing show.
Understandably, this show is complicated, so it took awhile to get started — the introductions at the very beginning (including some stilted conversation between Groban and the experts) seemed to drag. There were very few contestants at the start of the show, though they sped through a bunch at the end; it probably should have been the other way around to capture people’s attention.
Anyway, here’s how the first 10 “Rising Star” contestants fared:
Joshua Peavy, 28, from Soperton, Ga.
Sang: “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” Bryan Adams
70 percent of the vote? Yes — experts loved his voice.
Lisa Punch, 21, from Brooklyn (by way of Georgetown, Guyana)
Sang: “How Will I Know” Whitney Houston
70 percent of the vote? Yes — experts adored her.
Maneepat Myra Molloy, age 16, from Los Angeles
Sang: “Con Te Partiro” Andrea Bocelli
70 percent of the vote? Yes — Luda wasn’t convinced, but Kesha and Brad liked her a lot.
Daniel & Olivia, (Daniel Wolfe, 24 and Olivia Thai, 25) from San Gabriel Valley, Calif.
Sang: “Counting Stars” One Republic
70 percent of the vote? Nope — this couple had a cute story but their performance was just not good. Ludacris made a horrible face and gave a thumbs down almost immediately, and later told them it sounded like drunken karaoke. (Kesha was nicer: “If this is what you’re supposed to do, keep fighting for it.”
Jesse Kinch, 20, Seaford, N.Y.
Sang: “I Put a Spell On You” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
70 percent of the vote? Yes — experts were obsessed with them.
Beyond 5, (ranging ages from 16 to 19), Nashville
Sang: “Wake Me Up” Avicii
70 percent of the vote? Nope — Kesha liked them because they were a boy band from Nashville, but they didn’t really stand out.
Sarah Darling, 31, Nashville
“Merry Go Round” Kacey Musgraves
70 percent of the vote? Yes — Maybe a little unfair that she’s an established Nashville singer/songwriter (she and Brad have some mutual friends) but she claims she’s never had her big break.
Colin Huntley, Age 16, Georgetown, TX
Sang: “Sing” Ed Sheeran
70 percent of the vote? Nope — the experts agree he chose the wrong song and his falsetto rang, well, false. “I hate voting no — it makes me feel really bad inside,” Kesha confessed.
Summer Collins, age 18, Fayetteville, N.C.
Sang: “Classic” MKTO
70 percent of the vote? Nope — in fact Ludacris appeared to fall asleep.
Macy Kate, 17, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Sang: “Me and My Broken Heart” Rixton
70 percent of the vote? Indeed — the highest score of the night. And technically she was a “surprise” performance, as a random person who had put an audition video on Instagram and had no idea when she attended the premiere she was going to be asked to perform.