'Rising Star' turns a clever voting gimmick into a reality trainwreck

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Image Credit: Bob D'Amico/ABC

There were reasons why I was feverishly anticipating the June 22 premiere of ABC’s Rising Star. Summer TV has been relatively weak so far, and it’s nice to think that a brand new reality competition might be worth investing in. We as a people may have grown tired of rote reality, but we haven’t yet gotten past that little inkling of hope that something will be the next big thing.

So is Rising Star that next big thing? The short answer is no. The long answer? Nooooooo.

The big gimmick of ABC’s newest entry into the singing competition genre revolves entirely around the “cutting-edge app technology” that allows viewers to vote for contestants in real time via a God-complex app similar to the dating gem Tinder. Swipe right for YES or left for NO (and if you’re on the West Coast, just don’t even bother because your votes only matter for redeeming the sloppy seconds of contestants not popular enough to make it through the first run on the East Coast). To raise a giant wall separating the audience from the performer, each singer must earn 70 percent positive votes (though the show never explains this, it appears that the grand number is based on those who have physically “checked in” for each individual performance).

A 7 percent share of the vote belongs to each member on the the panel of experts—Kesha, Brad Paisley, and Ludacris—who each could have been a compelling reason to elevate the show beyond the voting gimmick, but exercise little to no real enthusiasm for the program. Now, I’ll admit: I’ve been hyping Rising Star solely because of Kesha, the auto-tuned glittercorn voice of a generation of drunk sorority girls, but unfortunately, Kesha seems to have reformed her neon tribal war-paint ways (see: her abandonment of the dollar sign in her name) and isn’t the soundbite-spewing jackpot I thought she might be, even though host Josh Groban warned, “She’s beautiful, talented, and we have no idea what she’s gonna do or say tonight. Sorry censors, it’s Kesha!” How delightfully zany!

Groban, hosting his first major live event admirably like the most popular kid in your high school drama club, is awkward in his delivery, but he seems to be the only person genuinely excited to be on the show—and he’s the only expert actually mentoring the contestants and working with them on their songs and performances. Fellow experts Ludacris and Paisley seem a little more comfortable with the live element, but neither demonstrates enough enthusiasm or even speaks long enough to convince you that they’re here for more than just a paycheck.

That leaves the hope of Rising Star in the hands of the show’s actual singing talent—and truthfully that’s the most important part, right? Sadly, nobody from the two-hour opener showed much promise for giving Rising Star a coveted slot on your Sunday night DVR. Is it worth mentioning the forgettable Lisa Punch or Maneepat Molloy, who made it past their audition despite performances that never would have turned a chair on The Voice? Or is it worth acknowledging the acts that didn’t raise the wall, like the perhaps deserving Colin Huntley, or the manic, less-deserving Alex & Sierra knock-off Daniel & Olivia, or the boy band Beyond 5, whose smooth ’90s dance moves reeked of Dream Street cliché and One Direction ambition? Don’t even get me started on Macy Kate, the camera-ready Kesha lookalike who was supposedly plucked from the audience by total surprise after her Instagram audition video landed her a seat in the audience in the first place.

No, it doesn’t feel necessary to harp on any of the performers from the premiere of Rising Star, nor is it worth complaining about the panel of experts who add nothing more than a flimsy amount of credibility to an otherwise gimmick-laden cheesefest, NOR is it worth revealing that I started voting yes on every contestant just to see my Twitter profile picture show up on TV. (Spoiler: It never did.)

Just like the voting, the fate of Rising Star rests solely in the hands of average Americans like you. Sadly, it’s a joyless experiment in reality innovation that, despite best efforts from about 20 percent of the talent involved, never manages to make you want to swipe right.


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