Following the huge success of Dutch talent show format The Voice in America, US TV networks looked overseas to try and find the next crossover hit. A natural choice was Rising Star, an Israeli show originally named HaKokhav HaBa (“The Next Star”). The US version is broadcast by ABC, which has no recent track record with talent shows, but it’s in capable hands with Ken Warwick (Pop Idol, American Idol and America’s Got Talent) as producer. As the Rising Star format has also been picked up by ITV for broadcast in the UK in 2015, I decided to watch the first episode, which aired on Sunday night, to find out whether this concept has the potential to compete with its more established rivals.
How it works
Similar to The Voice, Rising Star is a game show-talent show hybrid, but it’s also interactive, with viewers at home voting live to determine the contestants’ fate. Using the Rising Star app, viewers can vote “yes” or “no” to each auditionee, and if they get over 70% “yes,” they’re through to the next round. If not, they’re out (unless they’re saved by voters on the West Coast… but that part is too confusing to worry about). Solo artists and groups aged 16-30 can take part. Note the upper age limit, brought back by the ex-Idol producer – this show clearly aims to find a young, commercial act.
Rising Star doesn’t have judges, as they say the audience at home are the judges, but there are three judge-esque figures making judge-like comments in the front row. These are the “celebrity experts,” the amusingly random combination of Ludacris, Kesha and Brad Paisley. They have a little bit of power, as when they vote “yes,” they add 7%, which in some cases is the difference between a contestant getting through or going home.
But does it actually work?
At the moment, I’d say the jury is out on the concept, but there are some flaws which could be damaging. The biggest problem I see, in sharp contrast to The Voice, is the “celebrity experts.” Perhaps because the live shows are the first time they’re on screen together, with no prior audition rounds, they have no chemistry. Kesha is occasionally entertaining, but Ludacris is much less interesting than his name suggests, and Brad is downright unlikeable. None of the judges seem excited to be there or invested in the show’s success.
However, one man single-handedly made the first episode of Rising Star enjoyable: Josh Groban. He’s a brilliant choice of presenter, clever and witty but not intimidatingly so, and as a singer he’s able to relate to the contestants in a way that talent show hosts usually can’t.
And as for those contestants, they are yet to wow me with their talent, but I did find their introduction videos fascinating for reasons that were probably unintended. If you thought The X Factor was sob story central, just wait ’til you see Rising Star. Every contestant has their own heartbreaking tale, with patriotism and piousness thrown in for good measure. They’re doing whatever they can to tug at America’s heartstrings, knowing they’re seconds away from the nation deciding their fate.
The one-to-watch from episode one is 70s-style rocker with good hair, Jesse Kinch.
The biggest disappointment was *N Sync-wannabes Beyond 5, who showcased weak vocals and dated dance moves.
I was excited by Summer Collins’ song choice, Classic by MKTO, but unfortunately the performance was a disaster.
Another fun, current song choice was by Macy Kate, who got the most votes of the night with Me & My Broken Heart by Rixton.
The first episode of Rising Star was interesting enough that I will continue watching, if only to see how the concept develops in the later rounds. However, in America I think it will struggle to compete with The Voice, easily the best talent show in the world right now. In the UK, ITV should see Rising Star as their opportunity to achieve what the BBC failed to do with The Voice. I believe this concept could succeed with a warm, likeable panel, who are knowledgeable, have good chemistry and want to make the show a hit.