ABC’s new singing competition Rising Star has potential, both as a competition and as a new way to engage with television.
ABC wants to produce a semi-successful singing competition, dammit, and Rising Star is the latest attempt to achieve that goal. The gist: acts sing behind a 70 foot wall as the home audience watches and votes either yea or nay on whether the act should advance. As yes votes come in, the performer(s) can see the Facebook or Twitter avatars of those who vote yes. The act has a concept of how popular they are as the wall fills (or doesn’t fill) with photos. If the act earns a 70% approval rating, the wall rises and the contestant gets ushered to a comfy couch by host Josh Groban. The ushering happens after the celebrity panel—country star Brad Paisley, pop star Kesha, and rapper/actor Ludacris—offer critiques or banal encouragement. Each panelist also has the ability to vote, and a yes vote adds 7% to the act’s approval meter.
There is a lot that this show is doing that I find fascinating. First, there did not appear to be any hiccups from the app in the East Coast viewing of the premiere episode. I say East Coast, because the show takes the West Coast into account as well. Not every act made it through to the next round on the live broadcast. However, when the show is re-broadcast three hours later, those viewers get to vote and if the 70% threshold is reached with an act that was eliminated, the act will still advance. There were no reprieves in last night’s episode: according to Dick Clark Productions VP Mark Bracco the voting was consistent in both viewings. This might be a factor if an act finished with around 65% approval in the East Coast.
The voting process is a little wonky. First, the panelists can provide 21% of the approval, which is almost 1/3 of the required amount. There were only two acts in the premiere that earned what I call a Pure 70: Jesse Kinch (92%/92%) and Macy Kate (93%/91%). Also, voting “No” does not appear to have any punitive effect and not voting is considered a no vote. In other words, the choice is between yes and not voting.
During the broadcast, Groban mentioned that Rising Star reached 1 million downloads for the associated app. Although that sounds like a low adoption rate for what the show was promoting1, it’s actually quite impressive given the show’s audience size. About 5 million people tuned in for the premiere, so 20% on what is essentially a massive TV beta project is kinda awesome.
I’m sticking with the show for a few reasons. 1: There’s not a whole heck of a lot on right now, and you gotta watch something. 2: ABC does a really good job of listening to social media and course-correcting with its summer reality shows. The first episode of Glass House was almost unwatchable, but the second episode onward made for compelling reality TV. Last summer’s Whodunnit2 had a goofy premiere but quickly became must-see TV. The primary complaint I have heard/made is that the pacing needs to improve (10 acts/2 hours is worse than American Idol), which is easy to fix. I would also like to get a sense of what the next phase of the show entails. The Voice still hasn’t figured out how to maintain the interest level between auditions and its live shows, and Rising Star can’t afford a middling middle round.
As the judges said a few times in the premiere: there’s potential there, and I want to see more.