THR's Guide to 'Rising Star,' ABC's New Summer Singing Show
The show boasts real-time voting, "Voice" and "Idol" producers and Ludacris, Kesha, Brad Paisley and Josh Groban. It also sounds complicated — at first.
While summertime usually gives devout singing-show fans a breather, it may soon mark the breakout of a new performance-based reality competition: Rising Star.
On Sunday night, ABC airs its first episode of the breakthrough show, and while it's a proven ratings-reinvigorating success around the world, that's still a risky move, as the show attempts to simultaneously deliver a mostly live broadcast that integrates social media and mobile technology more fully than any other TV show, while featuring a panel of experts that's fresh to reality television and discovering an unknown talent whose real-world success will solidify the legitimacy of the series over Fox's ailing American Idol and NBC's solid The Voice.
Here, The Hollywood Reporter breaks down everything viewers need to know in order to watch — and participate in — Rising Star, and why both lovers and haters of American Idol and The Voice may be intrigued enough to play along.
WHO: Viewers will recognize the show's celebrity talent from charts and concerts, but they've each taken turns dabbling in film and television. The panel of "experts" (not judges) includes rapper-turned-actor Ludacris of Crash and the Fast and Furious franchise, pop singer Kesha, who's at the center of the MTV docuseries Kesha: My Crazy Beautiful Life, country star Brad Paisley, who documented the release of his Wheelhouse album in the web series On the Record and has appeared in episodes of Two and a Half Men and According to Jim. Josh Groban has made hilarious appearances on The Office and in Crazy, Stupid, Love, and is consistently comical as a guest on talk shows, making him a smart choice as host. (Still, to them, their new jobs are "terrifying.")
Behind the show is Keshet International's Avi Nir, who invented the format and won over a staggering 49 percent of Israel's market share, in collaboration with Dick Clark Productions programming executive vp Mark Bracco, previously of ABC. Most interestingly, Nicolle Yaron of The Voice and Ken Warwick of American Idol each left their respective singing shows to sign on as Rising Star executive producers. And the show will be the first test for new ABC reality chief Lisa Berger, though it is said to also have become a favorite of entertainment president Paul Lee.
The premiere episode of Rising Star will introduce the first batch of unknown hopefuls — solo performers, a duo and a group, ranging from 16 to 31 years old.
WHAT: The thing that makes Rising Star so intriguing is its real-time voting, thanks to a custom mobile/tablet app that simply asks viewers to vote yes or no on any performer. For the initial "qualifiers" round, performers begin behind a "Wall," and if they get 70 percent of the audience’s vote, the Wall rises. The experts each have 7 percent to reward to a performer.
In another neat twist, voters will see their own photos flash on the Wall as they use the app, and it will also send users tune-in prompts and offer instant download of songs that have just been broadcast. And the Rising Star app developer with Keshet, Screenz, has partnered with Google to launch Screenz Real Time, which will provide ABC real-time data about viewers that can used for targeted advertising to users’ phones or tablets. Plus, it's Facebook's and Twitter's biggest live TV integration attempt to date.
WHEN: All viewers except for those in the Pacific time zone will enjoy a live broadcast of the weekly episodes, which air at 9 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. CT and 7 p.m. MT, and at 6 p.m. in Arizona. West Coast viewers will watch a delayed broadcast at 9 p.m. PT, but their votes still count and will act as a save for singers who failed to reach 70 percent earlier in the show. That was a decision made after producers consulted mathematicians on the time-zone dilemma: "The chances of there being a big difference are apparently very small. We have this in place just in case, but we don't know that we'll ever have to use it," says Yaron. Unfortunately, the delayed broadcast's voters won't have their faces appear on the already-raised Wall.
Over the series' 10 weeks, the episodes get streamlined, with 90-second intro packages for each performer, 90 seconds of performance, then the verdict. "This show takes the three best parts — the performance, the expert commentary and the results — and puts them into every single act," says Yaron. After raising the Wall, contestants will participate in duels and advance to final rounds. And with verdicts delivered instantly, there's no need for an irrelevant results show each week — meaning that a viewer's commitment is limited to just an incredibly involved hour or two on Sunday nights.
WHERE: Rising Star episodes tape live in Los Angeles, and West Coast broadcasts will check back into the studio if voting differs enough from the initial broadcast to spare an eliminated contestant (Hawaii and Alaska get no concessions). During that contestant's critique with the experts, they will appear in a corner of the screen, reacting live to the good news.
The show, which Keshet debuted in Israel in fall 2013 and to international buyers at the MIPCOM market in October, has since sold to more than 25 territories, with ITV grabbing it for the U.K., RTL taking Germany and Enlight Media nabbing it for China, among others. Keshet CEO Nir told THR of his company's rapid expansion, "I realized that we couldn't live up to our creative potential if we remained in Israel. The world now is looking for disruptive ideas, and they don't care where they come from — it doesn't have to come from the U.K. or the U.S. The production budget doesn't have to be huge. If the idea is good, it will travel — it will translate."
WHY: For fans who suffer from withdrawal during the annual American Idol and The Voice hiatus, Rising Star's a solid substitute that combines the "experts" aspect of Idol with the chair-turning and sudden-death duet fun of The Voice. The instant gratification of audience voting is upped a notch from The Voice's Twitter Save, which asks viewers to tweet the name of which contestant to save from elimination during a five-minute window of the live broadcast, yet only broadcasts the show live in one time zone (to many viewers' dismay). And Idol's recently added Facebook wall in the studio (and expanded voting window to the top of the show, instead of afterward) is front and center on Rising Star, but actually dictates a contestant's fate instead of just serving as an odd encouragement to performers on the chopping block.
And for Idol and Voice haters, there are no "teams" or bickering coaches as on The Voice, and no melodramatic group auditions or humiliating tryouts that have become a signature of Idol. A Capitol Records contract sits at the Aug. 24 finish line for the winner, marking the first time the label has aligned with a singing show. Still, it's also ABC's first foray back into the singing-show space since 2012's ill-fated Duets, with Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Robin Thicke and Jennifer Nettles, and a network's second stab at an interactive series (NBC's quickly canceled 2013's The Million Second Quiz as glitches and errors hijacked the conversation).
Otherwise, there's always America's Got Talent, the NBC talent competition that promises to counter the Rising Star season premiere with a special Sunday episode that attempts to break two world records with death-defying, not necessarily music-related, stunts.
Rising Star premieres Sunday on ABC. Check back with THR for full coverage of the inaugural season, including episode recaps, catch-ups with the contestants, chats with the experts and more.
Rising Star is produced by Keshet International and Dick Clark Productions, the latter of which is owned by the parent company of The Hollywood Reporter, Guggenheim Partners.
Sundance: On the Scene