'Rising Star' Premiere Recap: Real-Time Votes, Instagram Auditions and a Very Powerful Spell

ABC's singing show with Josh Groban, Ludacris, Kesha and Brad Paisley was sprinkled with musical highs, commandeered consoles and a surprise tryout.
ABC/Eric McCandless
"Rising Star"

ABC is back in the singing-show space with Rising Star, in which viewers vote for contestants in real time via a smartphone/tablet app. If 70 percent of participating voters support a singer, that singer advances to the next round. Experts Ludacris, Kesha and Brad Paisley each have votes that count for seven percent. (See THR's complete guide to Rising Star here.)

At the beginning of Sunday's premiere episode, host Josh Groban often greeted viewers with quick jokes, noted that he briefly mentored the first crop of auditioners throughout the week, and effectively explained the show's breakthrough format well enough to trigger over a million Rising Star app downloads.

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Meet the inaugural competitors of the first season of Rising Star (and the auditioners who stayed behind the Wall — during both the live airing and the delayed airing of the premiere episode):

Joshua Peavy
Song: "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"
The 28-year-old Georgia youth pastor won over the experts and voters with his Bryan Adams cover, becoming the first contestant to audition and raise the Wall. "You talk like you should be making moonshine!" joked Paisley, adding on a more serious note, "You had heart." Kesha called the performance honest and genuine, and Ludacris poetically noted that Peavy fed off the pressure, "which can burst pipes or reveal the diamond." We're thinking he'd impress on a classic rock track.

Lisa Punch
Song: "How Will I Know"
The Guyana native who now lives in Brooklyn quickly impressed with her Whitney Houston cover, complete with a slowed-down intro that spotlighted her chops. Once the beat kicked in for the second verse, Punch got to dancing — as did an approving Ludacris on the other side of the Wall — and was pushed to the next round when Kesha and Paisley agreed. "She made her momma proud!" laughed Ludacris, also praising her stage presence. "It was definitely the total package." Paisley constructively criticized that she should watch her pitch (which she noted with open arms), while Kesha mentioned her infectious and adorable attitude. We're watching out for her ceiling-scraping diva moments.

Maneepat Myra Molloy
Song: "Con Te Partiro"
The 16-year-old Thailand transplant took a risk with the classic Italian song made famous by Andrea Bocelli — while Kesha was first to approve, with Paisley echoing, Ludacris swiped his first "no" of the night (his first of many, more than any other expert). Still, she nabbed enough votes just before the massive closing note of the song. Ludacris explained that he loved her voice but wished she had more stage presence, to which Kesha quickly defended, "Any sort of presence, I think, can be learned by doing it over and over again ... with a voice like that, you could be a massive star." Paisley added that he's rooting for her potential: "I want to see what you can do when you sing a song I can understand!" We're excited to watch her tackle a contemporary hit. 

Daniel & Olivia
Song: "Counting Stars"
The dating duo — two college students who met as musician Daniel Wolfe was looking for a voice coach, and hired Olivia Thai — commonly hit gold with YouTube uploads, but couldn't jibe well when standing up behind the Wall on the OneRepublic track: He was oddly strumming too calmly as she was energetically jumping around. The two would've been better off with a love song with strong harmonies. Afterward, they emerged from behind the unmoved Wall, as Ludacris compared them to drunk singers at a karaoke bar (which Groban, Paisley and Kesha noted is one of their favorite pastimes). Paisley called it "unpleasant but sweet," and Kesha encouraged, "I've been on the stage and laughed off, and now I'm sitting here, so don't quit."

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Jesse Kinch
Song: "I Put a Spell on You"
Though Groban warned that he's a "beast on a leash," the 20-year-old New York musician initially fooled the entire studio with his soft-spoken voice and adorably messy hair. The second he got behind the Wall, he rocked out on his guitar and growled hard on the Screamin' Jay Hawkins classic, instantly collecting votes from the experts and viewers, and raising the Wall the quickest of the night and nabbing the highest score, allowing the audience to enjoy the remaining half of his performance that blew everyone away. Ludacris praised that of the 90-second audition, "he used every single second!" while Kesha seductively called the performance sexy and said it reminded her of old rock 'n' roll, which she loves. Paisley shouted, "I think you gave someone a seizure! i think you killed someone!" and said he looks forward to when Kinch performs on the show with an amp and rocks the house even harder.

Beyond 5
Song: "Wake Me Up"
The five-member boy band from Tennessee tried hard to raise the Wall — harmonizing, dancing, styling their hair to preteen-loving heights — but unfortunately, their Aloe Blacc cover couldn't convince voters to swipe "yes." Ludacris praised their harmonies but mentioned that their solos were their downfall, and Paisley told them, "You didn't make it here, but you'll probably outsell all of us."

Sarah Darling
Song: "Merry Go ’Round"
The 31-year-old Nashville singer was nothing but sweet behind the Wall, but was in dire need of a major high note to push voters over the edge. All three experts voted her through, along with America, but Ludacris and Kesha asked for a future song choice that presents more of a showstopping moment in the future. Still, Paisley told her of the Kacey Musgraves tune "You picked one of the best songs in the last five years of country music" and noted that he and Darling have mutual friends (Ludacris joked that Paisley was biased). We're counting on a sassier country track ahead.

Colin Huntley
Song: "Sing"
The Houston teenager showed his age — or the lack thereof — with a pitchy opening and an unsupported delivery of the year's most difficult song to perform so far (endless props to Ed Sheeran for singing in two octaves, rapping and strumming on the lead single). A negative Ludacris had no problem standing up and swiping "no" for Paisley, and Kesha followed as the Wall stayed down. She noted that he picked the wrong song, while Paisley said, "I just think there's a maturity you're gonna get over time ... come back and see us." Still, Huntley was the only unsuccessful auditioner to seize the mic and thank the experts and viewers so graciously.

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Summer Collins
Song: "Classic"
The super wordy MKTO song cannot handle even an ounce of lazy enunciation, and this military brat couldn't get a commanding grasp of the lyrics, leading to pitch problems. As the Wall stayed down, Ludacris and Paisley were not on board, but Kesha was kind, noting that she liked Collins' energy. Paisley observed from Collins' style that she's probably more of a singer-songwriter than a studio performer, and with great spirits, she joked back, "Oh yeah, I'll write a song about this!"

Macy Kate
Song: "Me and My Broken Heart"
The Florida 16-year-old initially auditioned for the show via an Instagram contest and was invited to the premiere taping as an attendee, only to be plucked out of the audience for a surprise shot behind the Wall. The broadcast showed her submitted 15-second clip of a fully produced video cover of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" that Groban joked "was obviously on your iPhone in your bedroom." After working with bandleader Ray Chew throughout the episode, she took on the Rixton hit with some big notes that were coupled with some odd, squealish moments, but we're giving the spontaneous auditioner the benefit of the doubt. After Paisley and Kesha swiped "yes" for Kate, Kesha stood up and took control of Ludacris' console, as Kate was pushed through by America. Paisley joked of the instant auditioner: "No one should listen to Josh when he mentors — they don't need it!" Let's get this girl on a growly Janis Joplin option soon, yes?

Rising Star continues with 10 more auditioning hopefuls on Sunday, June 29, on ABC.

What do you think of Rising Star? Which contestants really deserved to have the Wall rise? Sound off in the comments below!

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee