'Rising Star': 5 Things to Know About ABC's Wall-Raising Summer Singing Show

Issue 21 Billboard COVER Rising Star - P 2014
Austin Hargrave

Issue 21 Billboard COVER Rising Star - P 2014

Featured on the cover of Billboard, Ludacris, Kesha, Brad Paisley and Josh Groban dish on what to expect beginning June 22: "It's 'Hunger Games' meets the Coliseum in Rome."

This Sunday marks the U.S. premiere of Rising Star, ABC's singing competition that relies on real-time voting with a custom app.

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Initially, performers begin behind a "Wall," and if they get 70 percent of the audience’s vote, the Wall rises. Voters will see their social media avatars flash on the Wall as they use the app. All viewers but those in the Pacific time zone vote during the live broadcast. The West Coast votes too, but acts as a save for singers who failed to reach 70 percent earlier in the show.

Also in the voting pool are three "experts," as the judges are called on Rising Star, who'll be giving the contestants feedback and advice: Kesha, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Brad Paisley, with Josh Groban serving as the show’s host. The experts each have 7 percent to reward to a performer.

As featured on this week's cover of Billboard, here are 5 things to know about the ABC summer singing show — or, as Paisley describes it, "It's Hunger Games" meets the Coliseum in Rome."

RECRUITMENT WAS RELATIVELY EASY. While the panel of "experts" know nothing about the show's 30 contestants, chosen from a pool of about 2,500 invited to audition in six cities, they all agreed on what had attracted them to Rising Star: the technology. "As soon as I saw [the show] reel, I felt like the future has come early," says Ludacris. "People at home being able to be on the app saying yes or no in real time — it made me interested. This will be revolutionary for television, for finding talent, period."

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DRAMA-FREE, EASY-TO-FOLLOW FORMAT. Rising Star is 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 Nicolle Yaron, who jumped ship from NBC's The Voice in its sixth season to sign on as one of Rising Star's executive producers.

NO RESULTS SHOW NECESSARY. Ken Warwick, Rising Star's other executive producer, is intimately familiar with the problem of the results show, having shepherded 320 episodes of Idol as its EP from 2002 to this year. "Results shows were padding,” he says bluntly. "Every week you had to come up with some kind of show that would look like it was relevant to the actual result ... There is nowhere to take any of these shows now unless you involve the immediacy of interaction."

THAT APP ISN'T JUST FOR VOTING. App users will receive tune-in prompts and can instantly download songs that just have been broadcast. (Capitol Records will release the show’s music and hand the winner a contract as part of the prize package.) 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.

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HIJINKS ARE A BIG POSSIBILITY. On June 16, just six days before the show’s premiere, ABC teased Rising Star with a segment during The Bachelorette, during which users were prompted to use the app to raise the Wall and reveal Groban. The app had been road-tested in Israel; Brazil, where it had some hiccups; and Portugal. ABC had run private trials in the United States, but this was its public debut. All went well. Still, the Rising Star team is steeled for the likely problems ahead. "We can guarantee you something will go wrong at some point," said Yaron after the Bachelorette segment. "It's live television, and we have a lot of contingencies."

Rising Star premieres Sunday on ABC.

This article first appeared in the June 28 issue of Billboard. Read the full cover story here.