Upon first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Rising Star as being just another music talent show.
But everyone attached to the series insists that it’s the next big thing, that it’s going to change this genre of television forever.
The innovation that has people excited about Rising Star, which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC, is a downloadable app that allows viewers to rate live performances in real time. The instant polling eliminates the need for time-filler/next-day “results” shows and shifts power away from celebrity judges.
Is it a gimmick or a game-changer?
Executive producer Ken Warwick, a longtime American Idol producer, is promising that the new technology is the way of the future.
“For years, I’ve been dealing with the problem of how to concoct an entire show around the simple statement, ‘So-and-so is going home tonight,’ ” he says. “That’s essentially what a results show is. Everything leading up to that announcement is just padding.
“So the fact that we have this brilliant technology that allows up to 1 1/2 million people to press their apps and, within one-and-a-half seconds, have results tallied is groundbreaking.
“It’s the way that all of these shows — not just your singing shows, but also your three-judge fashion shows and dancing shows and cooking shows — are going to have to go.”
No longer will viewers be powerless to do anything other than argue at home about whether the judges got it right. At last, they’ll have the same power they have in the real world as music buyers.
Now for the aspect of Rising Star that’s unadulterated gimmick:
Each performance begins with the contestant singing from behind a screen, or “The Wall.” If he receives 70 percent “yes” votes from viewers, the wall rises and the singer advances to the next round.
The show’s panel of expert artists — Brad Paisley, Kesha and Ludacris — will have the opportunity to critique the aspiring singers, but the real decision-making rests in the hands of viewers with their yes-or-no polling app.
There’s an old saying that’s often attributed to Duke Ellington: “There are two kinds of music. Good music and the other kind.”
Josh Groban, the host of Rising Star, says, “I first heard that quote from Smokey Robinson — and it’s especially true in the case of Rising Star. Genre goes out the window when it boils down to people at home saying, ‘This is good, this is bad; I like this, I don’t like that.’ ”
Groban, a singer with worldwide record sales surpassing 25 million, also points out that the instant feedback has the potential to create riveting drama.
“It adds a new dynamic to the performances,” he says. “The singers will literally be seeing, while they’re performing, what millions of people are thinking about their song moment by moment.
“One singer might not be getting good numbers and crumble onstage. Another might be in the same situation and crank it up a notch and get the wall to go up. Week by week, you might see somebody’s confidence as a performer blossom into something that makes him a superstar.”
Executive producer Nicolle Yaron, formerly of The Voice, puts it this way: “It’s like watching sports. Like it’s the Stanley Cup Finals and it goes into sudden-death overtime. Every singer is going to have that chance and they can either step up or buckle under the pressure. It’s incredibly dramatic.”
The fact that the panel of expert artists cuts across musical genres (Paisley rules in the world of country music, Kesha in pop and Ludacris in hip-hop) indicates that almost anything goes from the performers.
“We’re allowing the artists to be themselves, whereas on American Idol we used to give them genres each week,” Warwick says. “So if a kid is a fantastic country singer, he’s welcome to sing country every week if he wishes.
“We’re not going to shoehorn him into a genre that he’s not comfortable with and not experienced in. We think that’s not fair.”
The format of Rising Star is modeled after a singing competition show that set ratings records in Israel.
“When I was pitched the show,” Groban says, “I did my research and was able to see how it connected with audiences. It’s already a massive hit over there and in other parts of the world.”
“This show is about respecting the audience,” Yaron says. “The viewers have just as much talent for picking singers as we do, quite frankly. It’s time to respect the American taste and the American point of view and see how it comes out.”