I’m not a fan of most reality shows, but I confess that I am developing a soft spot for the talent shows sub-genre of reality TV. I’ve been watching America’s Got Talent since season 2 and The Voice (which I reviewed a few weeks ago) since season 1. In my review of The Voice, I mentioned that one of my issues with it was that audience participation comes in too late. Which may be why, when I heard about ABC’s new live voting method, I gave this premiere a shot.
I am also not a fan of live TV. I watch 99% of my shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, DVD, or the Internet. I even watched The Voice the next day on my computer as opposed to live on NBC, and I won’t watch America’s Got Talent live until we get to the voting rounds. Rising Star is the first show in years to convince me to turn on my TV (which only has an antenna) at a specific time. So obviously, I was very intrigued by the concept.
You have to download an app onto your cell phone in order to vote. Download, installation, and use were all very simple. They ask for access to your twitter or Facebook profile, but the permissions they request are reasonable — they won’t post, they only want your public information. You can *optionally* indicate that you are willing to have your profile picture on “the wall” when you vote. My husband opted out. I opted in. (My author image is public anyway, and there is no way it hurts me if it did end up as a blip on live TV.)
Now, down to the show:
I got a sense of pilot-episode awkwardness at the outset. Host Josh Groban tossed out a few jokes that weren’t funny as he introduced the experts — Ludacris, Kesha, and Brad Paisley. I will reserve judgment on the mix of personalities between host and experts; it’s only fair to give them a chance to settle in. Josh did simply and effectively explain the premise of the show, and how voting would work.
You have to log in to vote for each new contestant as they are introduced. The app prompts you and you simply swipe the screen. The reason for this is simple: Once you indicate a willingness to vote, your default is NO. You can swipe no, or you can not vote — it’s the same thing. So they want to check at each performance that you’re there, that you’re watching, and that you’re prepared to vote.
The singers need to get a yes from 70% of voters to “raise the wall” and go through to the next round.
BUT … The experts get a vote too. If they vote NO, nothing happens. If they vote YES, the singer gets a 7% bump. This effectively means that if all three experts vote yes, the singer auditioning only needs 49% of America to vote for them. I was dubious about this part at first. I really liked the idea of getting all the say, but as the episode unfolded I understood and appreciated why they chose to do it this way. First of all, Half of America essentially needs to vote yes anyway or it doesn’t matter what the experts thing. Second, the experts votes seriously influenced America’s. You could see it in the live tracking — the second an expert swiped YES, so did a hundred thousand watchers. Finally, the fact that the experts get a big say lends weight to their advice when they give it at the end of each round. So all in all, I decided I approved of this approach.
My biggest complaint about the episode was that in two hours, we saw 10 singers (or groups of singers). It was full of the usual nonsense that draws out and weighs down talent shows like this. They put a lot of time and effort into a surprise auditioner, a sixteen-year-old girl from the audience who had sent in an instagram audition and didn’t know she’d been picked to audition too. They gave her an hour and a half to prepare a song and she got the last audition spot of the night.
Back to positives: It really was fun to sit in my living room, discuss the pros and cons of each singer with my husband and son, and to swipe a YES or a NO. I loved seeing the instant results (results shows being my least favorite part of any talent show). The first three singers all made it through, making me wonder if America had a soft touch (I voted NO on two of the three myself and was beginning to wonder if I was just grumpy). Then a couple came on whose energy and enthusiasm couldn’t make up for the fact that they didn’t sound all that good together. America voted overwhelmingly NO, restoring my faith in our overall good taste. (And in truth, the first three singers were fine. I just wasn’t wowed.)
Of the experts, Ludacris earned my absolute respect last night. He not only said exactly what I was thinking 99% of the time, but his personality was a great mix of fun/friendly and honest/serious. Kesha struck me as a bit superficial. She put a lot of importance on the right look or, in a couple of cases, some random personal connection. And she was a bit of a soft touch overall. Brad Paisley hasn’t made a huge impression on me yet; I am again reserving judgment here.
Back to some weaknesses: There were too many sixteen-year-olds auditioning. One of the things I like about both The Voice and America’s Got Talent is that they’ll take anyone — any age, look, gender, etc. I hope to see a more diverse selection in the coming weeks.
I’m also wary of the commercials. Like I said early on, I don’t watch broadcast TV anymore. Haven’t in years. And last night reminded me why. It’s not just the existence of the commercials, but the truth is that the show was perfect fun for the whole family except that in between singers, there were commercials for shows like Mistresses, earning the question from my 8-year-old: “What’s a mistress?” I have a strict policy of answering honestly at all times so I did, but I really resent having had to answer that particular question last night. The level of sex and violence in the ads surprised me after so many years away from it. My kids are getting older, staying up later, and it’s summer so they are up until 9 or 10.
Finally, one aspect of the show confuses me: The west coast. I don’t live there (I’m in the central time zone) but I didn’t understand how this show would work when they rebroadcast it later. Josh explained, but I’m not wrapping my mind around it. I can’t imagine it being as satisfying to be out on the west coast, watching a rebroadcast. From the sounds of it, if the west coast votes are high enough they could change the results for someone who didn’t make it through, but that’s not what it looked like as I watched it. The people who got voted off just … left.
Overall, I think this is a fun new approach to a talent show competition. I have a few small reservations, but overall I am excited to watch again next week!