ABC’s Rising Star desperately needs some Viagra

ABC tried again last night to reinvent a tired format with a smart twist, debuting Rising Star, the show which features live voting by viewers. Based on an Israeli format, the singing competition ends the need for drawn-out, boring results shows by making voting something that happens live, while contestants sing. Unfortunately, it did that with a drawn-out, boring premiere that had far more talking than singing or voting.

In short: Future episodes of Rising Star need far more singing, more voting, and faster wall-raising, and far less talking and pre-packaged bio segments, because all the other elements for a good show are there.

After the teaser that aired during The Bachelorette last week, I was concerned about the chemistry between the judges and host, but all four did a really decent job. They didn’t stand out like The Voice‘s coaches did, but they also didn’t seem to be a horribly mismatched panel of people with names (i.e. The X Factor). There was some non-forced playfulness, and also no hesitation to be critical.

Josh Groban is a good host, too. He just was given way too much time to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. After 50 minutes, only three people had performed. Three! On a show that’s all about live voting. There was even an entire act with no singing and no voting.

Rising Star‘s producers also buried the evening’s best singers: Jesse Kinch performed a few minutes into the second hour, and blew everyone else away; Macy Kate performed at the end and did the same. I would have put one of them first, but I am not a television producer. The show started with some so-so singers, all of whom made it through, making it seem like viewers would never vote no, but ultimately they did, for a couple and a One Direction clone and a kid with mad falsetto.

Mostly, though, that wall needs to rise more quickly than it did. Having 10 contestants perform in two hours is rather unforgivable. Giving us 10 contestants every half hour? Yes.

Whoever designed the pace of this show seems to not understand the fun of Tinder or any other app where you make fast judgements about people and swipe them away. That’s super fun, but here, it was a drawn out process. During each singer’s bio, those of us using the app had to check in–a process that was repeated for each singer. I’m assuming that’s to calculate the total number of voters for that round, and thus know how many votes are needed to reach 70 percent. But you don’t need to give us such a long time to do it.

By the way, the 70 percent thing is kind of bullshit, though, because each judge can add 7 percentage points, meaning 51 percent of those voting can vote no and the person can still make it through to the next round.

Other things just didn’t make sense: The whole point of the show so far is that viewer votes cause the wall to rise up, so the contestant can see the judges and audience. Instead, the contestant (and, with the right camera angle, viewers) were blinded by white lights. Worse, part of the wall still rises up for the losers to step through–instead of, say, dropping them through the floor or trapping them in a cage.

ABC is on to something with the live voting, though: It’s brilliant and worked very well, with a smartly designed app. Imagine using it with a current show such as Big Brother or a resurrected show such as the cancelled Are You Hot?. Making TV stars’ fates the product of real-time interaction is smart, and other shows have squandered that opportunity for years (I’m looking at you, Big Brother).

But ABC really needs to pick up its pace, so this show doesn’t end up like The Glass House or Whodunnit, both smartly produced shows with smart ideas that started off with rough execution and couldn’t capture enough viewers to stick around for a second season.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.