The real winner of Rising Star was not a singer

ABC’s Rising Star concluded its first season last night with the optimistic hope that it will return for a new season, declaring the “winner of Rising Star 2014,” as if there will be a “winner of Rising Star 2015.”

The show’s final episode illustrated the summer singing competition’s strengths and weaknesses. It had the final four compete in a bracketed tournament, all with live voting. Watching real-time acceptance or rejection of a singer on a singing competition is very satisfying and fits perfectly and organically, and it works especially well on a finale, when the stakes are much higher.

Live voting via an app was truly genius, and although that sounds like hyperbole, I use that word because it was a simple and obvious addition, yet no one did it or did it this well. It combined our love of instant judgement of other people (Tinder, Grindr, Twitter, everything else in our culture that ends with -r)  with reality TV, and it is remarkable that no one thought to do that earlier.

Live voting did hurt some of the suspense during the finale–especially when there was significant disparity between the singers, as there was for each duel, the result was obvious long before the song was over. But that is offset but the thrill of watching that rejection happen live, mid-song. There’s no waiting for judges to blather on, no commercial break, no 23-hour pause for votes to be tallied before being revealed at the end of a finale full of filler.

The vote totals for the final two performances were concealed probably to retain the suspense. Even though the totals were relatively close–Jesse Kinch won with 76 percent approval to Austin French’s 61 percent–once Jesse passed the 61 percent mark, he’d won, and that kind of reveal of a winner is less dramatic than dimming the lights and having Ryan Seacrest grandstand for five minutes.

Overall, the competition series recovered from its first, tedious, overly drawn-out episode and sped things up, and Josh Groban proved to be a remarkably strong host, and was the break-out star of the show other than its live voting. But ultimately it was just another a singing competition with so-so singers and judges who have names but not any real chemistry.

Coming, as it did, after two seasons of The Voice and a season of American Idol, never mind The Sing-Off and X Factor, the format felt even more tired. It was just yet another derivative singing competition. Rising Star introduced what American Idol should have introduced instead of a new set: live voting, which was a true innovation that succeeded in its simplicity.

Even if this show doesn’t survive another season, I hope other shows borrow/steal that, because every real-time show from Big Brother to American Idol would benefit from the interactivity and thrill of impacting a show in real time.

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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.