ABC's interactive singing competition, Rising Star, concluded its live head-to-head singing duels Sunday night with four contestants advancing after the East Coast vote and one additional singer being saved after the West Coast broadcast. Three other acts were sent home.
Maneepat Molloy, Shameia Crawford, Audrey Kate Geiger and Joshua Peavy advanced to next week's quarterfinals. Dana Williams was saved by the West Coast vote and also advanced to the quarterfinals. Morgan Higgins, Karen Hornsby and the group Unselfish were sent home.
For the duels, two acts were selected to go head-to-head, with a coin toss determining which one would sing first with the wall up. The winner of the coin toss got to decide the order of performance. Viewers who downloaded the Rising Star app were asked to vote “yes” or “no,” just as they did in the audition round. The competing act then sang with the wall down and had to beat the mark set by the first contestant in order to raise it.
The one-hour show aired live on the East Coast, but viewers on the other side of the country had the chance to “save” the performer with the highest-combined percentage of votes who hadn't won his or her matchup.
Host Josh Groban and the Rising Star "experts" -- Kesha, Ludacris and Brad Paisley -- presided over the duels. The "experts" were allowed to vote. So were West Coast viewers, even though they watched the show on delay.
The experts also mentored each contestant before their performances. The ultimate winner receives a contract with Capitol Records.
Here are the highlights from Sunday night:
Morgan Higgins vs. Maneepat Molloy: The experts agreed that Higgins waited too long to show off her range when she auditioned and that she needed to come out swinging this time. Her version of Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” collected 45 percent of the vote, including a "yes" from Paisley, who noted that Higgins was a “pro,” but the 17-year-old still needed a lot of work. The performance didn’t impress Ludacris, who thought Higgins held back and didn’t give it her all. Kesha called the performance “very convincing,” adding the singer “came a long way.”
Ludacris felt Molloy’s voice was “more pure” than her competitor, but she didn’t have as much “energy.” Before Molloy's performance, Ludacris and the other experts urged her to be in the moment. The 16-year-old raised the wall with her version of Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity,” racking up 66 percent of the vote. Kesha voted “yes,” but admitted that she didn’t want to see either singer go. Brad was not as pleased with the performance, calling it “pitchy.” He voted “no.” Ludacris voted “yes.”
Shameia Crawford vs. Unselfish: Crawford, who had to wait for the West Coast to save her last time, chose to go first. Kesha was “on the fence” about her song choice, the standard, “Cry Me a River,” but agreed she “killed it” in rehearsal. Brad’s only suggestion was that Crawford needed to get her nerves under control. She managed to do that and collected 70 percent of the vote. Afterward, Ludacris called her presence “unprecedented.” Kesha agreed, adding the full-time musician and Georgia native “looked stunning” and “set the bar high” with her singing voice. She voted “yes,” as did Paisley.
The five-man group Unselfish also failed to raise the wall last time. The experts advised them to clean up their harmonies, but their version of Maroon 5’s “Payphone” still failed to impress voters, earning just 33 percent. They did, however, get a “yes” from Kesha, who explained she was “not a dream crusher.” She added that while it was “not the best performance,” she thought they could improve and wanted the group to know she was rooting for them. Ludacris voted “no,” saying their harmonies “needed work,” and Paisley also gave them a “no.”
Dana Williams vs. Audrey Kate Geiger: Williams led off this duel. Using a guitar that belonged to her late father, who once backed Michael Jackson, she sang The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” She said the guitar was a lucky charm. The performance earned 67 percent of the vote, but didn’t impress Brad, who gave her a “no.” He explained the singing was great, but the performance sounded like Williams was “rehearsing.” Kesha, reminding Brad this was a singing show, praised Williams' voice as “delicate” and “beautiful,” adding she was one of her “favorite performers on the show.” Ludacris also voted “yes.”
Audrey Kate started her performance of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” a cappella, a risk that earned Brad’s respect and kudos from the other judges as well. America also agreed, as Geiger raised the wall with an impressive 88 percent of the vote. Ludacris gave her a “yes,” declaring, she had a voice he “could listen to and never get tired of.” Paisley said simply, it was the kind of voice he “signed up for this show for.” Kesha also voted “yes.” Geiger won the battle, but Williams was later saved by West Coast viewers.
Joshua Peavy vs. Karen Hornsby: Hornsby's daughter, Gabrielle, was left blind and unable to talk following treatment for brain cancer. She was in the audience for Sunday's performance, making it extra special because it was the first time Gabrielle would hear her mom sing. Ludacris advised Hornsby to go for the high notes, because that was her strength and would earn her “yes” votes. Hornsby sang Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman,” drawing 67 percent of the vote, and a “yes” from Kesha, who called the performance “phenomenal.” Kesha said the Jacksonville, Florida, native looked like “a natural woman.” Paisley said the performance wasn’t perfect, but Hornsby was still the most “inspiring” performer.
Peavy has the distinction of being the first person to ever raise the wall on Rising Star. He originally chose Rascal Flatts’ “Life Is a Highway” for the duel, but after getting advice from the experts, opted for “Too Close” by Alex Clare instead. It turned out being the right move, as Joshua bested Karen with 75 percent of the vote. Ludacris thought the performance was “soulful” and he was “very proud” of Peavy and voted “yes.” However, he also predicted that Hornsby would be saved by the West Coast. Kesha voted “no,” admitting it was because she didn’t want to see Karen go home. Brad voted “Yes.” Hornsby did not advance.
"Rising Star" continues next Sunday on ABC.