Somehow, we've landed ourselves in the semi-finals of the experimental reality singing competition Rising Star, because the summer is just flying by... this week, the final six will be whittled down to a final four, and the remaining six singers showed up with some surprising takes on classic pop anthems, for better and for worse.
Like in the last few weeks, male contestants Austin French and Jesse Kinch stole the show with the perfect blend of song choice, risk factor and (gasp!) audience engagement. Other standouts, like Joshua Peavy and Audrey Kate Geiger failed to resonate as much, in pretty shocking twists.
The show got off the an icy start with host Josh Groban participating in the ALS Ice Bucket challenge... but how did the contestants warm it up? Check out the rundown below:
Austin French, "Love Runs Out": Rising Star has continued to improve on its sequencing, starting things off with the consistently solid Austin French. This week, the 20-year-old newlywed took a few risks: he chose a relatively new OneRepublic single that has yet to really resonate with American audiences, the midtempo "Love Runs Out." There should have been no real doubts about French's vocal abilities (and he did nail the single), but the song choice could have been risky... Luckily, this week judges Kesha and Ludacris gave the contestants much needed tips on stage presence, and French was the actual first performer this season (I think?) to engage with the live audience. A package that could have killed French's chances worked, and he walked away with a solid 81 percent.
Maneepat Molloy, "Chandelier": Maneepat Molloy is kind of like the cockroach of Rising Star... she just will not go away. After a frozen performance of Elton John's "Your Song" last week, Molloy was saved by the West Coast, and returned to make the soaring, standout pop single "Chandelier" by Sia totally and completely forgettable. Though Kesha taught Molloy how to emphasize her performance by illustrating her lyrics (she literally had to teach her how to walk onstage, by the way), she was still totally robotic, totally timid and visibly scared underneath the lights. Even though a complete lack of stage presence can be made up for with a stunning vocal turn, Molloy failed to deliver that here, too, struggling to maintain the high notes in the soaring chorus. We can't all be Sia, and Molloy proved that by getting a meager 25 percent vote tally (with yeses from Kesha and Brad Paisley).
Jesse Kinch, "Billie Jean": Last week, Brad Paisley voted a no for Jesse Kinch, calling the classic rock inspired 20-year-old a "one trick pony." But, he's more like a musical stallion, and proved that this week by turning the legendary Michael Jackson hit "Billie Jean" into an unrecognizable, haunting anthem. Equipped with an acoustic guitar and backed by a small section of strings, Kinch made the tune totally and completely his own by slowing it down and switching up the arrangement. At first, he's a little over-theatrical, almost distracting in their overbearingness, but he really gathered himself together in the chorus. Kinch turned "Billie Jean" into a soulful, gritty single, more like an Eddie Vedder track than Jackson, but he made it work and America loved it, giving him an 83 percent approval rating.
Dana Williams, "Sunday Morning": Before this week, Dana Williams was the type of contestant that squeaked by from week to week on Rising Star, barely besting technically better contestants and getting a highly coveted West Coast save, but with a unique take on Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning," she proved that there was a reason she even made it on the show. Like Jesse Kinch, Williams completely reworked this pop hit, turning it into an old school jazzy club rendition. Channelling the likes of Billie Holiday, Williams was simple and captivating on stage in a long black gown, turning out sweet, classic and soulful vocals like a seasoned pro. This week was a good one to kick her butt into gear, and it reflected in the audience vote, with Williams walking away with a respectable 75 percent.
Audrey Kate Geiger, "Killing Me Softly": Last week, Audrey Kate Geiger more or less stole the show with a flawless performance of "New York State Of Mind," so she had a lot to live up to. She stayed in her comfort zone with "Killing Me Softly," but unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough. Though on her own, Geiger is entirely captivating, there was no particular "wow" factor this week... just a simple, nice song sung by a pretty woman. Geiger walked off stage with a 69 percent, but it just couldn't live up in this semi-finals round, and she was sent home.
Joshua Peavy, "What Hurts The Most": Before this week, it seemed pretty clear that Joshua Peavy was one of the men to beat on Rising Star, but with a take on Rascal Flatt's "What Hurt The Most," Peavy just fell... well, is it cheesy to say flat? Normally a gripping performer, Peavy was just missing something, not unlike Audrey Kate Geiger before him. It was vocally solid (unlike Maneepat Molloy) and he was feeling it, but Peavy just didn't connect with the audience in the same way that, say, Austin French did. He's a solid contender for a West Coast save though, with 72 percent of the East Coast vote, but that seems like a better bet for Geiger (or the unkillable Molloy).