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Will summer's singing-competition shows be the same old song?

TelevisionEntertainmentTelevision IndustryMedia IndustryABCThe Voice (tv program)
'Rising Star' will allow viewers to use smartphone apps to cast real-time votes on contestants
Josh Groban will host 'Rising Star' with celebrity judges Brad Paisley, Kesha and Ludacris

You might think, at this point, that there is simply no way a TV network could possibly put on another singing show.

And yet you would be wrong.

Fox has the once-powerful "American Idol" and NBC the still-formidable "The Voice." But ABC has been left without a music competition hit, although not for lack of trying (you might remember 2012's "Duets," famous now mostly for mentor Robin Thicke slamming it as "soulless" and "sucking [away] my artistic integrity").

Ratings-challenged ABC will attempt to remedy its singing-show deficit yet again with not just one but two entries, "Rising Star" (June 22) and "Sing Your Face Off" (May 31). Not to be outdone, MTV has its own singing show premiering June 2, "Copycat," which invites contestants to imitate their favorite singers.

"Sing Your Face Off" has been relegated to the dead zone of Saturday nights, where few expect it to catch on. But ABC has high hopes for "Rising Star," an Americanized reboot of a show that scored big in Israel.

What makes "Rising Star" unique? Technology, its creators say. Viewers can employ special smartphone apps to cast real-time votes on contestants, whose tallies will show up onscreen immediately to decide their fate. None of this waiting-for-the-results-show stuff. (The app is free.)

"It's not just another one of the same," said Ken Warwick, a British-born longtime "American Idol" chief who is now an executive producer behind "Rising Star." It's "the technology whereby someone can sit at home, watch the kid on television, press his app, and within half a second, half a million people can hit that app … It's just cutting-edge."

Added Nicole Yaron, who joins "Rising Star" as executive producer from "The Voice": "Ultimately, the power is in the people at home. They are literally holding these people's dreams in their hands with the app," she said.

Actually, the folks at home have even more power than that, since they will also decide whether to watch "Rising Star" at all.

Lean times have hit the singing-show market. A glut of lookalikes has led to viewer fatigue. Fox axed "The X Factor" after three rocky seasons, as Simon Cowell's singing extravaganza failed to match the tabloid sizzle it had achieved in Britain.

Fox executives have likewise watched with dismay as "Idol," a show whose ratings seemed invincible only a few seasons ago, now struggles to hang on to an aging audience. The 2006 finale drew more than 36 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. These days, "Idol" putters along with around 10 million viewers per episode — still decent by network TV standards but nowhere near the monster it was.

"Rising Star," in other words, is jumping aboard a ship that looks to be sinking.

ABC executives, however, are hoping for something more than a show that just squeezes by. When "Rising Star" premiered on Israeli TV in 2013, it became a smash hit, with a finale watched by more than 1 million viewers, in a country with a population of just 8 million.

Several of the acts became sensations on YouTube, including the "Singing Rabbis," the copiously bearded brothers Aryeh and Gil Gat, crooning to Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence." That performance alone has racked up nearly 1 million views.

Keshet Broadcast, the series' producer, sold the format around the world, including to Britain, Brazil and Russia. A key selling point was the voting app, employing technology supposedly developed by the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

Contestants either survive the vote or "that's it, you're a goner right then and there," Warwick joked.

The producers say they have solved one key problem that their Israeli counterparts didn't have to face: What to do about America's multiple time zones. Because typical prime time shows air three hours earlier on the East Coast than the West, live voting has often proved vexing for TV.

Warwick said he can't delve into details because competitors — namely "The Voice" and "Idol" — would steal his show's idea. But he added: "We've addressed it. Let me put it that way. We've come up with a solution … The West Coast will have a live vote, and so will the East Coast."

Like its rivals, "Rising Star" will also make use of celebrity judges — although in this case, they are being called "experts" who will offer advice to both the singers and the voters at home. ABC recently announced that Josh Groban would host the show, with judges Brad Paisley, Kesha and Ludacris.

"They're an expert panel that we really feel can help guide both the singers as well as America into what to listen for," Yaron said.

And then there is the talent, which Warwick promises will be extraordinary. Of course, every singing show says that every year. But Warwick says he really means it.

"I'm looking at a board of about 30 people that I have already eliminated, and I can put the next series on with them," he said. "They're that good, to be truthful. Blown away, mate. I was flabbergasted."

scott.collins@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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