- - Sunday, July 20, 2014

Country musician Brad Paisley is working his magic on ABC’s reality competition show “Rising Star,” which airs Sundays at 9 p.m.

Not that the nicest guy in country would take credit for the jump in ratings for the live show hosted by Josh Groban and focusing on contestants mentored by Mr. Paisley and fellow headliners Ludacris and Ke$ha.

But it’s obvious that the West Virginia native, whose work with Alabama, Carrie Underwood and other artists electrified their fans, should take a big ol’ heap of credit for moving the show from critical castaway to ratings rocket.

“It has been a blast. I am loving it,” Mr. Paisley said by phone from Los Angeles the day after a recent broadcast. “[The judges] went back to Ludacris’ house and were talking about the show and our roles. We are figuring it out. And the friendships are real.”

When the show premiered June 22, critics rolled their eyes and pointed to its lackluster ratings as evidence that another singing competition — even one that is broadcast live and relies on viewers voting via apps — would not entice viewers.

The critics were wrong. The show recently gained 7 percent in total viewers (4.8 million vs. 4.5 million) and 17 percent among the all-important 18- to 49-year-old viewers, according to Nielsen figures reported by The Los Angeles Times.

“Rising Star“‘s executive producers Ken Warwick (“American Idol”) and Nicolle Yaron (“The Voice”) said they hope the show triggers new excitement over traditional TV and bridges the gap between it and technology. To effect that change, the two approached the show as a chance to move beyond reality shows as tabloid fodder and into a modern, technologically exciting competition.

“Coming from our backgrounds, I think we both thought ‘That is just what America needs, another reality show,” Mr. Warwick said during a conference call with Ms. Yaron from Los Angeles of their initial response to the show’s creators. “But what caught my interest was the technology. That is quite fascinating and challenging because you never know if it is going to work or not.

“As we navigate through the series, we learn how to refine it. And you become involved with the contestants,” he said. “Like when Sarah Darling went home. She has a very, very good voice, and it kind of gets you to see her sent home.”

Mr. Paisley to the rescue. He immediately extended an invitation to Ms. Darling, who lost the July 13 competition by a fraction of a percentage point, to join him in a performance at the Grand Ole Opry and made good on that promise Saturday.

“Welcome home — back to the place you belong, Nashville, Tennessee,” Mr. Paisley said to Ms. Darling, who joined him in a rendition of his “Whiskey Lullaby.”

That’s just the type of engagement Mr. Warwick and Ms. Yaron hoped to find when they developed the show.

“We wanted people who liked what they were doing, liked the contestants, and became emotionally attached to the talent in front of them, for whatever it is worth,” Ms. Yaron said. “The [judges] genuinely are absolutely desperate to get involved in mentoring, not to become experts who criticize the performers every week. It’s a passion for them and you feel it. And Josh Groban, we’ve never had a host that was so deeply involved, essential, and knowledgeable.”

Not to mention empathetic. Mr. Paisley marveled at the contestant’s courage when faced with mentoring and judging.

“I don’t know how they do it. I sang on the show and I was nervous,” he said, recalling his performance of “River Bank,” the lead single from his upcoming album. “I thought, ‘I had better freaking nail thing because I am sitting here telling people they are pitchy and stuff! I had better nail it.’”

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