As most WNTS readers know, our staff generally considers American Idol seasons to come in packs of three. This is The Idol Guy's "epoch" theory of AI, and although Leo doesn't cover the show anymore (though we still get an occasional email from him), it's something we at What Not To Sing have promoted since forever. In every three-year cycle, Year One is a transitional season, Year Two is when we enjoy its peak performance (AI14 being the sad exception), and Year Three is when the current formula traditionally goes pear-shaped.
After a solid reboot season, we wondered if the cycle would hold here in the Sixth Epoch. We got our first clue Monday night. Normally this would be our Facebook page summary of the newly-published ratings, but they're a little long this time, so we made them into an editorial. It also serves the purpose of pushing the AI16 recap off the home page, allowing all of us to focus on the season at hand. A win all around.
First and foremost: Effusive thanks to everyone who undertook the herculean task of grading/ranking all 20 episodes from Monday night! Data entry was a challenge; obviously, coming up with 20 meaningful grades is even more of a challenge. We received plenty of ballots, plus we enjoyed the chance to catch up with many old friends. That's the best part of this job, to be honest.
Normally we wait until after the second episode to publish the first official ratings of the season. This gives us two opportunities to get everything aligned from one season to the next. This time though...nah. The high volume and percentage of returning reviewers, plus the fact the every ballot had 20 freaking data points on it, makes us halfway confident that these numbers ought to be reasonably stable. (We still would like reviews of next week's Duet performances, of course, and they'll affect this week's grades in subtle and ineffable ways...but, probably, not very much. As always we'll publish only ordinals at first, with the actual ratings revealed during our annual Camp Should-A-Been exsnarkaganza this summer.)
A few highlights from E6Y2's Opening Night -- the first, and hopefully last, time Idol tries to stage the entire solo semifinals in less time than it takes to roast a turkey.
- After having remained above 50 for two days, the episode rating slipped just under par this evening. It currently stands at 49.8. Still, this is quite an impressive start. For one thing, it's the highest-rated semifinal episode since Season 12. For another, and perhaps even more encouraging, it's the third-highest "kickoff" approval ratings ever (comprising the first performance by each semifinalist.) Just AI10 (52.1) and AI11 (50.0) bested it, and it's comfortably ahead of fourth-place AI7 (48.3).
- Could it be that we won't have to keep a death vigil this year on whether we'll see a 90 rating? Jeremiah Harmon's To Make You Feel My Love is already at 89. (89.3 to be precise.) The post-season normalization ought to take it well above 90, since this crew doesn't seem to be the sort that will be delivering a wild variance of approval ratings over the coming weeks. We can hope they'll generate more 5-star outings than normal, but how many train wrecks can they possibly have in them?
- Laci Kaye Booth has the week's other 5-star performance, for singing I Want You To Want Me as if it were Every Breath You Take. Alejandro Aranda, Ashley Hess, and Uche all broke 70, and in all, 13 of the 20 performances came in at 3-stars or higher.
- Alas, there was a 1-star rating as well, and from where we sit, it's hard to argue. Bumbly's song choice would've fit in great in Season 3. In Season 17, not so much. On a more humorous note, you cannot imagine our Database Administrator's discombobulation during Monday's show when he looked for Vision Of Love in the existing song drop-down list. "Crud, another bug? That song has been sung at least four times so far..." In fact, it was "Vision"'s Idol debut on a competition night. Who knew? To be fair, we thought Ms. Contreras sang it well enough perhaps to avoid the 1-star hammer, but the Idolsphere disagreed. They have the final say.
- There were a few high standard deviations this week, but nothing too unexpected. With 20 performances, there were bound to be a couple of polarizing ones.
- Riley Thompson probably lost at least 15 points off her rating for smiling joyfully through....Jolene?? That's like doing a campfire singalong of "I Don't Like Mondays" or Pumped-Up Kicks. Many reviewers said they thought she sang it just fine (we agree), but the total disconnect to the anguished lyrics were too difficult for them to overlook. We were inclined to give her a pass due to her age, but upon further reflection, we believe the reviewers got it right. As we mentioned to a correspondent, it's not like the lyrics are in Croatian or anything. Even a 16-year-old ought to be able to figure out what that song is about.
- We have a three-way tie this week. Not that this is anything earth-shattering, but it's only the second in 17 years. David Cook, Carly Smithson, and Chikeze achieved it (after normalization) in the fabled AI7 Top 12, with the added pinache of doing it on 5-star performances.
- Correspondent Matthew made an interesting observation. The producers may have wisely decided this year to have the Top 40 perform in front of a larger live audience than usual, during the Green Mile episode. That helped the judges see better who'd wilt under the pressure of the bright lights. Sounds plausible, and on top of that, doing so on a oceanfront stage may have given it a true music-festival vibe. Even though four performances Monday fell under 30 (our rough cutoff for "acceptable" vs. "poor"), none seem to have been done in by nerves. Rather, they just weren't good song choices, or not-relevant-to-2019 presentations.
All things considered, it was a very good opening week. We hope the judges (who, ahem, picked up roughly where they left off in 2018 in terms of performance critiques) choose wisely for the Top 14. If so, this could be an old-fashioned, Second-Season-of-an-Epoch gem of a competition.