The conventional wisdom across the Idolsphere is that 2008 will be a Man's Year. Some usually-sensible analysts are even predicting as much as a four-guy/one-girl Final Five, plus American Idol's first all-male revue in the Finale. And that's with or without David Hernandez, in more ways than one.
The pundits could turn out to be correct, of course, but we think they're being premature. We base that opinion partly on historical trends, and partly on something quite different.
No matter what the disparity in talent, it's unusual for there to be more than a two-person disparity among the sexes at any point in the competition. Have a look through the Seasons section of the database and you'll find that a wider split has arisen just three times. Two of those (AI1's and AI4's) were brief and rapidly closed. AI3's gender gap is a singular case; the Finals began with an 8-to-4 ratio of girls to guys, and the first eight eliminations were roughly balanced. That left an all-female Final Four.
Well beyond the demographics, however, is the matter of why the competition has been so one-sided thus far. If you'll accept the WNTS.com numbers as a reliable measuring stick, the six Guys have an average 65.3 approval rating coming out of the Semifinals to 53.4 for the Girls. If you don't accept our ratings, have a look for yourself across the hundreds of boards and blogs that make up the Idolsphere. We rather doubt you'll reach a different conclusion.
Are the Guys simply that much more talented? Let's pair them off as closely as we can and compare apples to apples.
Okay, Archuleta vs. K. Cook isn't a fair fight, and D. Cook has a commanding lead on Overmyer (though if you take away the latter's Wayward train wreck, this would be more interesting.)
Beyond that, the girls more than hold their own. Mercado is a cut above Chikezie vocally, but neither has lit the stage on fire. Hernandez has outperformed Malubay largely due to song selection alone; Malubay has made three of varying degrees of awfulness (even if she usually sings her way out of trouble.) Smithson's unfavorables are off the charts owing to her recording background and her unusual appearance, but vocally she's off the other end of the charts. Johns, though a strong singer, hasn't really set himself apart yet.
The Castro vs. White matchup is as intriguing as any we've seen in the first seven seasons. Castro is an engaging and emotive vocalist; Hallelujah was a masterful performance until the very last note. White is not as strong of a singer, but she's clever, understands her limitations well (don't underestimate how valuable of a skill that is), and her stage instincts are well-honed. Whoever wins this head-to-head battle might go very far indeed.
All in all, we'd say if you take Archuleta and K. Cook out of the mix, the girls and guys are on equal footing. And, Cook isn't dead yet; the girl can certainly sing. She threw away her first two performances on questionable song choices before the judges nudged her down a country road. With no natural competitors in that genre, a good, redeeming performance or two early in the Finals might keep her around for quite a while. (At WNTS.com, we don't often suggest song choices to a contestant prior to a performance, but in the exasperating Cook's case, we made an exception for Beatles Week. Regular readers saw it on our home page the past few days.)
The Guys have clearly dominated the Girls in one area, however: song selection. Of their 18 performances so far, we count just one choice that was truly terrible (Chikeze's lounge-jazz take on More Today Than Yesterday) plus three or four questionable ones. Among the Girls, however, it's much quicker to count their good selections: White's three, Smithson's last two, Mercado's first, and Overmyer's last. That's seven. The other 11 ranged from Uninspired to Weak to What In God's Name Was She Thinking??!
And this, more than anything, is why we wouldn't be surprised if the ladies' fortunes were to suddenly reverse. At this stage in the competition, either you can sing on a national level, or you can't. You know how to arrange and present your songs well, or you don't. The coaches and mentors and consultants that Idol employs might be able to help you a bit, but they're not miracle workers. However, song choice is neither a genetic gift nor rocket science; it's the one talent a contestant can improve upon substantially as the competition progresses. Season 7 could be far less one-sided than most analysts expect if the girls do their homework better...particularly Malubay, who could easily join Archuleta in making Ryan Seacrest's most cherished dream come true. He could be by far the tallest person on the Kodak Theater stage this May.
- The WNTS.com Team