With just one week remaining in the remarkable decade-and-a-half journey of American Idol, this is a time to look back. Or forward. Or perhaps sideways. We've never been all that adept at clichés, people.
We can tell you that the mood around the WNTS offices is very somber. Along with the producers and contestants in LA, and the bloggers, analysts and fans across the Idolsphere, we've invested a lot into this show. Back in January we were absolutely ready for Idol's run to end. Season 14 was a disappointment, and Season 15 started very poorly. Now, after a few good stretch-run episodes and what appears to be as strong of a putative Finale pairing in many years, we're truly depressed to contemplate a 2017 without American Idol.
(And yeah, we still say it's going to be back in 2018, 2019 at the absolute latest. A hiatus and a clean reboot is what the franchise needs. But that doesn't mean next winter won't feel a little empty.)
Anyway, we'll have our traditional season recap editorial online by the end of next weekend, life circumstances permitting. And, we definitely want next week's essay to be about American Idol, not about "little ol' us", to paraphrase La'Porsha Renae. So, this weekend, if you'll indulge us, we'd like to get off our chests all loose ends and final reflections about WhatNotToSing.com. "Final" until 2018, that is.
So, here goes. And we'll do it in the form of a Top 10 Countdown of Things You Didn't Know About WNTS and Probably Never Really Cared About Anyway. Like we said, clichés are not our strong suit.
10. Pickled! We went online in 2007 under a temporary URL, but never really publicized the site until 2008 when we had all the kinks worked out. (Speaking of which: c'mon people. 83 performances of the Beatles and Stones combined, but just four of The Who and The Kinks? The British didn't invade in the Sixties with only two brigades, you know.) Several prominent Idolsphere analysts helped us get the word out, none moreso than Ken Barnes, who was writing Idol Chatter for USA Today at the time. When Ken published a very positive review and a link to WNTS, where full approval ratings were up for AI3 through AI6, our hit count skyrocketed. And, wow! – we got our first email from a reader that very day....
...It was from a huge Kellie Pickler fan. And boy, was she pissed. :-) After that, thank heavens, things quickly brightened up. But for a day or so, the three of us were wondering what the hell we'd just gotten ourselves into.
9. Heroes. We really, truly, and honestly bent over backwards to be objective. There was no point in putting all this work into WNTS if we were just going to be shills for a particular contestant (see item #6 below). But, yeah, we all had our favorites over the show's run. Brian cast one (1) AI vote in 15 years: for Ruben Studdard, in the AI2 Finale. Amy never had a particular favorite singer, but Constantine Maroulis's Bohemian Rhapsody and Blake Lewis's You Give Love A Bad Name were among her absolute favorite performances.
And, if you have read our editorials much, it should come as Utterly No Surprise Whatsoever that Nick's all-time two favorites were Melinda Doolittle and David Cook. We make much of the notion of a "perfect game" at WNTS, and maybe Renae can complete hers next week, but at the end of the day "perfect" means "never, ever, delivering a performance that disappointed us." Only those two did it.
8. Anti-Heroes. Our least favorite contestants? None. AI is a reality TV show, and reality TV producers are wont to cast certain contestants in certain "roles" – the villain, the underdog, the ingenue, etc. We all know that plenty of Idols had personalities that differed totally from what we saw on air. So, no, we're not falling into the trap of saying "so-and-so was our least favorite."
However, we can confess now what contestants' most ardent fans we could do without. Those would be the ones who would write us furious emails after their boy or girl's latest performance rated out "unacceptably" low, or send us missives explaining why it was our cultural, political, or civic duty to boost their approval ratings, artificially if necessary. Quite a lot of contestants inspired this sort of misguided passion in one or two überfans, but two – Adam Lambert and Haley Reinhart – inspired it from a pretty scary number of pretty scary people.
7. Misperforming. While we won't trash any contestants, there were certainly some performances that we don't mind going on record as saying we wish never happened. Amy, though Nick's now-grown daughter and the youngest of our trio, is a huge fan of both Queen and Styx, and she never took well to hearing their songs butchered on American Idol. When Danny Gokey did everything humanly possible wrong in his duet with Kris Allen on Renegade (Gokey's lesser-remembered performance on the night of The Scream), Amy was visibly livid.
Regarding Brian: alas, our editorial staff doesn't remember the performance, but it was in the semifinals around AI5 or so. Brian and Nick were on the phone. (We could write an entire editorial on our funny Idol phone stories over the years.) A contestant was delivering a single-digit clunker. Brian was silent at first, then sighed in disgust...and, about 45 seconds later came the distinct sound of a toilet flushing, then a running sink faucet, followed by the deadpan comment, "Lemme know when it's safe to come out."
As for Nick, there were precisely two performances in 14 years (he didn't watch Season One) that he could not listen through to the end. One was Lisa Wilson's Come To My Window – he got up and left the room – and the second was Curtis Finch Jr.'s Superstar – he hit mute. That the latter scored 67 still irks him to no end.
6. Hot Buttons. If you have written WNTS at all in the last 8 years, and it wasn't spam or similar nonsense, you've likely gotten a return message from Nick, who handles all our email. He's a nice middle-aged dad, really. All reasonable complaints or requests for explanations (and even a few unreasonable ones) always got a polite response. Most unreasonable ones were quietly ignored.
But, there was one reliable way to yank his chain, and if you are one of the four or five people over the years to get an double-barreled, eyebrows-searing, And-The-Horse-You-Rode-In-On response from him, you already know what it is: accusing us of deliberate bias; i.e., "cooking" the approval ratings to favor or hinder a particular contestant. We spent literally months of our life running this site as a labor of love, making little more than just enough money in web ads to cover our hosting expenses, getting maybe a couple thousand visitors after a performance night on a show that reached 35 million people at its peak. Typos aside, we published what Excel told us to publish. Good grief! (Just so you know, if you did get such a response from us, and you wrote us back with an apology after cooling down: thank you sincerely, but we never received it. Google "plonk usenet" to learn what happened to your email address after we sent our horse-referencing reply.)
5. Socked! We've had no shortage of correspondents over the years express concern, bordering on alarm, that people across the Idolsphere were actively trying to distort the WNTS approval ratings by submitting phony reviews. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, this was never a concern of ours.
Sockpuppets, however, did cause us some grief – people who generated multiple rated reviews under different email addresses, or different screen names on the same website. We kept this quiet so as not to encourage the practice. The truth can now be told: sorry folks, but we know who you are and always have. Excel has a magical correlation function that allows anyone to see how closely two data sets coincide, on a scale of -1 (total disagreement) to 0 (random) to 1 (total agreement). Most reviewer correlations fell into a very narrow range on the plus side. Above that would be a vast wasteland...and then, lo and behold, we'd see occasional correlations in the 0.95+ region. Could two people out there be so cosmically aligned that they agreed up and down the line on performance after peformance? Gee, maybe we should start a dating service.
4. IDF? IDK! Polling websites is usually fairly easy – Google and Bing do most of the work for us by simply typing in the remaining contestants names and limiting the search dates. We also routinely visited the most popular forum sites. Great ones like Television Without Pity, Reality TV Online, and Survivor Sucks! were huge sources of reviews for us back in Idol's heyday, but coverage now is spotty at best.
However, the largest surviving community of Idol fans that's still going strong is IdolForums.com. Trouble is, for the purposes of collecting data for overnight ratings, one had to enter their "Spoiler Forums" section, which was open only to registered users of the site. (Threads are moved to the main section the next day, after the episode has aired in all time zones.) So, many years ago, we signed up for an account, coming up with arguably the math-nerdiest screen name in Interwebs history. Honestly, we expected that, sooner or later, somebody on IDF would've seen it in the "currently viewing this thread" listings and outed us, but so far to our knowledge, nobody has. See if you can catch us next Wednesday night; we'll tell you what the screen name is on Facebook by the weekend.
3. Too Vile? On the About The Ratings page, in the section where we describe what sites we don't use for calculating approval ratings, there is a bullet point to the effect of "Some sites are just too vile for us to deal with." That single sentence has generated a ton of email over the years. Which site or sites were we talking about? Many correspondents were concerned that the community where they posted their sincere, lovingly-crafted episode reviews each week was being skipped by WNTS because of the flame wars and vicious arguments that raged across it.
Um, folks: we were referring to no site you've (hopefully) heard of. But, it is a funny if slightly disturbing story in hindsight. As noted above, we always used web search engines as the source of our weekly polling. If a site provided us with ratings and rankings on a regular basis, we'd add it to our bookmarks list. One such site, which we used for a couple of seasons, had a generic political name and reviews that seemed sincere and unbiased, though some of the followup discussion was a little...weird. Well, whatever, we never had time to consider it closely – we had ratings to publish. Eventually though, after a particularly suspicious comment, Editor Nick finally took the time to click on the site's top logo and visit its home page. The large swastika that appeared on his computer monitor came as quite a jolt, to say the least.
2. Honor Roll. We started the WNTS "Review Crew" program a few years ago, very reluctantly, when it became apparent that the number of online "rated" reviewers was dropping below the critical mass we required to produce accurate approval ratings. In hindsight, our reluctance was absurd bordering on ridiculous. Not only did we immediately get dozens of reliable, easily-archived, ultra-high-quality reviews from music fans worldwide, but we made so many good friends across the Idolsphere that, no lie, it's their weekly emails we are going to miss most of all come next February. Yes, even more than the show itself.
We'd love to give a shout-out to every last one of you, but that's impractical. But, since we are a website that ranks & rates all things American Idol, we can at least honor our own Review Crew Top Ten: the ten (of literally hundreds of) people who submitted the most ballots in the last four years. In alphabetical order, give it up for: Andrew Ho., Barry T., Elliot B., Jamie W., Julianne B., Matthew R., Matt S., "Phan", Ryan T., and Tomas T. Many of these folks are denizens of the Facebook page if you would like to thank them yourselves. And again, seriously, we cannot thank all of you enough...though we'll try next week.
1. Whither WNTS? What will happen to the website after next weekend? It'll always be around, if only for historical purposes. We have the fifteenth season of Camp Should-A-Been starting on the first day of summer, and this week two correspondents (because great minds think alike) independently suggested a CSAB Tournament of Champions (or Champs + Runners-Up), which we're considering.
After that, who knows? Brian has advocated chronicling The Voice for years; Nick has resisted because it would take a lot of site re-coding, plus he's not a particular fan of that show. The singing is unquestionably better, but it's less interesting and the judges are more annoying. Calculating the ratings is labor-intensive, and nothing about The Voice is as motivating as is American Idol.
Still...what if we could re-code the site so that (a) Review Crew ballots were submitted and tallied automatically, and (b) any "curator" could go in and enter polled rankings & ordinals, then click a button to have ratings calculated? Again, this is a lot of work, not the least of which is taking a gazillion Excel spreadsheets and functions and macros, unwinding the formulas, and converting it to regular source code. (If you're a programmer, you know how much harder this is than it sounds.) Perhaps the design work for such a Second-Generation WNTS could even be done as an open-source project. It's a thought. Just a thought for now. Just a thought.....
And that's it for our own reminiscing, we promise. Next week will be all about American Idol, as it should be.
We traditinally finish our editorials with some smartass comment, but not this time. Thanks to Simon Fuller, to 19E, to the producers and the judges and most especially the contestants of AI. It has been a privilege to catalog your show.
- The WNTS.com Team