A too-short American Idol season deserves a too-short editorial series. Here are our midseason thoughts about Season 16 as it heads into the live competition rounds, starting tonight. This is our first editorial since the competition began, and it'll probably be our last until our post-Finale wrapup. Don't blink, you might miss it.
The WNTS Editorial Board is happy enough to have American Idol back on the air that we're largely willing to overlook the abbreviated schedule. Should ABC renew the series for a Season 17, however, and if they wish to keep the same nine-week format, they'd be wise to reconsider the balance between audition/Hollywood shows and competition episodes.
This is actually quite a promising Final 10. There's no semblance of a clear front-runner and at least six (and possibly as many as nine) contestants having demonstrated that, if they get hot and choose the right songs, they could win it all. The AI16 Finalists Cast Rating – a metric of the strength of the remaining field coming out of the semifinals – is 54.3, which is historically quite low. But, that was largely due to our executive decision to treat the Top 14 as the start of the Finals, on the theory that if we waited until the Top 10, there would be more semifinal episodes than final episodes.
Had we waited, the FCR would have been 57.6, which is historically about average. Replacing Michelle Sussett with Mara Justine would have brought it to 59.6. The eight highest-rated contestants are at a very healthy 63.5, and by way of comparison, the record for the top Episode Cast Rating (Final 5 or earlier) is the AI11 Top 7, at 64.9. A strong night tonight, coupled with some sensible eliminations, could see that mark fall.
All of this demonstrates, however, that four weeks to choose between ten contestants is too few. The Idols have little time to build a convincing body of work, and the viewers have little opportunity to observe their versatility or their growth arcs. The goal of American Idol is to choose what we fans hope will become a pop superstar. It's a little tough to base that decision on what will be fewer than 15 minutes of actual competitive singing time. Even Andy Warhol was more generous than that.
During the pre-competition shows, the new judging panel of Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan drew relatively favorable reviews from fans and television critics alike. They demonstrated a strong chemistry and were entertaining, even if some of their antics (Miss Perry's in particular) were rather off-putting to many of us.
Now that the competition shows have started, and entertainment value takes a back seat to critiquing skills...um, yeah. We'll just come right out and say it: they're horrible. Network executives clearly believe that a famous, obscenely-paid, star-studded judging panel is a must for a reality singing competition to attract viewers. They know better than we do, so we'll defer to their expertise.
But, considering the high cost of producing AI is a direct result of the judges' salaries (and hence the reason the show is yet again in danger of cancellation), isn't it worth trying, just for one season, a less-famous, less-costly, far-higher-utility panel? Deference can only be taken so far.
There has been some critical talk this week about the Top 14 voting results. Five of the six contestants voted through by America were white and "mainstream", so to speak. The judges filled out the Top 10 with four people of color, two of whom are LGBT. We're told that some sectors of the Twitterverse "exploded" with outrage at America's choices. We sympathize to an extent, though our senior editors cannot resist mentioning that blowing up Twitter would be, in our humble opinions, one of the greatest boons to society since the invention of penicillin.
With that snark out of the way... We showed years ago via Idolmetric studies that, yes, female and minority contestants are at a clear disadvantage in the Idol popular voting system. They're eliminated at a statistically significant faster rate than white and male contestants with comparable approval ratings. (There've been only two openly or all-but-openly gay finalists before this year, so we're miles away from being able to draw any meaningful conclusions in that area, save to note that (a) both finished right about where they probably ought to have, and (b) the one previous drag artist in the semifinals, JDA, was indeed flat-out robbed in our opinion...but, that robbery was committed by the judges alone, in a non-voting episode.) So, yes, this is a possible area of concern, particularly in a season in which weekly eliminations will be made at a full Barry Allen pace.
With that said, it was only one voting result, all six of the viewers' choices "deserved" to advance per their WNTS ratings (even if they weren't the first six who should have advanced), and those same ratings suggest that one of the judges' choices really has no business whatsoever still being in the competition. We'll wait a couple of weeks before passing judgment. There's a solution to this problem, by the way: require voters to rate/rank the contestants every week in addition to choosing their "favorites", just as we do at WhatNotToSing. Maybe one of these years, the producers will try it, but we're not holding our breath.
A brief, heartfelt request to the producers, the judges, and the hometown fans of Maddie Poppe. By now it's clear she's on a mission not to sing any song previously done (maybe even previously considered) by any past AI contestant. She's well on her way down the David Cook Highway, in other words, and (spoiler alert) she will continue that journey tonight. Should she make it to the penultimate episode, please honor her intentions and do not assign her any repeat song. Especially not any trite, overdone Idol standard, the way Cook was forced to sing (*shudder*) I Don't Want To Miss A Thing. This is one "perfect game" we would dearly like to see a contestant complete.
Senior Editor Nick is usually adamant about it: he does not want to see any song spoilers before an episode airs! He prefers the anticipation and the occasional surprise. This week, however, Junior Editor Amy is home visiting from Florida for the weekend, and she has far fewer compunctions about spoilers. That led to the following, high-level executive exchange this morning:
"Hey Daddy, it's Disney Night! Do you want to know what the contestants are singing?"
"Aw, Amy, you know I'd rather not. Just please tell me that Ada Vox isn't singing (redacted). That would be so friggin' predictable I might cry."
(Long awkward silence.)
"(*heavy sigh*) It figures. OK, lemme see the list."
We won't spoil her song choice for you, but if you're a veteran Idol viewer and you can't figure it out, we'd be shocked. This one is particularly disappointing because the choice is so trite, and because Vox had a slam-dunk, home-run, absolutely perfect alternative available: a great Disney song that's never been done on AI before, and which requires both a strong theatrical vocal and some genuinely awesome over-the-top ham potential. Alas, it was not to be. We'd tell you what it was, but as you know, one hard-and-fast WhatNotToSing.com rule is that we never publish a song suggestion for a contestant before a performance airs. (We did it once, and we don't want to revisit it except to say that if the contestant had performed the song we suggested, in the arrangement she chose for her actual song, we'd probably have shut down the website out of sheer embarrassment.) So, we're afraid you Poor Unfortunate Souls will just have to guess at it. Oh, wait....
- The WNTS.com Team
- The WNTS.com Team