Editorials and Articles Archive

Sheltering In Place

Season 18 kicks off tonight, in a year like (almost) no other

Sigh...  Where to begin?

First and foremost, and lastmost, and everymost in between: we hope all our friends across the Idolsphere are healthy, safe, and coping as well as possible.  We saw a meme online recently that went, "I am so over living through a major historical event."  Preach.

Happily, the WhatNotToSing.com team is doing fine so far.  Nick and Brian are sheltering in place in New Jersey (Brian, unfortunately, is in a high-risk group, so other than walks around his neighborhood he's really had to put the "lock" in "lockdown"); Amy is in Florida.  For us, at least, operating virtually is our normal mode of business, so the next few weeks won't be any different for WNTS.  For American Idol, of course, this is uncharted territory to the max.

With no sports on TV to distract us, our staff has kept up with Season 18 right from the beginning.  Nick and Brian have been on the phone with one another every Sunday night for two solid hours discussing the talent in detail as if we were in charge of casting Live Aid.  Brian's seen every minute of every episode; Nick has missed intentionally just one ten-minute segment.  Longtime readers should be able to guess exactly which one.  (Hint: seating arrangements, or lack thereof – seriously, people, never again.)

We can tell you up front that we are sincerely impressed.  As you know, we've always been quick on the snark trigger when ABC or Fox bills the semifinalists as The Most Talented Ever™.  The irony this year is, between the pandemic and the uncertainty swirling around the season, the network has been much more reticent in their marketing language...but, this honestly might be the group that most deserves the hyperbole.  Even the hokey face-off for the 20th spot between Grace Leer and Lauren Mascitti was engaging, because we felt both had done enough, in normal seasons, to warrant a spot in the semis.

One suggestion for the producers:  Whatever ten singers are cut tonight should be given a bye into the 2021 Top 40, even if they've aged out.  They've all proved their worth up to that level of the competition, and we expect that eliminations this year will be rather haphazard.  It would be heartbreaking if a contestant who might have gone far, or even won, American Idol under normal circumstances has their hopes dashed because their talents don't lend themselves to online performances, or if the acoustics in their homes stink, or if there are network issues, or about 30 other "or"s that might go wrong.  Tonight's eliminees deserve a second chance in Hawaii next winter to earn a seat in the AI19 semifinals, which will hopefully be conducted under normal conditions.

We also want to give a shout-out to the three judges for outstanding work so far this season.  No, we're not drunk.  Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan have been helpful, focused, entertaining, and enlightening, and they seem to have done a very good job of culling a Top 20 out of a very deep field of auditioners.  But then, they're usually this way every year until the semifinals begin.  At which point, their usefulness drops off a cliff.  This cliff.  Please, K, L & L: just once, carry your good work forward into the live shows by providing fair, pointed, and accurate critiques that don't make us tear our hair out.  Haven't we all suffered enough lately?

Should Idol have chosen the path it did – an unprecedented sing-from-home competition – so as to maintain its planned schedule?  Our feeling is no.  There's too much at stake and it's too drastic a departure from the first seventeen seasons.  Even in 2020, long removed from its glory days, winning American Idol is an enormous accomplishment, and its one that ought to be decided under the best of circumstances.  Even in a period when 'best' is relative.

Aside from the many potential technical gotchas, there's this:  veteran Idol fans have seen countless highly-regarded semifinalists crash and burn when it came time to perform one song on a big stage, live, on national television, in front of a studio audience not largely consisting of familiar hometown faces, and with essentially their future earnings on the line.  The pressure is already borderline cruel and unusual, and of course the producers' machinations over the years often hasn't helped.  But, it does serve to separate those who can perform well under the bright lights from those who can't.

We think that's is an essential part of the Idol journey.  True, tonight's performances will be plenty pressure-filled.  But, without the faux big-time concert setting, it's hard to assert that it's the 'right' sort of pressure.  We aren't, we hope, torturing 20 kids every year just for our television viewing pleasure.  Rather, we're putting them in an environment that mimics what anyone aspiring to a career in the entertainment industry has to navigate.  That includes working with a mentor, rehearsing with a professional band, selecting a good song big enough for the moment, working on their public relations and interviewing skills, interacting with world-famous celebrities, and just making friends with their peers from around the country who are pursuing the same dream and who can provide important musical and emotional support.

With all this said, we recognize that everyone right now is basically improvising as we go along.  American Idol is no different.  We don't know what sort of scheduling pressures 19E and Fremantle were put under by ABC.  There's no ready expiration date to the quarantine.  This crazy experiment might actually work out well.  And, of course, there's the famous First Rule of Show Business:  The show must go on.

We have the database ready to roll for AI18.  It will look a bit strange online until all 20 semifinalists have a performance, so please be patient.  Everything should look okay by show's end.  If you would like to view a particular contestant's page to check our demographic and audition info for accuracy, use the search box for now.

Our thanks to many folks who provided us with basic contestant data for 2020, particularly correspondents Elliott, James, and Ryan.  For once, we have the actual birthdays of the entire cast before the semis get underway.  Also thanks to correspondents Brody and Luke, who recently contributed some Fill In The Blanks data for past seasons, which we'll get to entering in the DB sometime this evening.

As AI arranged to air the auditions of all 20 semifinalists, exposure levels should not be a major factor.  We heartily thank the producers for that.  For now, we have listed all 20 contestants as having "Audition" exposure.  Several, of course, should be listed as "Promo", but these days, the line between the two can be rather blurry.  If you have an opinion (backed with evidence, of course) as to who should get a "P" instead of an "A" in the database, please drop us a line.

One unfortunate but necessary bit of soothsaying, which we publish under the heading of Fair Warning:  near as we can tell, the producers did not materially change the voting system this year.  Other than extending the deadline to Monday morning, it's still the odious "10 votes per contestant per method."  You realize what this means, of course; if not, we have a 2019 Aegean-themed editorial you might want to re-read.  Not to put a damper on the new competition before it even begins, but we fully expect the same highly-biased results tonight as this stupid system has produced the past few seasons.  Because, both mathematics and Einstein's famous definition of insanity are eternal truths.

Most years, we do not publish actual approval ratings for the new season until at least two performance episodes have aired.  That gives us ample data points to align with prior competitions, so that the WNTS ratings are reasonably accurate from season to season.  This, ahem, isn't "most years".  Other than 1918, and maybe 1720, this year is unique.  We'll have overnight ratings on the site tonight, and we'll finalize them during the week.  It would help immensely if we can get rated ballots tonight from any current and former WNTS reviewer with a multi-year track history, even if you do not intend to grade any future episode this season.

Lastly, as you know, our plan was to enable online submission of ballots this year.  That idea has gone the way of handshakes and mass gatherings for the time being.  We do have a nice registration system implemented, but you'll have to wait until 2021 to see it.  For AI18, we're accepting ballots only via email and our Facebook page, as always.  New reviewers each year are welcome, cherished, and highly encouraged.

Enjoy the season, everyone.  From at least six feet apart, of course.

- The WNTS.com Team

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