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Three open letters from the WNTS.com staff at the advent of Season Eight

Where's this weekend's Idolmetrics article, you ask?  After four weeks of hard but hopefully entertaining math, we figured it's time to let our spreadsheets (and our readers) take a breather.  Besides, Season Eight is about to get underway in earnest, so we have more urgent business to discuss.  Below, you'll find three brief open letters from our editorial department to various corners of the Idolsphere.  It's really not polite to read other people's mail, but go ahead anyway.  We won't tell.

To the Producers:

Look, like just about everyone else across the Idolsphere, we know we've been kind of critical of you over the years but you deserved it.  But, please give us our due: when you do something we approve of, we're quick to praise you for it.  We think you've made some truly worthwhile improvements to the competition the past couple of seasons.  Given the cash cow that American Idol has become, no one could really rip you too much if you'd just stood pat except we would anyway.

Unfortunately, it seems that if you make four changes each season, three of them are positive and the fourth, even if well-intentioned, turns out so awful that it wipes out your gains and then some.  Last year, it was the endless geriatric songs you compelled the contestants to sing so that you could sell MP3s on iTunes.  (Don't forget, the two senior editors of this website are among the oldest AI bloggers out here.  We grew up on that music, and we love much of it, and we still think it's too damn old for this show.  If we're telling you that, what do you suppose our kids are saying?)

This year, we predict the Disaster Du Annum will be the return of the groups-plus-wildcard format.  Yes, yes, we understand your rationale.  It gets a little tiring to see the same faces week after week for three solid months, particularly in the early rounds when America can't get rid of the weakest links fast enough.  Point granted.

But the old Top 24 format had some enormous plusses as well.  By giving finalists three chances to sing in competition rather than one, it allowed them to calm their nerves and get their sea legs under them before the brutal theme weeks started.  Week Two of the semifinals in particular has produced some of the most memorable performances of the past four seasons: Whipping Post, Moody's Mood For Love, Hemmorhage, My Funny Valentine, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Imagine, You're So Vain...shall we go on?  More importantly, it gave strong but lesser-hyped contestants the opportunity to cobble together a fanbase – contestants like Bo Bice, Vonzell Solomon, Elliott Yamin, Chris Sligh, Jason Castro, and even some anonymous Missouri bartender whose name escapes us.  All of them took advantage of the three-week window to plot a campaign that screamed to America, "Hey, over here!  I'm worth watching!"

In our darker and less charitable moments, we might even speculate that this was precisely the reason you switched back to the wildcard structure.  The previous format made it too difficult to predict (and, ahem, manipulate) who'd make the Final 12, the Touring 10, and the all-important Final 5 during the May "sweeps" month.

Whatever the reason, you could not have picked a worse season for it: the one in which you have talented contenders oozing out your ears.  We think there are at least 18, and possibly as many as 23, semifinalists with legitimate Final 12 potential.  And, that doesn't even count the ones we've barely heard but who sounded like they might be pretty good, like Ju'Not Joyner and Jesse Langseth.  It's going to take a little time for America to sort them all out, and to see which ones can deliver under pressure and which ones can't.  So naturally, time is the one thing you've yanked away from us this year.  Nice move you meatheads.

To our friends at VoteForTheWorst.com:

As we go to press with this article on Saturday, you've made no official announcement of who your first champion of AI8 will be.  But come on now: there is no one on the face of God's green earth who believes you're going to choose anyone other than Tatiana Del Toro.  Millions of Idol fans' heads already twist 360 degrees on its axis anytime the irrepressible, insufferable, impossibly emotional Latin diva is on camera, and the semis haven't even started yet!  Your home page and forums make it clear that a TDT endorsement is practically a done deal.

All of that is well and good, but if the VFTW crew doesn't mind a little advice from their elders at WNTS, we'd like to publicly and formally say this:

Boys, don't be tools.

You're being used – you do realize that, right?  Del Toro is actually quite a good vocalist, but she was put through to the Finals for one reason and one reason only: to annoy America to no end.  She makes Sanjaya Malakar seem as unanimously well-loved as a Will Smith-Reese Witherspoon double feature.  AI is a Reality TV show above all, and reality TV requires someone to play the role of "villian".  Villians build conflict, conflict builds viewer interest, and viewer interest builds ratings and revenue.  Lots of revenue.

In our minds, there is no doubt that when Del Toro (along with the other two semifinalists who have attracted the most negative reaction from the Idolsphere, Nathanial Marshall and the Nick Mitchell/Norman Gentile schizo act) were selected by the producers for the Top 36, the words "Vote For The Worst" were uttered early and often and with great glee in the conference room.  They're sure you're going to choose them.  They want you to choose them.  You'll make them a ton of money if you choose them.

So, for heaven's sake, don't choose them.

If you allow the producers to co-opt their biggest iconoclasts, then what is the point of VFTW?  Won't you have become part and parcel of the very power structure you are trying to mock?  We have a feeling that, with or without your backing, and by wildcard if necessary, one of those three will be given a spot in the Final 12.  The producers are just waiting to see which one will fill their needs most suitably.  Having you grant them your Seal Of Disapproval as "worst" would be playing right into their hands.

In some ways, the producers' transparent game has put you Worsters at a crossroads.  They're forcing you to decide what's more important: yanking the chains of the show's most rabid viewers or those of the producers.  If the former, by all means, ride Del Toro for all she's worth.  She'll meet that goal and then some, and you might never enjoy a more perfect choice.  But if the latter is the goal, then tell 19E, and the Bull they rode in on, to take a hike.

Group One, as many bloggers have observed, is ridiculously loaded with talent.  There've been seasons in which the Final 12 didn't have this much potential.  Danny Gokey and Anoop Desai would seem to be the pre-episode favorites, but we count at least six other contestants (seven if you count Del Toro) who have enough vocal chops to advance.  Who's the last person of that twelvesome that the producers would want to see in the Finals?  Probably Ricky Braddy, the most anonymous contestant of all.  For all we know, Braddy is a terrific singer, but if the producers thought he was Nokia Theater material then they would have given him much more airtime thus far.  Far more likely is that he's there as a redshirt to fill out a demographic, nothing more and nothing less.

The choice is yours of course, but here's one last observation for you to consider: if Del Toro makes it through on Wednesday after a predictably ridiculous, over-the-top performance, you and the producers will cheer equally loudly.  If a forgettable Braddy, or someone similar, makes it through after a snoozer and thus denies a spot in the Finals to one of the producers' plants, you guys will cheer alone.

(Incidentally, Del Toro isn't the only "villain" who can sing a little.  Mitchell is a clever comedic talent with a more than passable voice, and our junior editor is on record as stating that if Marshall releases an MP3 of "Disturbia" the way he sang it in Hollywood, she'd buy it, and she hates that song.  As annoying as they may be – or, more accurately, as annoying as the producers have painstakingly and possibly unfairly made them out to be – there's been no Final 12 yet that hasn't contained at least two worse vocalists than the least of that trio.  The producers are learning...yes, slowly, they're learning.)

To the fans:

As the old song goes, it's impossible to tell the sun to leave the sky.  But that won't stop us from trying.  Sun, scram! 

Along the same lines, it's impossible to ask American Idol fans to vote less with their hearts and more with their heads.  As if that's going to stop us either.

Consider this, then, our annual plea.  We're not asking you to be bloodless IRS auditors or anything.  Emotion can and should play some role in determining the winner.  Personality and likeability are critical to any successful pop star, and besides, it would be an awfully dry show otherwise.  And, we completely agree that if a very strong contestant turns in an uncharacteristic train wreck of a performance, he or she might deserve one (1) second chance.  If not, then the three most recent winners might not even have made it to the Top 5 – remember this, or this, or, God forbid, this?

But, if you ask 100 Idol fans at random, 103 of them will tell you that the most irritating, most infuriating, most enamel-gnashing aspect of the show is watching strong singers get sent home undeservedly week after week because a fanbase refuses to let go of their fading favorite.  (103?  Yes, because we'd each vote twice.)

The irony is that while we're certain the producers encourage this sort of outcome – controversy sells, after all – the power to eliminate it is entirely in the hands of we fans.  All we need to do is stop the spite votes, the backlash votes, the pity votes, the Mighty Mouse/Sesame Street Syndrome votes, and the oh-my-god-hes-so-cute-i-just-want-to-squeeze-him-by-the-way-what-did-he-sing votes.

Yes, it's difficult to sit on your hands after your boy or girl has been crucified by the judges after an off-night, and you're so angry you want to phone and text for twelve hours straight.  But before you do, ask yourself this: How will I feel the next night if my favorite is safe, but my second-favorite, who sang brilliantly, is sent home?  Mortified?  Guilty?  Crappy?  Then sitting on your hands is the right thing to do.  And if we all agree to do it, then this cheesy show and all its contestants and viewers will be a billion times better off.

That's it from here.  Enjoy the season, and check back late Tuesday night for the first WhatNotToSing.com web approval ratings of AI8!  To all of you Idolmetrics fans, don't fret; we've got a great new study cued up for next weekend:  All else being equal, what effect does beating Ryan Seacrest to a bloody pulp after each performance have on one's week-to-week survival rate?  We've enlisted the help of Matt Brietzke and Michael Sarver to help us answer this burning question, and remember, kids: the further they advance, the more it will encourage future contestants to try it too!  The details will be on our forthcoming website: http://www.flayingprivateryan.com.  (So sorry Ryan, but in the immortal words of Super Chicken: you knew this job was dangerous when you took it.)

- The WNTS.com Team

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