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Doomed To Repeat It

If you think the new semifinals format is awful now, you ain't seen nothing yet

You will be pleased to learn that the entire staff here at WhatNotToSing.com staff is enrolled in a 12-step program to help us stop criticizing the producers of American Idol for their foolish, misguided, ridiculous, asinine, WHAT THE #$%^ WERE THOSE $%^& IMBECILES THINKING WHEN THEY...

...aw nuts, back to Step One again.  See, we're sincerely trying to hold down our complaints about the return to the groups-and-wildcard format this year.  Mainly that's because we have another editorial on this subject planned for a future weekend and we're trying to husband our ammunition until then.  Judging by what we're reading on other boards and blogs, we've got lots of company in therapy.

However, allow us to toss out yet another reason why this switch was a mind-bogglingly bad idea.  We want to do it now rather than later, because by Wednesday night the hypothetical scenario we're about to lay out might become a lot less hypothetical and a lot more ominous.

36 ÷ 3 = Not Enough

As you know, nine of Season Eight's twelve finalists will be chosen by America, and the other three will be selected by the judges after the Wildcard show.  Because the guys seem stronger on whole than the girls this year, plus the fact that, all else being equal, guys are a bit more likely to advance anyway, the odds are overwhelming that America's Nine will include more men than women.  The only question as of this writing is whether it will be 5-to-4 or 6-to-3.

The reason the producers judges alone will make the final three choices is not hard to discern.  American Idol is both a singing competition and a popular, family-oriented Reality TV show.  A diverse cast isn't all that important to the former, but it's vital to the latter.  Idol Inc. wants to ensure as broadly appealing a Final 12 (and Touring 10) as possible, both musically and demographically.  As we happen to be card-carrying members of the It's A Singing Competition First school, we'd quibble a bit with their priorities, but we respect where they're coming from.

Let's project how the next couple of weeks might play out.  The favorites to advance from Group Two would seem to be Adam Lambert and Matt Giraud on the guys' side (but given how well Michael Sarver fared in this week's voting, don't count out Matt Brietzke just yet, plus Nick Mitchell is a wild card in more ways than one.)  For the girls, our money is on Megan Corkrey, with Jasmine Murray her major competitor.  This looks prohibitively like another 2-to-1 Guys week.  For Group Three, Scott MacIntyre would seem to be the boys' front-runner, though we know Von Smith and Alex Wagner-Trugman have fanbases lurking out there.  Lil Rounds leads a largely faceless female crew.  Once again, 2-to-1 Guys would not surprise us one bit.

So where would this leave us heading into Wildcard Week?  Well, America's Nine could comprise six guys and three girls, only one (Rounds) of color.  Furthermore, Alexis Grace at age 21 might be the youngest of the bunch.  If so, surely the producers will strive to balance out the demographics by choosing a few nonwhite, non-rock/folk/country singers, including at least one teen and two if not three females.  That means a strong but unheralded male contestant, particularly an older, white one, could turn in two excellent performances but wind up watching the next week's show from the comfort of his living room.

An outstanding singer excluded from the Finals solely because his or her demographic quota has already been reached?  Don't scoff, it's already happened once under the groups-and-wildcard structure, and the outrage it spawned is a big reason why Idol wisely dumped the format the following season.  As George Santayana famously observed, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."  Evidently, they're doomed to work for 19E as well.

Nightmare on Idol Street

That scenario probably has the producers gargling Tums by the cupful.  Obviously it never occurred to them that by distributing the popular male contestants across three semifinals groups, power-dialing fans could conveniently vote for all of them for two solid hours rather than be forced to split their vote.  But hang on, folks, because it can get much, much worse.

Suppose that America's Nine are all white, several of whom like Sarver were voted in despite not having sung all that well.  Meanwhile, say that Rounds, Murray, Kai Kalama, Ju'Not Joyner, and Jorge Nunez all post solid first-round performances but fail to advance, joining Tatiana Del Toro and Anoop Desai.  In the days leading up to the Wildcard Show, Idol will be facing blistering criticism from the media, and paint-peeling outrage from various advocacy groups, over the semifinals voting format, whose worthlessness and unfairness will now be apparent to all.

Say that all of these contestants are invited back, and all sing well a second time.  Whoops, there's room for only three in the Finals, aren't there?  The rest have to be sent home, and it will be by the judges' hands, not the voters'.  Imagine how that's going to look to an already appalled America.

Have we hit rock bottom yet?  No.  What if Ricky Braddy also gets a callback and, just like Elliott Yamin in AI5, suddenly develops a bit of a stage presence to go with his outstanding voice.  Imagine a breathtaking, showstopping Moody's Mood For Love, for instance.  Er, now what, Mr. Fuller?  Worse still, what if all of the female and nonwhite contestants deliver train wrecks on Wildcard Night, while Braddy, Mitchell, and Nathaniel Marshall each bring down the house?  The next night, the judges...call in sick.  Or emigrate to Irkutsk.  Or maybe Fox will just cancel the series before the opening credits to spare everyone the embarrassment.

This looming disaster is brought to you by a production outfit who repeatedly fixes what's not broken (e.g., the Top 24 semifinal format), while doing ever more of what is (e.g., focusing on personality and backstory rather than performance.)  On the bright side, there are plenty of ways that the worst-case scenario might be avoided in the coming weeks.  Still, even if we someday do make it through that 12-step program, we'll never fathom how a show as successful as American Idol, and with so much to lose, would voluntarily expose themselves to this sort of public relations calamity.

- The WNTS.com Team

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