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The Bottom Three Bounce

There's life on AI after a trip to the dreaded B3...but it's probably just temporary.

We're happy to be part of USA Today's new Idol Meter project, moderated by Idol Chatter's legendary founder Ken Barnes.  (And, if you've been reading our most recent editorials, you'll know that this is one of the few things about Season Eight that we're happy about.)  We think it'll be a fun and hopefully educational real-world application of Idolmetrics, the science of success and survival on American Idol.

We should point out up front that we didn't invent the term "Idolmetrics".  Credit for that goes to our colleague Leo The Idol Guy, formerly the lead AI analyst at FansOfRealityTV.com before he branched off to his own entertaining website this season.  He and we have conducted a variety of formal Idolmetric studies, covering everything from performance order to song age to demographics to whatever else our readers suggest.  You'll find results and summaries in the WhatNotToSing.com Library and over at TIG's site.

USA Today's foray into the Valley of Idolmetrics also marks the next logical step in the science's evolution.  Thus far, Leo and we have focused on identifying trends (and debunking commonly-held assumptions) based on historical data – in other words, we've been looking backwards.  USAT's intent is to look forward and use Idolmetrics as a predictive tool.  Mind you, this is still a work in progress: some of the point awards in the Idol Meter are based on hard research, but others are informed conjecture and speculation.  We'll soon learn whether or not they stand up to analysis.  As we said, this will be an educational process for everyone involved.

One of USA Today's point awards might seem a little unusual, so we thought we'd explain it briefly today at lunchtime.  (Next weekend's editorial will expand on the topic.)  In the Idol Meter, a contestant who appears in the Bottom Three for the first time and survives is given a 5-point bonus the next week only.  What's that all about?

There are two schools of thought as to what a trip to the Bottom Three signifies for a contestant.  One school posits that it's a harbinger of doom; it indicates America is growing tired of him or her and that it's only a brief matter of time before he's sent home for good.  The other school says that a B3 visit can actually be beneficial to an Idol by motivating his fanbase to vote their brains out in the future.  Which one is correct?

In fact, both are partly on target.  Even one trip to the Bottom Three bodes ill for your chances of earning a confetti shower in May.  Five of the seven winners thus far have never left the Sofa Of Safety: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, and David CookRuben Studdard visited center stage once; Fantasia Barrino twice.  Moreover, just three of the seven runners-up were in the Bottom Group more than once: Katherine McPhee and Blake Lewis made two trips, and tightrope-walking Diana DeGarmo was a three-time survivor.  So yes, if America sends you to the Bottom Three, it's probably a good sign that you and your travel agent will be having a nice chat before long.

Nonetheless, one's first trip to the danger zone does tend to focus your fanbase's attention rather dramatically.  We looked at all consecutive pairs of episodes in which a Bottom Three or Bottom Two was announced in both cases.  In those, of the 47 contestants who appeared in the B3 for the first time and survived the ordeal, just four were eliminated the following week: Ryan Starr, RJ Helton, George Huff, and Mikalah Gordon.  Note that none have gone home since early in Season Four.

In fact, just seven of the other 43 first-time Bottom Three visitors even appeared in the B3 the following week, Haley Scarnato and Kristy Lee Cook being the most recent.  Obviously, that first wake-up call to your fanbase is a mighty loud one.  The odds are nearly 11-to-1 in your favor that you'll get through safely next week too, and better than 3-to-1 that you won't even have to get off the couch.  But don't get too comfortable, because 45 of those 47 people did go home sooner or later.

Hence, the Idol Meter awards five points to a first-time B3 survivor to account for the "Bottom Three Bounce".  Perhaps it should be +10 for the following week, and -5 for every week thereafter?  We'll monitor whether or not that would be more accurate, and we'll work with Ken after the season to suggest adjustments.  Once again, we'll be back this weekend with more on this subject.  In the meantime, on the subject of those low-down, scheming, underhanded producers, we'd just like to say that... (*DING*!  Lunch hour is over.  Back to work.  Tirade aborted.)

- The WNTS.com Team

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