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"It's A Singing Popularity Contest!"

Does web reaction to a purported Top 24 "spoiler" list bode ill for AI7?

Many American Idol boards and blogs are abuzz about a spoiler list of the 24 contestants who've been chosen as semifinalists for AI7.  As most viewers know, the Hollywood rounds take place around Thanksgiving, winnowing the 200 or so advancers from the auditions to roughly 50 "quarterfinalists", as it were.  Next come six weeks of background checks and focus group meetings, whereupon the Final 50 are flown back to L.A. in mid-January to take their fabled elevator ride.  None of this drama reaches our TV screens until February.

The fact that a Top 24 list is circulating normally wouldn't interest us.  More often than not, Idol spoilers turn out to be hoaxes or pipe dreams.  Recall how many brothers of somebody's cousin's best friend, who work backstage at Fox and were really, really reliable sources!!!, turned out in the end only to be reliably wrong?

Still, this list gives us two causes for concern.  Should it turn out to be accurate, it would mean that Fox and 19E suffered a major security lapse right out of the gate this season.  Given that AI7 is all about reversing the slide in quality and viewer interest that began in AI6, this wouldn't exactly instill a sense of confidence in the show's fans that there's competence at the helm.

Whether it's a hoax or not, however, we're more disturbed by the reaction that the list is drawing on blogs and forums throughout the Idolsphere.  We'd have hoped for a nationwide e-yawn and a "Yeah, so what?".  Instead, and depressingly, many usually-sensible Idol analysts are openly expressing delight or dismay, sometimes quite strongly, at the names on the list.

This passion makes no sense.  How can anyone have a strong, informed opinion at this juncture as to who should and shouldn't make the Top 24?  More than half of the 160 advancers have had no significant camera time, some for no other reason than the fact that they auditioned with a song that American Idol didn't have copyright clearance to air.  Past history has shown that some quarterfinalists who remain largely unknown to America even after the Hollywood rounds are complete turn out to be quite formidable contestants indeed.  Do the names Latoya London and Bo Bice ring any bells?

But even for that minority of contestants who've made it on camera thus far, what have we really learned about them?  We've heard a brief a cappella audition, heavily edited in many cases, plus a handful of occasional heartstring-tugging backstories...chosen and filmed, we remind you, by a crew with a track record for crass manipulation and selective editing.  Please forgive our cynicism (the senior founders of WhatNotToSing.com are good, sensitive husbands and fathers, we promise), but there are times during the audition weeks in which we wonder whether we're watching American Idol or Queen For A Day.

If many of the show's most passionate fans/voters have already chosen their favorites based on such scant, spoon-fed information, then this story cannot end well.  The producers may or may not be good at uncovering interesting personalities, but they've proven incontrovertibly that they're terrible at predicting which of their Chosen Ones will thrive under the hot lights of the main competition and which will wilt.  Unfortunately, the producers are a little too adept for their own good at heartstring-tugging.  History tells us that once Idol voters fall in love with a good-looking, personable sweetheart of a contestant, particularly one with a compelling backstory and a strong audition, they are loathe to let go, no matter how many abysmal performances he or she turns in.   We'll let you fill your own examples; there have certainly been plenty to choose from.

Is American Idol a singing competition first and a Reality TV series/popularity contest a distant second, or is it the other way around?  We've always tried to look at it as the former, but it's clear many of our fellow fans have the opposite view.  Perhaps the producers have finally gotten it right this year; perhaps the folks they've spotlighted so far will indeed turn out to be the strongest contestants on stage when the semifinals get underway.  The alternative is too gruesome to contemplate.

- The WNTS.com Team

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