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A Glass Half Full

Week Two of the semifinals brings a little hope and (thankfully) a lot of change

That gasp you heard at the end of Wednesday night's Top 20 (Girls) episode wasn't just Siobhan Magnus catching her breath after her remarkable glory note during Think.  It was also a massive sigh of relief from across the four corners of Idol Nation.

After three uninspiring shows, the ladies checked in with a much-needed, solid evening of work.  Their average approval rating of 52.7 was, in fact, the third-highest rated semifinal episode in American Idol history, and that despite Haeley Vaughn's miniscule 7 on The Climb.  If you're surprised that such a modest score ranks #3 on the all-time list, you're probably not alone.  We all tend to look back at previous seasons with rose-colored glasses, forgetting that for every My Funny Valentine and Whipping Post and Hemmorhage there are at least three Copacabanas and Where The Boys Ares and Dreaming Of Yous.  It's probably just as well, too, because otherwise we'd all have quit watching this cheesy show eons ago.

Granted, so far the guys haven't exactly lit the stage on fire (though we're sure many of you, like us, have fantasized about burning down the studio while listening to some of their performances.)  Quite honestly, we're not at all sure where six Finals-caliber singers will be found out of that group, but you never know.  For now, at least, the girls have given everyone – judges, producers, sponsors and fans alike – a glimmer of hope that Season Nine will not be an extended trainwreck.  We'll take it.

Despite the glut of squeaked notes, questionable arrangements, and incomprehensible song choices so far, there have been a couple of very bright spots on the statistical front.

Through the first four episodes, the average song age is 20.4 years.  By Idol standards, that's practically cutting-edge.  Of the nine preceding seasons, only one – AI2, at 22.9 – has finished with an average of under 24 years.  True, the inevitable Motown and Great American Standards themes will surely cause this number to rise.  We're still holding out hope, however, that for once we'll get to choose the next great American contemporary pop singer by listening to the contestants sing, you know, contemporary pop songs.

Also welcome news: the song repeat factor, which last year hit an all-time (and thoroughly ridiculous) high of 57.4%, has plummeted to 38.6% so far this season.  That means that better than three of every five songs we've heard in 2010 have been new to American Idol.  For that we will give very tentative but nonetheless sincere praise to the folks at 19E, for spending the time and money necessary to obtain clearances for fresh music.

Now that we've written this, of course, it's a given that the upcoming week's shows will consist of eight renditions apiece of Against All Odds and I Have Nothing.  The staff of WNTS.com sincerely apologizes in advance.

Finally, we heartily recommend a pair of terrific new editorials from two of the Idolsphere's reliably best analysts.  Over at TheIdolGuy.com, Leo expounds on the AI9 contestants' unfortunate penchant for rearranging songs without fully understanding when and why to do so.  Then, on their Throwing Things blog, Adam observes that in recent years, America has been looking for artistic growth in their ultimate winner, rather than wire-to-wire excellence.  Taken together, and keeping in mind that the last two champions were on nobody's radar in Februrary of their respective seasons, it suggests that what matters most on AI isn't the sounds that come out of your mouth, but rather, the ideas that come out of your head.  Food for thought as we await our new Final 12.

- The WNTS.com Team

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