Ever hear the one about the eternal optimist who'd shrug his shoulders and say "Well, it could've be worse" to any piece of bad news? One evening he arrived home to find police cars and ambulances lining his street, lights flashing and people running everywhere. Asking a friend what had happened, he learned that his next-door neighbor had come home early from work, found his wife having an affair with another neighbor, and in a fit of rage he grabbed his gun, shot both of them, and then shot himself. Our hero contemplated this for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Well, it could've been worse." This angered his friend, who demanded to know how this horrible situation could possibly have been any more tragic. "If he'd come home early yesterday instead," replied the optimist softly, "he'd have shot me."
...Ahem. Okay, so joke-telling isn't what we do best around here. Still, after last Tuesday's dismal Billboard #1 Hits episode, and the pitch-black mood that Idol Nation is in this weekend, a little bit of humor can't hurt. Plus, given that there are still two full months to go in what some fear is shaping up as a death march of a season, we American Idol fans all need a reason to keep looking on the bright side.
Thus, your eternally optimistic WNTS staff is here to inform you, "Well, it could've been worse."
Before you heave your keyboard at our heads, let us explain. Remember a couple months ago how it was widely rumored that Michael Lynche had been disqualified because his father had told the local newspaper that his son had made the Top 24? Remember just a few weeks ago when Type-I diabetic Crystal Bowersox was rushed to the hospital, presumably in insulin shock, and it was highly doubtful that she'd be able to continue in the competition?
Imagine if both scenarios had indeed come to pass, Instead of Lynche and Bowersox in the Top 10 right now, we might have had two more Tim Urbans.
Say it with us now: "Well, it could've been worse."
The hard numbers for Season Nine so far aren't pretty. With 83 of an anticipated 156 performances in the books, the average approval rating stands at 46.0. That's more than two and a half points behind the next lowest-rated season, AI1 at 48.6. Ratings generally trend upwards as the Finals go along, so there's still a decent chance that the Niners will ultimately claw themselves out of the cellar. But to get to a level 50 for the season, they'll have to average 54.5 from here on out. Given that the top-rated episode they've produced thus far was the Top 20 Girls show, which came in at 52.8, we're not being snarky when we say that we don't fancy their chances.
As for last Tuesday's mess: oddly enough, we're inclined to cut the kids a break. It's apparent that something unusual happened in mid-week to prompt the producers to change themes over the weekend – an American Idol first, as far as we can remember. The folks at 19E are in full circle-the-wagons mode, so we're not likely to learn the true story until after the season, if ever. At any rate, based on the general raggedness of the evening, it seems plausible to assume that at least some of the contestants had to make a late song switch to one of Idol's stock, pre-cleared chestnuts. That's never a recipe for success.
It's also apparent now that AI9 will never fully overcome its disastrous Top 16 results show. To illustrate this, let's run a little thought experiment. This is the fifth season in which American Idol has employed the three-round, Guys & Girls semifinal format. Below you'll find the participants in the Top 16 for each year, along with their average approval rating for their three semifinal performances only....
|Kristy Lee Cook||33|
As you see, with the exception of Season 5, the twelve top-rated semifinalists each year are on a rough par with one another. About three-quarters averaged 50 or above, the rest hung around 3-star or high 2-star territory, and the four stragglers were, well, straggling. AI5's dynamic dozen was sick good from top to bottom, but you already knew that. (Keep in mind, though, that a mere three weeks later, this "sick good" group would cough up the lowest-rated Finals episode to date...and it came after Kevin Covais was eliminated. Just shows that duds can happen to anyone.)
Notice too that three of AI9's "optimum 12" got the axe in the Top 16 – #5 Lilly Scott, #6 Katelyn Epperly, and #9 Alex Lambert. In their stead are the three lowest-rated semifinalists. Our colleague Leo, The Idol Guy has theorized that the perceived quality of an AI season is directly proportional not to the strength of the front-runners, but the strength of the "mid-card" – the contestants from roughly #5 to #10. They largely determine whether the early Finals shows are enjoyable or not, and so set the mood for the ultimate showdown between the big dogs.
Let's put that theory to the test. What if those previous four seasons suffered the same unkind fate as AI9 in their respective Top 16s? In other words, what if semifinalists numbers five, six, and nine (or as close as possible) had been bounced each year in favor of the lowest-rated eliminees? Here's how that would have affected the Finals' lineups:
This is a purely subjective conclusion, of course, but we think Leo's theory looks pretty darn sound. None of the hypothetically "lost" contestants wound up winning in real life, of course, but most of them generally made the months of March and April palatable. Similarly, we rather doubt that Scott, Epperly, or Lambert would've worn the crown in 2010, but we're certain that the Idolsphere would've found the journey to the Finale a lot less frustrating.
Given that most of the Niners had been improving more or less steadily the past few weeks, we're willing to cross our fingers and write off last Tuesday night as an anomaly. We'll conclude with a simple observation. Two weeks ago, in our editorial entitled "March Madness", we published a table (scroll about halfway down) showing the preseason exposure of the 24 semifinalists, and we highlighted the names of those who made it to the Final 12. Six of the eight contestants who received one of those heart-tugging "pimp pieces" got through.
All six are, to no WNTS reader's surprise, still alive. Only Katie Stevens has even made an appearance in the Bottom Three so far.
We think it's fair to say that the producers, to coin a phrase, "mis-pimped" this year. Unfortunately, when they miscalculate in January, we viewers pay for it all spring with a long run of avoidable train wrecks. The question isn't which contestants 19E should have pre-promoted instead. It's why, with the show firmly established as an unqualified smash, they continue to put through auditioners based on personality and backstory, and then promote certain semifinalists over others at all. Particularly as the consequences of mis-pimping are so perilous.
- The WNTS.com Team