In the sometimes-byzantine field of formal logic, there's a famous problem called the Unexpected Hanging Paradox. It goes as follows: a ruthless murderer is captured, tried, and sentenced to die. However, his crimes were so heinous that the judge rules that even a straightforward hanging is too good for him. Thus, he tells the convict that he will be hung one morning in the next week, but to draw out his fear and suffering, the date will come as a complete surprise to him. The prisoner will not know which morning it will be until the executioner flings opens his cell door at sunrise and drags him to the gallows.
That night, alone in his cell, the well-educated prisoner reasons at follows. Today is a Saturday. That means my execution will be sometime between tomorrow and next Saturday. Well, they can't hang me next Saturday, because if I'm still alive on Friday, then I'll know that Saturday is the date they chose and it won't be a surprise: I'll be ready for it. Hmm...but if I'm still alive on Thursday, then they'll have to hang me on Friday morning because I've already proven that Saturday is impossible. Thus, they can't hang me on Friday either, because once again, it won't be a surprise. And if I'm still alive on Wednesday, the same logic holds true for Thursday. Continuing in this manner, the prisoner concludes that they can't hang him at all! He thus relaxes in his bunk and calls smugly for his dinner.
Needless to say, the prisoner was absolutely gobsmacked on Tuesday morning when they pulled him out of a sound sleep and hung him in the town square.
This being Easter Sunday, we will reluctantly forego all tasteless jokes involving American Idol and executions. No, AI12 hasn't been very enjoyable so far to us, though strangely enough it hasn't been for lack of quality vocals. In fact, the singing has, in and of itself, been pretty good. A hodgepodge of other factors have combined to drag down the season: questionable casting decisions, very poor song choices, tired themes from long before the contestants' time, dicey judging, ballads galore, and a general lack of "Wow!" moments. (With that said, and fully acknowledging that she is a key contributor to several of this season's ills, Nicki Minaj's angry "get off the stage" tirade after the awful Guys Trio last week ranks as perhaps the finest judges' critique in Reality TV history.)
There's still time for AI12 to right its ship, although an awful lot of little things have to get fixed in a big hurry. If it does, terrific; if not...well, we and every other Idol analyst on the planet will have our say after the Finale.
In the meantime, let's revisit the Unexpected Hanging Paradox as it pertains to AI, in the form of the Judges' Save. In the four seasons since the Save was introduced, it's been employed to give a second life to Matt Giraud (in the AI8 Top 7), Big Mike Lynch (AI9 Top 9), Casey Abrams (AI10 Top 10), and Jessica Sanchez (AI11 Top 7).
From where we sit, Giraud's save was pointless, but no doubt the judges believed they had to use their new toy before it expired. Lynch's save was justified – there were just not many contestants that year worth saving, and he was one of them. Abrams's was a colossal blunder, because it was too early and because there were plenty of other Season Ten contestants worth saving, as Pia Toscano painfully demonstrated two weeks hence.
Finally, the best word to describe Sanchez's save is "serendipitous." Owing to Jermaine Jones's disqualification earlier in the year, American Idol was faced with a dilemma whereby it had to use the Save by the Final Six deadline (or find some other way to extend the season by a week) in order to make its scheduled Finale date of May 22nd, 2012. That they were able to use it on the highest-rated finalist still alive, and after an excellent 79 performance to boot, shows that not only do blind squirrels find acorns once in a while, but sometimes the nuts are delivered on a silver platter.
Season Twelve finds Team Idol in a similar pickle, though this time serendipity might not be paying them a visit. See, the Final Two are set to perform on May 15th. That gives AI six weeks to get rid of five contestants. Per the rules of American Idol (which we are well aware can be amended any moment at Nigel Lythgoe's whim), the Judges' Save is only available for two more weeks. The producers probably assumed at the outset of the Finals that finding an acceptable time to use it would not present a problem, and thus the season would safely run until the end of the Spring Sweeps.
What they surely didn't anticipate was the colossal struggles on the men's half of the draw. None of the three guys eliminated thus far deserved the slightest consideration of a save (though if there was one time we wish a contestant had channeled his inner Siobhan Magnus or Phillip Phillips and stubbornly ignored the advice of the mentors and judges, it was Devin Velez's acceding to sing in English only. Así es la vida.)
Meanwhile, one can make a very strong case that all five of the girls deserve a second chance if they were to finish at the bottom of the voting this week. Candice Glover and Kree Harrison have been stellar. Amber Holcomb has lacked a unanimous "Wow!" moment, but barring a complete trainwreck she's surely sung well enough to merit a Save. Angie Miller and Janelle Arthur are going full throttle in opposite directions, but we'd still opine that Miller's early performances and Arthur's later ones were good enough to keep them around an extra week if need be.
That leaves the two remaining gentlemen, Burnell Taylor and Lazaro Arbos. Like Velez, the former started out very strong but has lagged in the high-40's doldrums since the Finals began. The latter...hoo-boy, let's not go there. Arbos is a complete sweetheart, and his ability to sing as well as he does despite a lifelong, devastating speech impediment is truly inspiring. But, emotionally and vocally, he's painfully unready for the grind of the American Idol Finals, and we think that even his most ardent supporters are reluctantly coming to realize that.
If Taylor is the lowest vote-getter this week (after giving another sub-50 performance, say), would the judges save him? If they do, they'd be risking one of the girls getting voted off the following week while Taylor and Arbos survive to the multiple-song phase of the competition. Given the blistering criticism the producers are getting as it is from the Idolsphere for this season's Y-chromosome disorder, this wouldn't be good for business. In fact, it would be a total disaster. But if they decline to save Taylor, then they are pretty much forced to use their Save the following week (very possibly on Arbos), or else they'll have some serious 'splaining to do about the calendar to the suits at Fox.
However, if Arbos is the lowest vote-getter on Thursday, there's still a problem. They'll let him leave, of course, because it would be some combination of cruel and insane to do otherwise. But, that means that the Save is absolutely preordained for the Final Six week. All six of the contestants could come on stage with a folding chair, a Kindle and a Diet Coke, and read quietly for 90 seconds, knowing there's no way they'll be sent home. Furthermore, the judges, the audience, the producers, and everyone out in Viewerland who pays attention to this sort of thing will know it too. "Must-See TV!"...er, not.
Perhaps the producers have a Plan B at the ready if the Final Six comes and goes without a Save. Or, perhaps one of the five young ladies will, like Sanchez a year earlier, unjustly wind up "singing for her life" (man, do we hate that corny catchphrase) this week and allow for another serendipitous rescue. But, seemingly nothing has gone right for star-crossed Season Twelve thus far, and we can't see any reason why its luck is about to change. Call it the Expected Pardoning Paradox, but even before a single note is sung, we expect Burnell Taylor to be singing an emotional, desperate reprise late on Thursday night, and the judges to be faced with a conundrum of twisted logic that has no good solution.
- The WNTS.com Team