*Editor's note: I wrote this all the way back on March 2nd. This was before the top 13 started, and right after the semifinals results which happened February 28th. If you read below, that means I predicted the results fairly accurately using this principle--only Elise seems to be way overrated and Hollie was underrated. One could argue Hollie's long stay means that Jessica has a fairly strong shield protecting her, so she might actually win this.
This probably belongs more to the "Grassy Knoll" Thread more than anything, but I'm too lazy to bump it up, and the spoilers page is my friend. So here it goes:
I've noticed that TPTB have pimped, or at least, allowed a few of the same sort contestants into the top 13.
Don't get me wrong--this always happens--but I think they realize that a lot of their shock eliminations come from when the contestant doesn't have any buffer, or when the contestant was the weakest link among the buffer. I don't believe in the idea being the only type of one thing would allow you to suck up all the votes--the last time that happened was AI4's Carrie Underwood--she had a super weak shield that didn't last long (Lindsey Cardinale) but still triumphed despite being the sole rep and being shield-less much of the way. As history shows, shocks and winners occur through the concept of springboards and shields.
Let's talk the "weakest links" first. In AI3, Jennifer Hudson was perceived as the weakest link among the trio of divas (LaToya/Fantasia) and was voted off even though she started improving towards the end. In AI7 Michael Johns was thrown to the wolves as he proved to the "buffer" for David Cook. Notice that David and Fantasia won their respective seasons--vote splitting seriously benefits the one who survives the longest out of it. If the weaker links were considered strong, or perceived as strong, then the ones who survive will tend to win out by inheriting all those votes. Fantasia used Jennifer and Latoya as a stepping stone, David used Johns as stepping stone.
And then there's the contestants without buffer. AI5's Chris Daughtry was the only rawker that season, so he didn't really have the luxury to lazy it up at the top four--which he did, and so he got eliminated. AI10's Pia Toscano had a ton of R&B weak links backing her up that all got eliminated easily--Ashthon Jones, Thia Megia and Karen Rodriguez--so she lost her buffer very early and faltered shortly.
Let's talk about why the "stepping stone over similar, relatively strong" contestants is important. Besides those cases of Fantasia and David Cook, Scotty McCreery stepped over a ton of other old fashioned performers like Casey Abrams, Paul McDonald and James Durbin to cement his victory. Jordin Sparks stepped over relatively strong divas like Stephanie Edwards, LaKisha Jones and Melinda Doolittle on her way to victory. Kris Allen triumphed by stepping over Danny Gokey's, Matt Giraud's and Scott MacIntyre's shoulders in a battle of the white soul singers. Lee DeWyze rode on the coattails of fellow "Idol audience/fr's favorites" Casey James, Aaron Kelly and Tim Urban within the top 7 and usurped all of their votes. So this is an element that has worked ever since Season 5, and probably won't change in the near future for determining contestant success.
So while I do think the audience plays a role in giving us the last four WGWG winners, I really think it's also partially the "buffer/shield/leapfrogging" concept. McCreery leapfrogged a ton of competent old-fashioned singers, DeWyze leapfrogged over "Idol audience" favorites, Allen leapfrogged over white soul types and Cook used Michael Johns as a springboard.
This year, I only see two real "Idol audience" types--Phillip Phillips and Colton Dixon. Another part of the reason Cook won was because the other contestants didn't have springboards-Brooke and Castro weren't strong enough individually to leapfrog over each other, and the others had no springboards--Carly was the only female rawker, Archuleta had no other teen to leapfrog at the top 12 and Syesha had a bad shield with a weaksauce Chikezie. So while Colton Dixon can become a "Michael Johns-like shield" to propel Phillips to victory, I'm doubting that would happen--look at the rest of the field.
Most evident is the way they're shielding up Jessica Sanchez, or providing a ton of buffer. She has a ton of other relatively competent 16-year old pop/R&B competitors like Shannon Magrane, Hollie Cavanagh, and one could lump DeAndre Brackensick into here as well. So she has a springboard for sure to win this show, so we'll see about that. And of those four, she's probably the only one who has a personality when she sings, so that helps. Magrane, Cavanagh, and Brackensick are shields--mid-card to late card fodder. If she plays her cards right and/or if Phillip levels off, she could win this thing. The TPTB manipulation is there on both sides.
TPTB is also attempting to shield Joshua Ledet, I'm thinking, but it's a weak shield they've built up for him in the form of Jermaine Jones. Yeah, I know, he's 6'8"--cue the height jokes--but that was highly underwhelming for a pimp spot performance, the awwshucks stuff aside. If Jermaine gets cut early, this house of cards can crumble fast and leave Joshua as a shock elim, similar to what Pia Toscano faced last year. Even if we expand this to male R&B types and lump Jeremy Rosado, Heejun Han and DeAndre Brackensick, both also appear to be weak shields, so Jermaine-Jeremy-Heejun-DeAndre might just end up a slightly better shield version of the Karen-Ashthon-Thia arrangement that Pia received. But, that's a lot of shields, and with this audience tending to vote girls out first anyway, I don't think Joshua faces too big a problem. So while the weak shields can make him a surprise 7th place boot, with the way TPTB have arranged this season he should be a relatively easy top 5er.
Battle of the Adele clones comes between Erika Van Pelt and Elise Testone. Both are theoretically strong enough to synergize and propel each other forward in the Lauren-Scotty treatment, but given that Erika was a wildcard I'm thinking that Elise might propel her forward using EVP as a very competent shield. That might be how it works.
Now let's talk about the types without shields, and I can only name one: Skylar Laine.
She won't win. She's the only country rep in the top 13, so there's no platform to leap off of. Lauren and Scotty were competent enough to ride each other's coattails to the top 2--Skylar doesn't have that at all. That being said, she can hog all those votes to herself--I suspect top 5, easily, but she won't win with the lack of buffer.
Chances of winning (THE LEAPFROGGERS)
Elise Testone/Phillip Phillips
Given tons of weak shields to advance far enough but not win
Given no shields to advance far enough but not win
COMPETENT, BUT MID-CARD SHIELDS
Erika Van Pelt/Colton Dixon
Shannon Magrane/Hollie Cavanagh
Jeremy Rosado/Jermaine Jones/Heejun Han/DeAndre Brackensick
That's probably the predicted voting order too.