RANDY VS MATH: SONG ANALYSIS AND THE ABILITY TO SING
*EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS POST WAS DATED BACK ON APRIL 23, 2012, AFTER THE TOP 7. I USED AN ALGORITHM TO PUT PROPER RANKINGS ON EACH CONTESTANT, ACCOUNTING FOR HOW NEW THE SONG IS AND HOW WELL THE CONTESTANT PERFORMED (IF IT'S DONE BEFORE, HOW WELL RELATIVE TO THEIR PEERS).
So I've been back looking at WNTS song choices and seeing who among the Top 7 is best at introducing unique music to the Idol stage. This is probably going to sound obvious to people who really pay attention to the song choices, but this was the ranking from most creative (higher score) to least creative (lower score):
This score is weighted towards songs that have been introduced first to the Idol stage; Phillip introduced 8 new songs, Skylar introduced 7, Colton introduced 7, Jessica introduced 6, Joshua introduced 5, Hollie introduced 4, and Elise introduced 3. Cumulatively, PP's song have been done 19 times before, Colton's songs have been done 20 times before, Skylar's songs have been 21 times before, Jessica's songs have been done 23 times before, Elise's songs have been done 24 times before, Hollie's songs have been done 26 times before, and Joshua's songs have been done 31 times before.
So in looking at the "creativity" above, it's easy to see that the WGWs rank in the top half of the bracket--in fact, PP's ingenuity stands out among this field, as the difference between PP and Jessica is greater than the difference between Jessica and Hollie. That could be why he's raking in the votes--while he represents more of the same in terms of the wielding the guitar, he is introducing new songs that are different from the other WGWGs. His songs have been done the least, and he's introduced the most new songs to Idol of all the contestants. Skylar has also introduced quite a few new country songs to the list, going away from the song choices of past country contestants--in fact, that's why her style probably feels "fresh" to the Idolsphere.
The diva type belters rank in the second half of this list--but I guess I'd like to pinpoint Elise's ranking in this list. She's doing a ton of Idol derivative songs--second from the bottom of the list, and very close to Hollie. For someone who sure likes her original music, she's sure doing a ton of Idol standards, perhaps showing herself to be a knock-off of past Idol contestants. But more on this later--there's a ton of interesting data on Elise I'd like to get to. Joshua and Hollie are diva belters who more or less do derivative Idol standards, which sort of impacts how they are perceived by the audience--they're "more of the same".
If we were doing a "current" rating, I'm sure Colton would rank first in the batch, with his Lifehouse/Eminem/Lady Gaga/Paramore choices, but I don't think how current the song is has anything to do with voting patterns. We'll be looking at how song choices, and how the contestants perform it relative to how other contestants have performed it in the past, to create a score for each of the contestants.
With that in mind, here were my rankings at the Top 7:
THE "INSPIRED" SONG CHOICE/SINGING ABILITY BASED ON SONG CHOICE RANKING:
1) Skylar Laine 604
2) Phillip Phillips 602.9
3) Jessica Sanchez 582.2
4) Joshua Ledet 561.6
5) Hollie Cavanagh 484.6
6) Colton Dixon 480.9
7) Elise Testone 212.8
These rankings were based on 1) song choice/how many times it has been done before on Idol, and 2) how well the contestant sang that song relative to past contestants. This ranking is different from my other rankings because it's purely based on WNTS data--there's no fudge factor or anything, there's no weighting system based on demographics/guessing which contestant has the momentum--it's based purely on the contestant's song choices and singing ability.
Let's look at what I'm talking about in a microscope—and I guess the most logical question is to ask why Elise is so faarrrr down this list. The difference between Skylar (#1) and Colton (#6) is less than the difference between Colton (#6) and Elise (#7).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ELISE TESTONE: So let’s look at why Elise ranks so low—as noted, Elise opts to do a lot of songs that have been covered by former Idols—eight of them, to be exact. She’s done above the average for three of them, but for five of them—including her three most recent ones—she’s done below average compared to other Idols. The only cover song she made her mark with was Let’s Stay Together—while her WNTS score was “71”, because she did well above the average compared to past contestants (55.8), the score was more like “76”. The two other songs that she did above average on—“Whole Lotta Love” and “One And Only”—were tainted by the fact that the others covered them well/decently (Adam Lambert and Jen Hirsh)—so it made less of an impact: “One And Only” was a 68 in WNTS but felt more like a 30 in impact, while “Whole Lotta Love” was a 92 in WNTS but more like an 8 in impact. But the major problem Elise had was that she covered her Idol-derivative songs very poorly: “I’m Your Baby Tonight”, “I Want To Know What Love Is”, “You and I”, “No One” and “Let’s Get It On” were all subpar, so she actually lost points for those performances. Of all the contestants, she lost the most points for churning out below average performances. Below is a chart showing how many points the contestant lost, and in parentheses is how many Idol-derivative performances that the contestants churned out which were below average:
POINTS LOST FOR BELOW AVERAGE PERFORMANCES (# OF BELOW AVERAGE PERFORMANCES):
1) Elise Testone -104.2 (5)
2) Joshua Ledet -71 (2)
3) Jessica Sanchez -35.1 (1)
4) Colton Dixon -26.1 (1)
5) Phillip Phillips -9 (1)
6T) Hollie Cavanagh/Skylar Laine 0 (0)
The impact of Elise’s inability to cover Idol-derivative songs well cannot be overstated: she had 5 performances that were underwhelming, and the next most was Joshua, with two. The rest either have one or zero. That stands out, because Hollie/Skylar are age 17 and actually seem to know what songs to choose that can fit their range, because they’ve had zero blunders on Idol-derivative performances. Elise is age 28, has had experience playing in a band, and can’t choose such songs.So for Elise her problem was not only 1) picking songs that are derivative on Idol, but 2) the songs she sang well, were also sang well by others, so she set a high standard for herself, and 3) she sang the large majority of Idol-derivative songs poorly, which put her in a bigger hole. In a nutshell, that’s why her score is so low. She lacks creativity in song choices, and moreover, can’t handle many of those song choices well, even though people think that she sounds good.
COLTON DIXON: Colton was the surprise eliminee at the top 7, and my analysis based on song choice/singing shows that isn’t too surprising; while Elise was had less than half of his points, Colton was ranked #6 at the time, so he was definitely in danger of elimination. On the surface, Colton didn’t do a whole lot wrong, although “Lately” was done 7 times and clearly felt the Idol fatigue—even though he did above the average, his WNTS score of 52 was more like a 35 because of that fatigue. “Piano Man”, his pimp spot performance, suffered a similar fate. Colton also performed “September” below average as well, and since it’s been covered three times now, he really faced the repercussions, earning a negative score with it. Colton’s case was that he just wasn’t good enough most nights—he had a 75, 70, 62, a string of 50s, and it all goes down from there; most contestants had at least an 80 or two to their name. His performances in general were mostly just OK.
HOLLIE CAVANAGH: Hollie’s an interesting case: she’s like a wind-up robot for singing derivative songs really well. She actually deserves kudos for that—it’s hard to stay above the average for all the derivative songs chosen, and considering how many derivative songs she chose, that’s no small feat. I won’t say she knows the Idol game—because, basically, the more times a song has been sung at the Idol stage, the harder it is to fight through it with the audience—but she knows who she is as an albeit “derivative” artist, and can actually sing well. So there’s that. Notice that her creativity score is by far the lowest in the first chart, but at the same time she’s had zero points lost for below average “derivative performances”. So she’s sort of polarizing, in that sense. But remember how I mentioned that with more “derivative” performances, the harder it is to connect? So even when Hollie was doing those performances “above average”, she still lost points—for example, her “Reflection”, which was a 77, was more like a 63, “All the Man I Need” which was an 85, was more like a 59, and she didn’t gain much with “Rolling in the Deep”, which was an 81, but felt like a 4 because she barely beat Haley’s version of it last year. She gained slightly in “The Power of Love”, from 82 to 83, but for the most part, perhaps like Pia from last year covering the same songs, she wasn’t making much of an impact because she kept singing derivative songs. But it’s a testament to how well she sings them—if she only sang them at an average pace, she would probably be gone by now. Although Elise has been singing them below average, and she’s still here, so who knows.
JOSHUA LEDET: Joshua’s definitely lacking on the side of creativity as well, ranking third from last, but he’s had a few early performances that help his reputation a little—most notably, when he sang “When a Man Loves A Woman”, done for the sixth time on Idol. That song generally isn’t done well, it averages out to a 50 in terms of WNTS, but Joshua did it with a score of 90. I’d like to stress that when you do a cover song that’s been covered poorly many times on Idol and you exceed the average by a wide margin, this actually helps the contestant—and it has helped Joshua in the sense that 90 was perceived more like a 241—nearly three times that score in terms of impact. It was an “Idol moment” for him. This can be seen below:
MOST POINTS GAINED BY A SINGLE PERFORMANCE:
1) Joshua Ledet “When A Man Loves A Woman” 241.2
2) Skylar Laine “Wind Beneath My Wings” 120.8
3) Jessica Sanchez “Sweet Dreams” 86
4) Elise Testone “Vienna” 85
5) Jessica Sanchez “Love You I Do” 84
Since then, he’s started throwing quite a few stinkers—his “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” was covered for the fourth time, so his 56 felt more like a 6 in terms of impact. Moreover, he might be going down the Lusk route—strong start, but progressively a poor finish. His last two songs—“I Believe” and “A Change is Gonna Come” were both below the averages, and were performed for a fifth time, so that really, really hurt him immensely (he had a super negative score for “I Believe”, and a slight negative for “Change”). He’s an adequate singer, but I feel he’s living off that “When A Man Loves A Woman” performance, and he’s also been buoyed by a few second half performances—ever since the top 9, he’s only had one performance in the first half, and even then it was close to the second half (6/14). Clearly the producers want to keep him around, because they know that his song choice/singing relative to song choice is quite overrated, and he might be in the bottom three with an early slot.
JESSICA SANCHEZ: Jessica is good, and she’s largely buoyed up her score by delivering 7 of her 11 performances with “perceived” scores that were 60 or higher. In fact, as seen in the chart above, she’s the only contestant with two songs in the top 5 of perceived points gained. She sang “I Will Always Love You” excellently according to WNTS (a score of 91), but it’s done well (average of 66 in 3 performances), so the perceived impact was more like a 76. She’s average in terms of creativity, so that doesn’t hurt her. Of note is that her last performance “Try A Little Tenderness”, was her first performance to earn significant negative points—it was below the average as the third time tried on Idol. That’s probably the spread between someone like Jessica and Skylar and Phillip, who are above her in the rankings—those two are more creative in choosing songs, and therefore they’re less likely to be exposed to the comparisons. That may or may not play a factor in the stretch run.
PHILLIP PHILLIPS: Phillip, in terms of song choices, is by far the most creative of the remaining Idols, so he’s getting straight-up scores for most of the new songs he’s introducing to Idol and isn’t getting buoyed down by past comparisons. He even gets extra points for covering “Superstition” and “Hard to Handle” well compared to past Idols, his Superstition, which was a 61, felt more like a 69, and Hard to Handle felt more like a 67 compared to 65, so he deserves props for perhaps getting a few more votes out of those performances. His one, albeit minor, clunker is his latest performance—“In the Midnight Hour”—which was done below average, but he only lost few points because of that. Like Colton, he hasn’t had a score in the 80s, but he’s more consistent than Colton, having a ton of scores in the 60s and 70s, and that has helped to buoy his score. He’s largely doing this due to creativity, consistency, and actually doing a few of the derivative Idol songs well enough to gain points. That sort of game-play comes from the same playbook that the other WGWGs used to win, so it’s no surprise that they can rack in the votes.
SKYLAR LAINE: Skylar’s not too far ahead of Phillip at all, so by all accounts this can be interchangeable. But, still, she’s ahead, and that has to count for something…for now. Like Phillip, she relies on creativity (second highest creativity score), so she’s receiving straight-up scores for her performances, but she’s also had a moment on the show, unlike Phillip—with “Wind Beneath My Wings” (see above chart). Unlike Phillip, however, she chose to cover songs that were done well on Idol before (“Where Do Broken Hearts Go”/”Love Sneakin’ Up on You”) so even when she covered them well, she didn’t gain any influence on the Idol audience for those songs. Nonetheless, though, she deserves props for not doing any of the Idol derivatives at a below average rate, so like Hollie, she never lost any points. Overall, she’s had a moment, she can play the Idol game well and not “expose” her vocal flaws when covering songs, and she’s very creative, so really she looks like the winner as of now. I know many see her as the dark horse, but her Idol playbook of creativity appeals to the Idol voters and her moment/decent singing can get in general voters.
So that should be a rough sketch of the contestants song choice choosing ability and their ability to sing them, and how that is probably impacting them in votes. I could do this for other seasons, but I think this is the most accurate way of determining momentum. Remember my previous formula—I couldn’t gauge Colton’s low ranking until then, but this already shows that he was in trouble. There’s no fudge factors involved here either, and it’s based purely on the song, and the song itself. And it seems pretty accurate.