Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Continuing the series from Part I, we now focus on how the competition (both internationally and other domestic singing competitions) have affected Idol. Hint: it's not good.

6) Idol's contestant pool will be depleted.

Regardless of how well X Factor US or the Voice fare next season, the fact that contestants have options for different competitions starts to streamline the talent. Moreover, of all three shows, Idol is by far the one that has the most restrictions. They're getting a wee wee wee bit more lax--they lowered their minimum age limit from 16 to 15--but at the end of the day that doesn't do much to move the needle. Also, Idol's probably the most stringent in terms of plants--especially after X Factor allowed people with record deals to audition for XFUS2, and the Voice has always been receptive to plants since its inception. We'll see the ramifications of this below. I'll break this category into subsets since it deserves further attention, starting with how X Factor might affect Idol:

(6a) The effects of X Factor. Having done spoilers for X Factor for two straight years, it's pretty obvious that X Factor is leeching into the OMG15! (or used to be OMG16!) contestants that Idol used to like. Nowadays, twelve or thirteen year old types just can't stand the wait to be fifteen and audition for Idol: they try out for X Factor. Initial spoilers reveal a ton of standout 12-14 year old types, types that have auditioned for the American Idol experience in the past, types that in a X-Factor-less world normally would have tried out for Idol to fulfill their quest for "singing". Also, two of Simon's contestants last year (Rachel Crow and Drew Ryniewicz) might have auditioned for Idol had it not been for X-Factor. Of note was that Jessica Sanchez nearly auditioned for XFUS1 last summer (she was spotted with friends for audition) before an apparent change of heart, so had she made it on that show, what would Idol be left with for its token "pop" contestant?  Yeah, that's right. I know we are going to say, oh, some of these contestants came from Star Search or America's Got Talent, but face it, most people don't really remember those shows, or at least the contestants within them.

Sure, many of them won't make it to the liveshows, but they get the stain of being a X-Factor reject if or when they choose to audition for Idol. Don't forget, X Factor might also opt to highlight younger contestants that were cut, to show that they have *marked* those contestants before Idol does. So the talent pool for Idol's younger contestants is lessened as a result.

(6b) The effects of The Voice. Let me go on a brief side-tangent here before we talk about how the Voice impacts Idol--for a show that skews super young in terms of song choices (it has by far the most songs after the 1990s of all three singing competitions) it has probably the oldest contestants of all three shows. Jermaine Paul was 33; Jamar Rogers 29; Juliet Simms 25; Tony Lucca 35; Chris Mann 29. Javier Colon was 33 when he won, Nakia 36, Vicci Martinez 26, Frenchie Davis 31, Beverly McClellan 41. Of course, the Voice is super receptive to plants, so they are able to rake in a lot of older types with past record deals/industry experience already, but it's just interesting that they have a ton of people in their late 20s and 30s throughout and yet they sing super current songs. It's like we've entered into a parallel universe, but it's reality: in the Voice, we have old people singing newer songs, and in Idol, we have young people singing older songs. Nothing tends to be age-appropriate. If there could just be a simple switcheroo it would be the ideal setup, and that's why both shows are flawed. There's that mismatch, by and large.

In terms of affecting Idol, the Voice actually has a tendency of taking Idol-experienced contestants for their competition (Vicci Martinez did AI1, Frenchie Davis AI3, Jermaine Paul AI7, Jamar Rogers AI8), but considering that they love older plants to begin with, their methodology for getting contestants is different from Idol. In its older contestants, Idol doesn't mind if their contestants are part of bands that have released CDs before (Lee DeWyze with Slumberland; Paul McDonald with the Grand Magnolias) but they don't appear to want super plantiness in their contestants. But seeing how Idol is skewing younger (see (6c) below) makes one wonder if they're depriving their older age talent due to those restrictions, but we'll get to that. Anyhow, we'll see that Idol probably opts to skew younger nowadays, so in that case, the Voice doesn't really affect it as much as X Factor does.

(6c) Idol needs to renovate its contestant pool. Although really, I wonder if it might be too late--had they made these changes, instead of sitting pat thinking about how good their ratings are in the "now" as opposed to in the future, they might have fared better. So between X Factor sapping all the youth away from Idol and Idol unable to procure more older contestants because they've exhausted a large part of the market already (and the rest are plants that they avoid), Idol is forced to go younger, as the lesser of two evils. It's easily noticeable that Idol, particularly in AI10, AI11, skewed way younger than in years past (take a look at contestant ages below for the top 12/13):

AI11: 21-16-19-18-17-28-20-17-22-26-16-19-25
AI10: 17-16-20-22-23-20-22-26-16-21-24
AI9: 23-24-27-26-16-19-20-17-24-23-24-24
AI8: 23-26-28-16-23-22-24-23-23-27-21-21-16

Obviously, there's more <20 years old type contestants in AI10 and AI11 than in AI8 and AI9. The top five certainly featured far more younger contestants as well.

Why younger? In retrospect, it's not that surprising why they want to go young: as with all major sports, younger=more potential, more moldability, and less backtalk. Recent older contestants have seen a lot more backtalk, probably because they're been through the ropes (i.e. Elise Testone this season, Paul McDonald in AI10, Crystal Bowersox in AI9, Amanda Overmyer in AI7, list goes on). With McDonald not making it far because of that and Bowersox flopping hard in terms of the label's expectations, Idol has made a conscientious decision to simply avoid that. Sure, it looked like Elise and Erika wanted to improve and were doing everything to "connect", but judging from all those bottom three appearances both made,'s not happening. Elise in particular played the Idol game horribly, but read here for more of that.

Also, does anyone believe that older contestants are marketable? In XFUK, the older contestants are seen as the "joke" types, being awfully outdated and never making it too far. Wagner, Sami Brookes, Mary Byrne, Storm Lee, the list goes on. The demographics in the US (the average age of the Idol viewer is 48 years old) appear to skew far differently for these shows, which is why older contestants make it farther, but at the end of the day, they don't see much success. Susan Boyle catching-lightning-in-a-bottle type situation aside, the Voice has had two thirty year old winners that are flops, or appear to be flops (Javier Colon/ Jermaine Paul) and XFUS had a 30-year old runner-up in Josh Krajcik, who hasn't done much of anything to date. On the flip side, Chris Rene, who's approaching 30 but again is not completely a WGWG (hip hop tendencies even allowed him to gain exposure in the relevant charts, although it was just a flash in the pan), Rachel Crow (13 year old during XFUS) and Marcus Canty (old school, but still more current than Joshua Ledet) have released singles already. Even Simon rigs his audience during auditions to be full of screaming teenage girls, even if the core viewing audience doesn't reflect that. It's clear that everything caters towards younger viewers, and the pros of that were already established in Part I.

Can younger people sing old songs? But in addition to the talent being sapped by other contestants, there's another major problem here: Idol's forced to go even younger, and now they're attempting to grasp into contestants that were born deep into the 1990s (think 1993 and beyond) now. These people most likely grew up listening to music in the 2000s (Backstreet Boys, Nickelback, Beyonce, and all the perceived "junk" that now appears on the radio that Idol so desperately attempts to avoid). Already, my friends at Whatnottosing have noticed that the contestants actually sang modern songs better than the old songs this year, when given the opportunity (see this article for the details). Want further evidence? Let's compare the modern theme weeks of AI11 and AI5--AI5 was widely known as having older contestants, and since it came earlier in the decade, this mean that many of their contestants were born in the late 1970s/early 1980s. By contrast, AI11's predominantly younger contestants were born into the heart of the 1990s. Here's the average approval rating of AI5's modern theme week (an atrocious 40.9--below the average across seasons, which is usually around 49-52). And here's the average rating of AI11's modern theme week (an insane 59.9, so it's well above the average). So that's just a microcosm of Idol's contestants being more in tune with current music than older music. Idol was lucky that there staple of younger contestants--namely Joshua, Hollie and Jessica--were really able to hold the fort down and sing older songs quite well, so this led to the highest overall approval rating across all seasons, according to WNTS. But how long will this last? Idol can't go casting on throwbacks and balladeers, forever, and of greater importance is that face it, how many 1990s born contestants will actually sing those songs that well now? We've already seen the tide turning in favor of more modern songs, but if Idol insists of making people born in 1995 and 1996 sing the Shirelles and the Rolling Stones, could be a trainwreck. And if Idol lasts for that long, by 2048, will they still insist on their contestants to sing music from 70-80 years ago (i.e. the Beatles and Elvis)? Or will they go for less "old", and make them sing Ke$ha and Justin Bieber? That's the quandary Idol will eventually have to face, if they're rock-solid insistent on decreasing the creativity of its contestants.

To sum up, Idol has made the conscientious decision to skew way younger, but it's being affected by two major things: (1) the songbook, which we've touched upon quite a bit on how that's screwing Idol in Part I, and how Idol's insistence in songs from 1960s-1980s will affect the 1990s born generation and their ability to sing them, and then there's (2) the sapping talent from other competition shows, particularly the X Factor in leeching away the younger talent. So how has Idol taken measures to counteract that? Well, there's this...

The farm system. To give Idol slight credit here, they have started a farm system to try to retain their talent: Hollie Cavanagh, DeAndre Brackensick and Colton Dixon were three contestants showcased extensively in the pre-Finals rounds of AI10, and all three came back for AI11, and to show their appreciation, Idol gave all of them finals spots. Other contestants that tried out last year that made it to the finals this year include Reed Grimm, Chase Likens, Joshua Ledet, Aaron Marcellus, Brielle Von Hugel, Chelsea Sorrell, and Jeremy Rosado, so Idol is definitely attempting to hold on to their contestants, even if many of them will end up on this list at the end. Also, Idol's audition rounds had far fewer joke auditions in AI11 than ever before, showing that they want to retain even more of their talent: I'd be surprised if Gabi Carrubba, David Leathers, Ariel Sprague, Johnny Keyser, Richie Law, and Lauren Gray don't audition next year, between Nigel's attempts to convince them and between their pre-Finals footage they received.

But the question is, how long will this "farm system" hold up? Idol developed the farm system in AI10, before X Factor US started and in conjunction with the first season of the Voice, but now that both of those shows are more established it's questionable whether Idol receives enough of the "talent" now to develop. It might still work for AI12, with Leathers, Carrubba, Sprague, Keyser (if they audition) making it...but it will be interesting to see what sort of contestants Idol highlights for its auditions/Hollywood weeks in AI12. We'll see if the "talent" still remains with them. But with these shows around them starting to sap into the talent, it's likely we'd see diminishing returns.

Entropy. At the end of the day, there's likely to be a lot of entropy anyway. The more these shows last longer, the more we'll see a lot of contestants who tried out for other shows. We've seen Jamar Rogers, Jermaine Paul, et al being Idol rejects on The Voice, but also we've seen a guy from X Factor's manufactured group InTENsity audition for Idol, and Idol rejects like Caitlin Koch, Chrissy Feliciano, George Trice and Tora Woloshin audition for The Voice. They'll become interchangeable and "marked" to the point of being unmarketable. We'll see if "one man's trash is another man's treasure", but I doubt it in this case.

7) The International preferences are more popular in the US than "The Idol Audience" preferences.

This statement wasn't the case before this year, but that's the way mainstream music has been shifting. Look at this chart--we have our fair share of Canadians, English, and Gotye.

Look no further than Canadian Idol--Carly Rae Jepsen faded into obscurity after winning 3rd place back at Season 5 of Canadian Idol, but five years later, she has a massive international hit in her hands (although with huge, huge help from Bieber's promotion, admittedly). Still, regardless of whether Bieber feels a sort of Canadian kinship with Carly Rae, the fact that she could even get that help speaks volumes. Nowadays, Idol winners, which are WGWGs, may team up with Lifehouse and Nickelback, but as we've established in Epoch 4, that meant a lot more in 2005 than in 2012. As we've established in Part I of this article, Jordin Sparks had awfully generic singles, but her teaming up with DeRulo/Chris Brown may have indirectly helped her--notably in her youtube views, for example. So because pop/hip hop is in the "in" right now, there are more avenues to success, even if it comes many years after the fact (as with Carly Rae's case).

And let's focus on Carly Rae more--she established herself as a folksy singer/songwriter on the show, doing acoustic stuff and strumming a guitar, more or less. In other words, she seemed like your typical Idol contestant at the time. But, with Bieber's help, a catchy summer pop song that can reel in the tweens, and a pop image, she had the recipe for success. She branded herself differently from what she was on Idol and saw success. We've already seen mild successes for people who brand themselves--did anyone think AI6's Chris Richardson would ever team up with Weezy in Ca$h Money records, and to have the 14th most views on youtube among Idol contestants? Yeah, thought so. He branded himself differently and saw a little success because of it, so this isn't without precedence. As I mentioned in part I, we've seen Didi Benami, Stefano Langone and Antonella Barba attempt to do the same thing, probably in the advent of Carly's success. All this further verifies that for aspiring "pop" types that venture on Idol, Idol's a horrible business model. And again, Carly's success here stands in stark contrast to the triumvirate of WGWGs (Cook-Allen-DeWyze) that we've produced at native soil. So, there's that as well.

But it's not just Canadian Idol--it's also X Factor UK. Amazingly, Simon acted as a trendsetter for boybands once again, despite the fact that everyone thought that they had evaporated from the face of the earth in 2001. But it wasn't that surprising in retrospect--the Bieber phenomenon had already hit full swing, and there has always been a lucrative teen market for music. It's certainly what the radio types look for. They didn't have to conform, since they were already branded as pop at the very beginning--but like Carly, they had "catchy songs" and were able to have a sound that piggybacked off the success of Bieber and Hot Chelle Rae (their sounds are very similar).

And that's why we talk about identifying the market--how did Jay Sean, Tinie Tempah, Calvin Harris, all British guys, have hits here in the US? They're all hip hop guys. Because of the genre, they were able to team up with guys here stateside, and create a similar sound that was able to become a hit. A lot of piggybacking of sounds going on. That's why they were able to leapfrog guys like Cook, Allen, and DeWyze in terms of singles successes. For all of Simon's ego and faults, at least he's found the market and is now trying to Genentech-churn contestants of that style. From spoilers, it appears that Simon is looking for super young pop girl types and groups (bands/boybands). So looks like he's trying to hit that target again. Idol, on the other hand, is rapidly perceived as a venue where coffeehouse indie guitar strummers can find a break, improve their lives by a little bit, but give zero value to the record companies at the end. The rule goes like this: Stateside pop/hip hop > International pop/hip hop >> Stateside other. 


So this concludes analyzing Idol's future. We've established that Idol's core viewing audience and horrific judging essentially makes Idol incompatible with the current music market, but that Idol is also shooting itself in the foot by improperly "branding" its pop types through the use of old-age songs, as Interscope has made a lot of poor decisions. As a result, pop types from other countries have overridden anything that Idol winners have done recently. Idol's contestant pool is also dying: they refuse to cast anyone who shows attitude, they refuse to cast plants, and X Factor is screwing up its plan of casting younger contestants by getting them when they are 12-14. Their imposed farm system only appears to be a temporary solution. Idol's insistence on using old songs is also like putting a dam to hold back a torrent of water: it can hold the fort temporarily, but as the contestants are born deeper into the 1990s, their likelihood of singing those old songs well decreases. So Idol is facing a songbook issue, a contestant issue, and facing a waning audience as a result of it--blog traffic for Idol sites have decreased as a result of the diminishing returns of the Idol brand, despite having more contestants. With a very flawed songbook, branding and audience in competition and poor marketing judgment post-competition, it's a vicious cycle to failure that is the end result. And this time, other competitions (possibly the X Factor) might produce successes that will stand in stark contrast to it. We'll see if Idol can wake up from its slumber.

And we'll end with this gif of what Nigel's probably thinking right now:

1 comment:

  1. do u know who celebrity Britney Spears invited in Judges House?