Whoda thunk? American Idol as a modern Civics class!
The number of votes seems to remain remarkably constant (this year, somewhere north of 40 million) week to week. This indicates the same people continue to vote each week. It also means that the people who voted for the contestant who was kicked off go ahead and just choose somebody new to vote for.
This is a direct parallel to the presidential primary process. In the early primaries, candidates who do poorly usually drop out of the race, leaving those who would have supported them in other states high and dry. Those supporters then have to pick somebody else among the surviving candidates to vote for.
This winnowing process allows the most appealing candidates to pick up steam by adding new voters to their cadre of supporters. And as they do so, the field continues to be winnowed, until finally there are only one or two candidates left standing. The single-issue candidate, the flash-in-the-pan, the guy who has one fantastic debate - they may all have their moments, but in the end, the candidate with the most broad-based appeal will usually win.
And this is what explains Chris Daughtry's stunning loss this week on "American Idol." He has a distinctive voice and distinctive appeal. The problem is that he never broadened his base very much. If you liked him from the start, you stayed with him - which is why he remained solidly among the top contenders through most of the show's run.
But if you didn't much like his sound when there were still 9 contestants remaining, you weren't suddenly going to decide you liked his sound when there were only 4 remaining.
The key to winning "American Idol" isn't being overwhelmingly popular in the early stages. The key is having a sound that makes it possible for you to pick up votes from people whose favorites have gotten booted off the show. Because if you don't get those votes, somebody else is going to get them.
Friday, May 12, 2006
John Podhoretz (sub. req'd.--free) explains how the American Idol voting patterns can teach us--particularly the young, I'd add--about regular old politics.