In general, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I think most of them are too complicated to ever work, and assume powers that are not in evidence and often not possible, or a real subtlety.
Idol is one of the exceptions because it’s NOT subtle, doesn’t have to be very complicated and doesn’t take weird powers. All it needs, or all it used to need, were controlling song choice and themes, arranging who goes when and a judging panel willing to be the producer’s mouthpiece when required.
In the past, this was sort of subtle, I guess. The contestants absolutely chose their own songs – they were just given a very limited list, with a vague promise of trying to clear other songs maybe. So, unless another contestant wanted the same song, they had some degree of choice.
I think they probably do NOT use theme order very often. Many themes are broad enough, even with limiting song choice, that anyone could find a song that fits, and the most talented can find or create rearrangements that work for them, or just be able to sing anything. And once a theme is used, it’s gone for the season, so it’s of limited use.
Song order works because people remember the first and last of a list far better than they remember the middle – this is why opening and closing a show can be a major “pimpage”. This, of course, assumes that the person being pimped does a good job. If he/she sings very badly, it can backfire. We saw that Wednesday night.
But after a certain point, performance order doesn’t matter so much, and a standout performance will stand out no matter where it’s placed – the standout performance on Disco Night was Kris Allen’s “She Works Hard For the Money”, and that was in his standard second placement. (Yeah, yeah. I loved “If I Can’t Have You” but Kris made me actually take notice of him for the first time that night.)
That leaves the judges. And they are there to be the producer’s mouthpieces. It’s the producers who choose the semi-finalists (Kara confirmed this in her book) and they are the ones who are concerned with making a good tv show – good ratings, good ad revenue – and a successful tour (ticket sales, good publicity.) They’d also like a successful winner very much, but it’s not their highest priority.
So their job is to both give advice to the contestants (especially the ones the producers want to succeed) and to the voters. Simon was a master at this – if the contestant was willing to listen, he could get them to adapt their performances with just a couple of words, and the right word or gesture could galvanize voters either to think a performance was amazing OR that someone needed defense – or that it was time for them to go. Even Paula, who was the anti-Simon, could do that. If all she said was, “You look beautiful”, you knew the performance was a massive failure. And when she gave advice, it was usually good.
We’ll ignore Randy. We should always ignore Randy.
Before I go on, I have to emphasize something – I think that in general, the powers that be are content to let things fall where they may. I think that, for the most part, they arrange the performances on their own merits – which order will produce a better show that night – not to help or hurt a contestant, and the judges mostly say their own opinions. There really is only so much manipulation that can be done, and the viewers mostly decide for themselves which contestant they like the most (for whatever reason – voice, performance ability, looks, personality, back story) and tend to stick with them for as long as they’re on the show. This is especially true because they can (or could) reasonably assume that the more honestly popular the winner, the better they’d do in the real world of the music industry. Too much manipulation would ruin that.
But I do believe that sometimes they do step in. And I think maybe they did so the last couple of weeks. It was extremely clumsily done because Randy is just plain not good at it, and Jennifer lacks Simon’s gravitas and Steven doesn’t care what the producers want at all, and also he’s a marshmallow.
I believe the powers that be might well have engineered James’s ouster. James was extremely popular, and he made excellent television. He created spectacles for his performances, he gave them a reason to have major guest stars, and he did sing in a style that Idol had never embraced before. No one else (except maybe Amanda Overmyer) had ever sung hard rock on the show. They’d had country rockers, alternative rockers, HAC rockers and classic rockers, but not hard and not metal. And Amanda never made it to the top 10.
Because of this, they wanted him to go as far as he could on the show. I doubt they expected him to win after Scotty developed his huge fanbase, but a country vs. rocker finale would have made excellent television. And it would not be the first time that Idol created a spectacular rock set for their runner-up – he could well be a draw for the concerts (already bloated to top 11.)
But something changed radically, and I think it happened around top six. First, Haley was starting to get an upsurge of support – bloggers and past Idols were both praising her, and she was getting more votes. She may have gotten some of Pia’s voters and I’m very sure she got Casey’s. We could see who she was and we liked that.
But even if that hadn’t happened, something else did. James broke down on stage. He let his emotions take over to negatively affect a performance (and he’d already shown that he fell apart vocally with slower songs or songs sung in a lower register, and that he’d had trouble staying on key even on the harder, faster songs he loved and did so well.) It made an effective show, but it’s a red flag to producers that he doesn’t have the control a performer needs – that they can’t predict what might happen either on stage or off of it. The winner has to do more than perform. He does the lion’s share of the press and the meet and greets, and he’s the one who gets the media attention. They need to know he can handle that. And, honestly, he probably could have if it were just his neurological problems. He’d get a pass on his facial tics (as he should) and interviews can be scripted. But now they don’t know if he’d go off-script or what could happen if he did.
Meanwhile, his performances have been getting weaker and weaker, and he’s gotten no help from the judges and he’s not listening to anyone else because he’s getting so much praise. He’s not such good television anymore, either.
But he has a strong fanbase who vote for James the person heroically overcoming his conditions and who loves his family, not James the singer. So they have to do something radical.
First, they have Jimmy Iovine, who I think really did NOT want to sign such a true wild card, especially since metal is just not selling these days, even if metal fans were open to anyone new, much less anyone from Idol – which they’re not. They kinda accepted Adam’s “Enter Sandman” because it was a one-off, because he did a decent job and because Monte Pittman has cred in that world, but they’d never buy an Adam Lambert metal album, even if he made one. And that has nothing to do with his sexuality – they don’t seem to have rejected Rob Halford.
So Jimmy pushed him to HAC rock, which is something James does very poorly – it’s generally too slow and in too low a range for him. And it showed. His already weak performances got weaker. It’s also not a genre he likes and the arrangements didn’t help. I’m assuming none of these kids got to do any arrangements themselves, so that’s not on him.
And then they pushed Haley, but they did so in a rather disturbing way. In two shows in a row, she was given two songs, judged harshly and undeservedly for the first song and praised to the heavens for the second. Wednesday was especially horrible. And what did that do? Combined with so many people supporting her – bloggers, entertainment writers and former Idols – it galvanized the voters. It galvanized voters who hadn’t voted for years, if at all. It made us angry. And we voted for Haley in droves. Combined with a possible fall-off of votes for James (or people combining votes for both), it got James off in fourth place.
Fourth place is great. He can lead the second half of the tour. He can get a decent sized rock set. He will certainly be a draw. However, he won’t have do any press he doesn’t want to do – that’s reserved for the winner or the winner and runner-up. And he can still get signed IF they want him, but they can take a pass if they don’t, unlike if he made it to F2.
It’s not going to be a terribly exciting F2, especially if it ends up Lauren/Scotty, but people will watch, and they do need to focus on the tour and beyond now.