Have you ever gotten to this point in an American Idol season, rolled your eyes and thought, “Yep, the cute southern boy is the winner!”? It came down to the final two contestants on this eleventh season of So You Think You Can Outsmart Boy-Crazy Girls and I doubt there is a single Idol fan out there who was surprised to see Phillip Phillips coquettishly lope into that confetti shower by the time the winner was announced. After all, letting Jessica Sanchez win would break the Cute Southern Boy streak (for sanity’s sake, let’s just pretend Season 9 and Lee DeWyze’s title never happened) that served up winners like Kris Allen and David Cook to the giddy masses.
So I ask: Is there something we can do about this clearly skewed voting process that sends people like Joshua Ledet home when he should be Mantasia-ing all over that finale? Where is the disconnect? Do we need an Idol Electoral College? Let's look at the facts. Here's what we know about the elected Idols: 13 of the past 22 Top 2 finalists have been from the South. Four Top 2 finalists have been from other southern locales like Florida and Arizona, and with the exception of Washingtonian Blake Lewis, the remaining contestants hailed from the Midwest. Finally, 9 out of 11 total winners hail from Southern states, which is the real nugget of information here. What we can take away from all those numbers is that if there’s one lucky charm for Idol contestants, it’s being from the South. And while it's a bit of speculation, it's likely that our main voting base hails from similar origins.
But what about all these cute boys? Where is their overabundance of luck coming from? (After all, if there's something good looking people never experience, it's luck.) It's been argued that since texting was introduced to Idol voting, teen girls have ruled the voting circuit, pushing their beloved man candy to the upper echelon of the competition. But that theory doesn’t hold much water. According to AT&T, 600 million text votes have been sent during the lifetime of the their partnership with Idol, which began in 2003, the year Ruben Studdard trumped Clay Aiken. When the series first introduced the text voting procedure, it accounted for only 7.5 million of the second season’s total votes, and oftentimes nightly voting totals fluctuate between 70 million and the record 95 million votes, meaning the season-ending votes total lands in upwards of 700 million – that’s quite the gap from the measly 7.5. Then, when texting broke 178 million per season during Season 8 – the year of Kris Allen’s surprise victory – it still only accounted for a small fraction of the total votes. Myth of the Tweeny Texter Tyrants: Busted!
So where is the trend coming from if not thanks to squealing, bright-eyed teens? The answer likely lies with their mothers. In its 11 seasons, Idol’s median viewership has aged 14 years, from 34 to 48 and while it hasn’t lost its teens altogether, is has lost its formerly strong grip on them. In fact, that would explain why in recent seasons, Idol producers have scrambled to find ways to bring the young audience back: Introducing MySpace auditions, lowering the minimum age for contestants to 15, and most recently adding the ability to vote on Facebook. Yet, the median age is still on rise and we’re poised to see another cute southern young man take the title while talented folks like Skylar Laine and Joshua Ledet join the list of unappreciated Idol contestants like past cast-offs Blake Lewis, Haley Reinhart, and Elliott Yamin, all of whom are missing check marks in either the “cute,” “boy,” or “Southern” check boxes.
This comes as no disrespect to the titlist Phillip Phillips, who is talented and greatly worthy of his praises; I’m simply tired of being able to call the competition with less thought than Steven Tyler puts into his "isms and wasms" descriptions. I want to be excited and feverish heading into the finale, not reclined and waiting for the inevitable. Remember when Taylor Hicks bested long-legged beauty Katharine McPhee for the title and the world’s collective jaw hit the ground? Remember that Jordin Sparks was the last girl to win the show and that was all the way back in Season 6? Remember how we sighed because so many moms loved Scotty McCreery and no other contestant stood a chance? Remember last Wednesday, when you thought to yourself that Jessica Sanchez deserves to win, but you know she won’t? In the same way that the judges’ save robs the competition of its ability to truly shock us, so does this voting strong hold.
Still, what can we do? Idol doesn’t collect data on its voters and its process allows for multiple votes – just ask Arkansas, who reportedly turned into 34 million votes from a state of 2.8 million people to crown Kris Allen Season 8’s Idol – so perhaps it’s time for a new order. Either limit voters to one vote a piece (or perhaps three for voters wily enough to know they can vote once by text, once by phone, and once by web) or start up some sort of American Idol Electoral College.That way, we aren’t subjected to the will of the mega voters as we watch our perfectly reasonable single votes crushed under their weight of the Cute Boy Army, whatever age and gender they may actually be.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.