American Idol, you’re doing it wrong.
The reality series has always divided men and women in some capacity. This is not news. However, during Season 12, the producers have taken the usual equal division of the sexes to an extreme, transforming the series into some sort of dog eat dog version of a middle school dance. Ever since the contestants have arrived in Hollywood, they’ve been divided, with separate group nights for men and women and separate sudden death rounds in Las Vegas. Sure, the new system changes up the somewhat "stale" Idol formula, but to put it simply: these separate groups are most definitely not equal.
This year, it's plain to see that there are far more talented female singers than male singers. Still, when voting begins on the series, we’ll be forced to pick from a group of finalists equally split between men and women, even though most of the men picked to continue on to the live shows can’t hold a candle to their female counterparts. (Not to mention the unfair fact that, in some cases, even the rejected ladies have out-performed the advancing men.) The disparity is something we’d likely notice even without the forced segmentation, but by relegating the sexes to their own corners of the ring, it becomes undeniable.
But make no mistake: this isn't about feminism. It’s about doing the show right. This year, the men are bumbling idiots on the stage, grasping at notes like a herd of blind mice trying to scamper through a maze, while the ladies are vicious tigresses fighting with every last drop of talent and stage presence to earn a spot among the mere 10 gals who’ll get to continue on. Most of the guys don’t belong here, and giving them their own night to shine only makes us angrier after we've watched talented women sent away.
Were the tables turned and there was a disparity of talent, leaving the guys with far more valuable singers than the women, I’d argue the same thing: the separation of the genders has to go. By slotting singers into little gender boxes, we’re not actually given an accurate representation of the talent available, and we’re entrenched in a system in which gender is a part of the decision. All that should factor into the judges’ decisions and our decisions as voters is talent and marketability. Do we want to see this singer again? Would we buy their album? If ever we ever find ourselves thinking, “This person is great, considering the fact that the rest of the people in their gender group are pretty horrendous,” we have a problem, Houston.
Still, it’s not hard to see why producers were keen to change up the competition: The nights featuring female contestants come with a healthy dose of drama. Without gender separation, most of these girls would make it through past their male counterparts, but when they’re only up against the incredible ladies of Season 12, we start to be far more critical and spot more cracks. The result is a final elimination that is more nerve-wracking than any previous season's Las Vegas week. But it's not worth sacrificing the quality of the competition.
Sure, by weeding out the weaker girls now, we’ll be left with a set of 10 girls so strong, we'll not want to let any of them go. But as Idol fans know, the voting base loves itself a dude. There hasn't been a single female winner since Jordin Sparks won a confetti shower in Season 6. That means for half of the time that Idol has existed, it’s been inclined to deliver male winners. Limiting the number of women in the competition while continuing to make gender a piece of the decision to keep or toss each singer will hardly reverse that trend, regardless of Idol's clear desire to see a female victor this season.
When we finally have our Top 20, it will be obvious that the women are much stronger than the 10 men the judges send through. However, at that point, we’ll still have to entrust the fate of those 20 contestants to voters — a group that’s shown themselves to be irresponsible judges of talent on many occasions. (These are the people who picked Kris Allen over Adam Lambert and Lee Dwyze over every other valuable candidate, after all.)
We can’t change the voting public, but we can give them fewer chances to get it wrong. By removing the element of gender as a piece of a contestant’s Idol resume, perhaps we can combat the tendency of voters to lean towards yet another cute, unmarketable boy band leader and steer them towards The Next Big Thing, whoever he or she may be.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Fox (2)]
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