For the first time in eight seasons of “American Idol,” the top three contenders are all guys — which means for the first time in “Idol” history, America is getting back-to-back male champions, following last year’s showdown between David Archuleta and the eventual victor, David Cook.
With flamboyant rocker Adam Lambert, clean-cut Danny Gokey and dark-horse Kris Allen as the final remaining contenders this season, it raises the question: Has “Idol” become a boys’ club? And if so, why?
While the show doesn’t share information on voter demographics, according to a recent Los Angeles Times article, the median age of the show’s viewing audience, at least for one recent episode, was 42.9. And with three charming male hopefuls in the top three, are older female voters responsible?
MJ Santilli, founder of the popular “Idol” blog MJsBigBlog.com, suspects women have played something of a role in who’s still standing on “Idol,” but stops short of giving them all the credit.
“My theory — and I don’t have any data on this — but I don’t think it’s young girls who vote at all: It’s adult women,” Santilli said. “I think they have the time, the resources and the organizational skills to vote. I mean, if you’re talking about sending 1,000 text votes in a night, that’s a woman doing that, not a teenager, and not a male — although I have met straight fan boys, and they can be over the top. When you go to the tour each summer, it’s mostly women in the audience — a lot of older women.”
But along with middle-aged women, Santilli said it’s her informed opinion that each of the three remaining contestants has managed to build a substantial fanbase that was distinctly their own early on. She suspects Gokey, for instance, has a strong Christian-based backing.
“It can’t just be older women,” she added. “I think they just vote harder and they vote more than younger people. I also think there are a lot of casual voters, and in a tight race, they could end up being the determining factor — just people who pick up the phone, and vote a couple of times for someone.”
While Michael Slezak, a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly known for his “Idol” coverage, admitted that older women may have helped Cook win the crown last year, he doesn’t think voter demographics ultimately have anything to do with who stays and who goes.
“I think what we’ve seen in the last two years is that, in terms of the voting, it’s been more influenced by the judges than voter demographics,” Slezak said. “The ’Idol’ audience has gotten older, no question. There are more moms out there, more 30-somethings and 40-somethings getting invested in the show in the last two seasons than any of the earlier seasons. But I don’t think the ’cougar vote’ is necessarily based on looks or who their turn-ons are. That isn’t giving enough credit to those voters and the contestants.”
Slezak argued that the same applies to tweens, who are just as likely to buy Miley Cyrus merchandise as they are Jonas Brothers items.
“It’s more because of how the season was cast, and how the judges pushed certain contestants once they got to the finals,” Slezak said. “The producers know exactly what it is they’re doing and what they want, and they have Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson as their most successful winners. I think they want a guy who sells just like that, and so there was just a really weak group of women making it in this year, and the voters didn’t warm to them. Every chance the show got this season to advance the cause on behalf of really talented female singers, they didn’t do it.”
Santilli agreed that the show “stacked the deck this year for a male winner,” seeing as they cut a number of female contestants early on who who “would have gotten past Megan Joy .” She said she feels this season saw a general bias toward men by the judges, a sentiment Slezak echoed.
“Had Allison [Iraheta, the last female contestant this season] been given a little bit different treatment up there on stage each week, we definitely would have seen her crack the top three or top two,” he said. “But no one ever told her she had a chance to win, and while the voters can decide who to vote for, those subtle signals from the judges, week in and week out, start to sink in. When you never tell someone you’re a contender, never tell them they’re going to win, and I guess that gave viewers the sense that a vote for Allison won’t count, because she will only go so far.”
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