If there's a pink-hair curse on "American Idol," as Amy Adams' fans have suggested, perhaps the opposite could be said for red hair.
Just as Clay Aiken was the only singer in the second season to not make the bottom three, third-season crooner John Stevens has been seemingly invincible. Stevens' feat is even more impressive considering each of his performances in the finals has received scathing critiques from the judges.
Whether you love him or hate him, the 16-year-old Frank Sinatra worshiper from East Amherst, New York, is the talk of season three. And the question everyone is asking is: How is he still around?
"American Idol" experts, many of whom believe Stevens will make the final four whether he deserves to or not, have several theories.
One might be best described as "the grandma factor." According to FOX, of the roughly 17 million Americans who watch the show each week, more than 4 million are 55 and older. With his retro singing style, Stevens is likely quite appealing to that audience. The fact that his own grandparents attend the tapings and have played prominently in his personal segments can't hurt either.
Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard magazine, noted that the over-55 music fan has emerged in recent years as a passionate supporter, prompting artists like James Taylor and Barry Manilow to sell record numbers of albums late in their careers. " 'Idol' is certainly engaging that older audience," he said.
Need further proof that grandmas (and some grandpas) attach themselves to finalists? Check out Clay Aiken's current tour, where it seems nearly half the concertgoers have gray hair (see "Cutielicious: Kelly And Clay's Live Show Heavy On The Sugar").
And speaking of the second-season runner-up, another theory about Stevens' success is that he's simply attracting Clay's unique audience — and those people might be even more determined to vote after Ruben Studdard narrowly won last spring.
"Clay fans see that John is a skinny, tall, kinda geeky redhead with a great voice and are reminded of Clay," said Raina Deichert, the 16-year-old webmaster of "John Stevens' First Fansite."
Logan Martin, who covers "American Idol" for FansofRealityTV.com, believes Stevens has won over some of Clay's audience, but he thinks that Jon Peter Lewis, another somewhat nerdy singer (Simon Cowell first called him a pen salesman), has captured more.
Martin's theory is that Stevens is surviving on pity votes. "On our site there are people [posting messages] who think Simon is so mean to John they say, 'I'm voting against the judges,' " he said.
Dale Anderson, who has been tracking Stevens for the Buffalo News, agreed. "It's the emotional factor," he said. "His failings only make him more lovable."
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"He's a gentleman with charm and class, easily attracting young ladies," added Deichert, who usually logs about 750 votes for Stevens each week. "He's unique in the competition, as Simon has previously stated. I love the soft quality of his voice. It's soothing and pleasant to listen to."
Deichert also has a more technical theory about Stevens. "Though many people dislike John's performances, they can't vote him out," she noted. "If voting were based on least favorites, John would have undoubtedly been eliminated already. However, the good thing about the current voting process is that it makes sure the most popular person wins. If the public were allowed to vote out their least favorites, someone neither loved nor hated would probably slide past everyone's radar and win the whole competition."
At this point, however, Deichert is actually hoping Stevens is eliminated soon. "So that his chances of success in the music industry are better," she explained. "With each week he lasts, the more he is bashed and the more the hatred for him intensifies."
Wade Paulsen, who covers "American Idol" for RealityTVWorld.com, believes Stevens is being carried by three different types of fan. "And not just the grannies," he said. "Another group is made up of very young tweens, who like his looks, his youth, his shyness. And the third group likes his potential, but they think he could benefit from vocal lessons and studio time. I think the plurality in this group were supporters of Josh Gracin last time."
All of the theories are too much overanalyzing for Camile Velasco, who was voted off last week. "He's got red hair," she said, "and all the girls love him."