The past five winners of “American Idol”—including tonight’s winner, Phillip Phillips—all have something in common. They’re all white males.
You’d have to go back five years to find a winner who wasn’t. Since Jordin Sparks took the title in 2007, the winners have all been white guys: David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Scotty McCreery, and Phillip Phillips.
I have no objection to “Idol” voters selecting white men as the winners. But I do have a problem with a program that consistently slights superior singers for ones who appeal to the 10 to 15-year-old female demographic. As a result, the winners are now predictably always “aw shucks” nice guy white male contestants.
And that creates a PR problem for “Idol.”
No one who watched this season can credibly argue that Philip Phillips was the best vocalist. R&B crooner Joshua Ledet, a church-tinged singer who consistently provided a “wow” factor, finished third.
That’s like James Brown, Otis Redding, or Sam Cooke finishing third to Huey Lewis, Dave Matthews, or Rob Thomas. They’re all good singers, but the first group of three is in a different league.
The below video is of Phillips singing “Time of the Season.” Listen to that falsetto and tell me he deserved to be named the best-undiscovered singer in the United States.
If “Idol” results were based on merit, Joshua Ledet wouldn’t have been eliminated before Philip Phillips. Here’s his masterful performance of James Browns’ “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”
“American Idol” judges regularly proclaim that their show is, first and foremost, a “singing competition.” The facts don’t bear out their claim. I maintain that the show’s slipping ratings are, in part, a result of the voters’ obvious slant, which renders the show completely predictable.
What can “Idol” do to give singers who don’t meet the “guitar-playing cute white male with stubble demo” a fighting chance? Here are three ideas:
1. Change the voting formula.
I suspect that as the show has aged, it’s viewing demographic has narrowed. (As an example, I almost never see the more than 2,200 people I follow on Twitter discussing results). “Idol” can use the same voting formula that “The Voice” uses; the public gets a 50 percent share of the vote, and the judges get another 50 percent.
2. The judges can, well, judge.
The judges—Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler—are nice. Too nice. By complimenting even mediocre performances and pairing critical feedback with undeserved praise, the viewing audience isn’t able to use the judge’s reactions as a voting guide. They should offer unsparing feedback, audience boos, and hurt feelings be damned.
3. More Jimmy Iovine, please.
“Idol” mentor Jimmy Iovine is a legendary music producer who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and U2. He tells contestants exactly
what he thinks. The problem? “Idol” doesn’t air his comments until after
the voting concludes. They should air his comments before the voting begins so he can help influence voters.
What do you think?
Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog, where a version of this story first appeared. His firm, Phillips Media Relations, specializes in media and presentation training. He tweets at @MrMediaTraining.