How American Idol pimps contestants, and why that, and conspiracy theories, often fail

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a piece that was published Monday that identified five ways American Idol pimps and promotes its favorite contestants.

Those were the pimp slot (going last), the pimp chair (getting to talk to Ryan Seacrest, which may or may not work in a contestant’s favor), the amount of time the show spends with a contestant (starting with the auditions and continuing to performance episodes), eliminations (the order in which contestants are saved affects our perception of their safety), and the judges’ opinions (which may or may not sway viewers).

Had I written it this week, I would have separated judges’ comments to the media as an entire category of its own, since Simon Cowell is running around telling whoever will listen that Adam should win. Besides basically asking viewers to vote for Adam, and a few weeks ago, said at a press conference “I would put my money on Adam and Danny,” although he qualified that saying “it is going to be Adam and somebody.” Early this season, Simon also predicted a male winner, and all of the women were voted out.

There’s been a lot of attention given to the Adam-pimping beyond Simon’s comments, like the way Adam is given the final pimp slot to close out the show frequently. So does all of this basically mean Adam is heading to an easy victory? The answer is hells no; just ask Danny Gokey, who was also a presumed finalist.

In fact, Kris Allen may have the advantage for a number of reasons, including that Danny’s fans need someone to vote for, and they may see Kris as more closely aligned to Danny (i.e. he’s not a scary flamboyant man). But Kris also has something else working to his advantage: some voters apparently don’t like being told what to do, or just ignore the conventional wisdom.

After the final performance episode last year, the judges’ proclaimed David Archuleta the winner; 54.6 million votes disagreed and handed the competition to David Cook. Earlier this season, Simon Cowell predicted Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert, and Lil (“Little”) Rounds would be in the final three, and I’m sure Lil Rounds has something to say about that.

Basically, the producers and judges have influence over how we perceive the contestants, but voters ultimately do what they want–including deciding whether or not to vote in the first place. There are far too many factors that affect why people vote for any oversimplified theory to work. Hell, we don’t even know how many of Tuesday night’s 88 million votes were repeats; only 25 million people watch the show, and there’s no way they all vote, which means repeat votes comprise a huge chunk of them. Those voters are often presumed to be tween girls, but seriously, who knows?

We know very little, and anyone who pretends they do know is a twit. Of course, part of the fun of American Idol is rooting for someone or hating someone else, and then developing crazed conspiracy theories by hand-picking evidence that absolutely proves that your contestant is getting screwed, whoever that may be.

Five ways ‘Idol’ pimps out its favorites [MSNBC]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.