Performing first is a disadvantage for American Idol contestants

Over seven seasons on American Idol, those who performed first were more likely to go home than others, while those who performed last have never been eliminated that same week. That’s the result of an investigation by USA TODAY and WhatNotToSing.com, a site that collects data related to the show. (What Not To Sing’s web site has the raw data.)

“In 69 finals episodes, 20 singers in the No. 1 spot have been voted off, seven more than would be expected based on statistical probability,” the paper reports. Perhaps more significantly, “no one in the 11th or 12th spot in a finals week has been eliminated,” and “only one (Kristy Lee Cook) has been in the bottom three.”

Producers admit they arrange the contestants to craft an entertaining show, but executive producer Ken Warwick told the paper that the performance order is “worked out with two things in mind: where the kid (performed) last week, and if it’s a slow, ‘dirgey’ ballad, I try not to open with that.”

Why are those singing at the end more likely to stay than those who perform first? The paper suggests, among other reasons, that ratings data might hold the answer, as “Idol’s ratings grow throughout each show, with more viewers — and potential voters — watching singers at the end than at the beginning. On April 8, Idol went from 22.8 million viewers in the first half-hour to 26.4 million in the second, a 16% increase.”

However, while What Not to Sing notes that “[a] contestant is somewhere between 30% and 54% more likely to be eliminated when singing first, … [e]very season winner but one so far sang leadoff at least twice and lived to tell about it.”

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