After 39 shows over more than four months, the winner of season ten of American Idol has been confirmed as Scotty McCreery. The 17-year old from Garner, North Carolina defeated Rossville, Georgia’s Lauren Alaina, a year his junior, after a staggering 122 million votes were cast after last night’s finale.
Of course, being the finale, the result was almost an afterthought at the end of a star-studded two-hour concert, with the occasional (not) funny video insert. The show included headline live showcases by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé Knowles – now that’s setting the bar pretty high for any aspiring Idol. Overall, the performances ranged from the appallingly bad (the top 13’s rendition of Born This Way, or Casey Abrams and Jack Black‘s Fat Bottomed Girls) to the really very good indeed (Haley Reinhart and the ageless Tony Bennett, Lauren and Carrie Underwood).
Looking back on the result and the season as a whole, here are a few thoughts to conclude my coverage of American Idol‘s tenth run.
Is Scotty the least worthy Idol winner ever?
Firstly, let me qualify this question by congratulating Scotty on winning. He and his traditional country style were never my cup of tea, but he does possess a great and distinctive voice, and seems to have an unaffected and endearingly old-fashioned gosh-darn sort of personality.
And I know that to question Scotty’s worthiness as a champion may seem like a silly question to some. After all, he had been the overwhelming favourite throughout – on the night of the finale I was quoted odds of 1/7 on him winning – a position borne out by the fact he was the only contestant this season not to make a single appearance in the bottom three/two. And he has won fair and square in a year which set a new record for total votes cast in the finale. But when you look at evidence beyond the teen/tween-dominated national poll, there is objective and quantitative evidence to suggest that Scotty is in fact the least highly-rated Idol winner ever.
For my data, I have used the website What Not To Sing, an invaluable repository of Idol-based history. The site collates post-show scores from all over the internet, and their data shows Scotty is the lowest-ranked of Idol‘s ten winners by a considerable margin. Ranked on a scale of 0 to 100, his mean weekly score of 52.8 is well below that of the next lowest-ranked champion, Carrie Underwood, who averaged 57.3. (The original winner, Kelly Clarkson, remains the runaway highest-ranked winner, with an average score of 76.8.)
And those low scores are not just reflective of a general bias against country music. Runner-up Lauren had a healthy average of 61.2, which would have been good enough to rank a respectable sixth on the all-time winners’ list. It also placed her joint-third this season (behind Pia Toscano and James Durbin, and level with Haley). Based on WNTS’s performance rankings, Scotty was a less than impressive sixth best this year.
It’s easy to see why. Scotty entered the competition with a clear identity as a country singer, thereby guaranteeing him a large fan base. But he also rarely ventured out of his comfort zone during the competition, meaning that non-country fans rarely had any compelling reason to rank him highly. (Carrie Underwood suffered from exactly the same problem of a succession of ‘safe’ performances, despite romping to victory in season four.)
Scotty’s highest single score on WNTS was a modest 72 (for Elvis Presley’s That’s All Right). By comparison, seven of Lauren’s 20 performances ranked 72 or higher (with a best of 83), while Haley registered six scores of 72 or more (including a joint-season high 91 for House of the Rising Sun). Pretty much every way you look at it, Scotty was significantly outgunned by a number of his rivals according to WNTS’s bank of reviewers. Except, of course, he won on the only measure which actually mattered – the public vote.
Is Scotty a worthy winner of season ten? Yes, of course he is. But certainly each of Lauren, Haley and James can mount a strong case to argue that they would also have been equally worthy. Never before has a season winner been so closely challenged and triumphed through a series of consistently good performances without ever quite achieving those magical ‘moments’ which characterise Idol‘s most memorable alumni.
So Scotty is a worthy champion. But there have been many far worthier.
Facts and figures
29 million people watched the final show, after an incredible 122.4 million votes had been cast. Those are seriously impressive numbers, and an indication of how many viewers vote multiple times.
The series sparked some controversy over alleged gender bias in the national poll after the first five contestants to be voted off were all girls (although this sequence would have been broken if the judges had not used their ‘save’ to rescue Casey). The balance, however, was redressed when the next five to be eliminated were all boys. Nonetheless, Scotty became the fourth male winner in a row, following in the footsteps of David Cook, Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze. Overall, the boys have now won in six out of ten seasons.
The distribution of talent was also somewhat skewed when you look at where the finalists originated from. Of the seven audition cities, New Orleans was the only one which failed to provide a single finalist. Austin (Casey) and New Jersey (Pia) managed one each. The two California venues, LA and San Francisco generated two each of the top 13 – LA produced Jacob Lusk and Karen Rodriguez (who had initially auditioned via MySpace), while the City by the Bay had James and Stefano Langone.
But the two most talent-laden cities were Nashville and Milwaukee. The former gave us Lauren, but also Paul McDonald and Ashthon Jones. And the home of The Fonz not only yielded Scotty, but also Haley, Naima Adedapo and Thia Megia. I bet no one would have predicted Milwaukee would be the most talent-rich city at the start of the season, both in terms of finalists and number of golden tickets issued. (56 Nashville auditionees progressed to Hollywood and 53 from Milwaukee, the two highest totals.)
It just goes to show that there is talent everywhere, but some cities were definitely more prolific than others.
Reviewing my predictions
Before the top 13, I made six predictions/observations about how I thought things would pan out. How did I do?
1. Is this the year of country? – Country singers hadn’t fared particularly well in recent seasons, but I tipped both Scotty and Lauren for success in the competition. Only slightly tongue-in-cheek, I said of Scotty:
Expect the producers to find a way for him to do a country song no matter what the weekly theme is. Song from the year they were born? Country. Disco week? Country. The songs of Aerosmith? A country arrangement.
Pretty much spot on there, then.
2. The early favourite usually comes second – Having commented that the early favourite in many previous seasons – Crystal Bowersox, Adam Lambert, David Archuleta, Bo Bice – often finished as the runner-up, I predicted the same for Scotty. Close, but no cigar.
3. Who is this year’s Lee DeWyze? – Someone who maintains a low profile during the early rounds, emerging as a contender only when we reach the final eight or so. I said:
Out of this season’s crop of 13, that might be someone like Haley Reinhart. Only she won’t win.
In the bottom three in each of the first two weeks, Haley blossomed as the competition progressed. Few would have predicted she would finish as high as third. But she did. I’m pretty happy with that call.
4. The best pure singer doesn’t always win – I noted that the winner of Idol is generally the contestant with the biggest fan club, not necessarily the biggest voice. Scotty certainly had the biggest fan club from day one. Great though Scotty’s voice was, in terms of purity of tone I would have placed him behind Pia and Haley, at least. But that’s not why people loved him – his voice was only part of a total package which millions of people found appealing. So I stand by my initial statement here.
5. How big an influence is Justin Bieber? From early in the audition process, the producers’ desire to focus more on younger talent – they lowered the minimum age to 15 – was obvious. Indeed eight of the final 13 were aged 22 or under. Scotty was the youngest finalist in Idol history, and Lauren was one of only four 17-year olds to have reached the final (after Diana DeGarmo, Jordin Sparks and David Archuleta). Four of the five previous winners were aged 23-plus. The producers were keen to target more young stars like Bieber – in the two finalists, they struck gold twice over.
6. Where have all the gospel divas gone? – Whether deliberate or not, there was a distinct lack of gospel divas this season. Ashthon was as close as any of the girls got to this – and she was the first one sent home. And as for Jacob, there was plenty of inner diva on show, but it became obvious very quickly that he had no realistic chance of winning. In the year of country, not only was gospel in the minority, but it was never really in it to win it, as Randy Jackson might have said.
Has it been a good season?
Yes and no.
I still think the overall quality of the contestants was higher than in previous seasons. In the past, half the finalists were effectively dead wood and someone truly appalling often found their way into the top five or six – hello, season three’s Jasmine Trias and ginger crooner John Stevens. Not so this year. All the finalists were at least decent, and there were few catastrophically bad performances.
However, despite a promising start and arguably the most diverse set of musical styles an Idol season has ever seen in its live stages, there weren’t that many genuine ‘moments’ either. Haley and James had a few, Lauren one or two, Pia too. But, by and large, too many episodes featured a set of competent performances, without the soaring highs and crashing lows which characterise a great show. In that sense, consistent quality didn’t always make for great entertainment.
And while Scotty and Lauren were both very good, neither blossomed quite as much as I had hoped. Compared to Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, say, neither stacks up particularly well.
Much has also been said about the lack of critique from the judges, with the default mode too often being resorting to catchphrases – Randy’s banal “in it to win it” – or bland, generic compliments. I wonder if this is because both Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler realised that potentially being labelled as the bad guy might not be the greatest move in terms of relaunching their music careers, and retreated into meaningless platitudes at the expense of constructive feedback. It’s just a thought, but whatever the cause the net result often left me scratching my head and wondering if they had been watching the same performances I had.
However, there was also much to like about this season. In particular, I liked the way the departure of Simon Cowell meant the focus was thrown back onto the contestants, rather than performances being the prelude to whatever caustic witticism Cowell had prepared for the audience’s delectation. It reminded us that Idol is, above all else, a competition to find a great recording artist, and not an exercise in public humiliation.
My overall verdict? A bit like our new American Idol, Scotty – good, but not great. There is still mileage in the old beast, but the wear and tear is starting to show too. It will be interesting to see how the Cowell-centric X Factor fares by comparison in the US.
Will I be back for more next year? Of course I will.
American Idol posts
Link: American Idol website