The pimp spot effect: a definite advantage

How many times has the Idol singing last in the finals ever been eliminated? The somewhat surprising answer is that it has happened only once (and a half). It has never happened before the top 7 in any given season.

First, the exceptions to the rule. Siobahn Magnus was eliminated in the Final 6 of American Idol season 9, with a way-out-of-her-comfort-zone rendition of Shania Twain’s “Any Man Of Mine”. It scored a 43 on WhatNotToSing, an Idol ratings aggregator, the third worst score of that episode; but as a woman she had a built-in disadvantage, and a terrible performance by Lee DeWyze was given a pass by the voting public. In this case, even going last could not save Siobahn from going home.

Anoop Desai was eliminated the second week of the Final 7 in season 8. However, he was one of two eliminated that week, as the prior week Matt Giraud was saved by the judges. Both Anoop and Lil Rounds hit the tarmac that week, as Anoop’s rendition of a Donna Summer tune “Dim All The Lights”, an off-gender cover of a relatively well-known Disco song, flopped big time.

Indeed, there have been 64 final performances in the finals up to the Final 5, and only 2 eliminations. Contrast that with 9 eliminations in first position, 7 for second, Moreover, a mere 4 were even in the bottom 3 while going last (Blake Lewis, Fantasia Barrino, Lil Rounds, and Ryan Starr).

Eliminations in the finals vs remaining contestants. 0 represents the pimp spot, whereas 1 is second-to-last, etc.

The effect of the pimp-spot is a classic case of correlation not implying causation. In fact, the scores of the last performer were consistently graded better than the mean low-scoring contestants of the same week. Outliers include Scott Savol, whose longevity defies explanation to this day; and Josh Gracin in season 2, who was not in the bottom 3 despite a horrendous version of “Celebration”. All the rest are within the margin of error.

Thus the producers are clearly placing the most entertaining or popular contestants last, those singers who consistently garnered scores about 25 points above the bottom 3 mean score. They have obvious reasons to do this, in preventing people from tuning out before their favorites come on. Alternatively, people for unknown reasons just like the person who comes last, and maybe going last gives the performer a confidence boost.

But, whatever the reason, the last contestant is likely to be very good, and similarly not very likely to be eliminated.

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