Season 12 was unexpectedly short, just 10 weeks of finals, and it had no wildcard picks—all 10 people were voted in. But this year the wildcard was back, and it promoted C.J. Harris, Jena Irene, and Kristen O’Connor to the finals. How long should we expect these contestants to last, given that they didn’t get enough votes to advance from the semifinals?
It’s worth mentioning that we only have 6 seasons to compare to. Seasons 1, 2, 3, 8, 10, and 11 had wildcard picks, 10 women and 7 men. The first season had R.J. Helton; Season 2 was Kimberly Caldwell, Trenyce, and Carmen Rasmusen; Season 3 was Jennifer Hudson (!), George Huff, and Leah LaBelle. Season 8 had four picks: Anoop Desai, Matt Giraud, Jasmine Murray, and Megan Joy. In Season 10 Naima Adedapo, Stefano Langone, and Ashthon Jones were picked, and in Season 11 there was Deandre Brackensick, Erika Van Pelt, and Jeremy Rosado.
To see how long they last, we can first look at the distribution of the number of finals rounds that the contestants competed in before being eliminated. It’s more uniform than you’d think:
One would be forgiven for thinking wildcards are mostly heading for the chopping block quickly, and while 4 of them were eliminated immediately (Leah LaBelle, Jasmine Murray, Ashthon Jones, Jeremy Rosado), some stuck around for a long time.
A voted-in finalist, restricting ourselves to the seasons with wildcards, lasts on average 6.6 episodes before elimination. Three wildcards (Trenyce, George Huff, and Matt Giraud) lasted a full 8 rounds, well above the value for the average non-wildcard picks, and another three lasted slightly above that at 7 rounds (those were Carmen Rasmusen, Anoop Desai, and Stefano Langone). But the average for wildcards is 4.8, about one and a half episodes fewer than those voted in.
Note that most of the overachievers are men, and most of the underachievers are women. In fact, male wildcards last on average 5.8 rounds, but women wildcards only 4.1.
If I were to hazard a guess, I might wager on Kristen O’Connor having a relatively tough hill to climb to survive this first week. We don’t know, of course, how badly Kristen missed the Top 10 by voting, but as a female with that status, there’s a significantly higher chance of her being out immediately.