The American Idol glass ceiling

In the most recent IdolAnalytics forecast, Adanna Duru is assigned a probability of being safe of only about 25%. Rayvon Owen is assigned a 55% probability of being safe, even though he has an equal percentage of Votefair votes, and Adanna had a significantly higher score for her song according to WhatNotToSing. True, Rayvon sang a bit later in the show, but what accounts for the huge difference?

Let’s look at all finals results without multiple performances by WhatNotToSing rating, and I’ll break it down into men and women:

CompositeThe first thing to notice is that there are significantly more women with high (> 60) ratings who were in the bottom group, 17 women out of 108, versus just 12 men out of 117. Women in this group were in the bottom 3 or eliminated at a rate of 16% versus only 10% for men.

The men in this group (Elliott Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Phil Stacey twice, Matt Giraud, Anoop Desai twice, Adam Lambert, Casey James, Michael Lynche, and Joshua Ledet twice) had an average WNTS of 71.4. The women (Paris Bennett, Carly Smithson  twice, Syesha Mercado twice, Allison Iraheta twice, Pia Toscano, Haley Reinhart, Erika Van Pelt twice, Elise Testone twice, Skylar Laine, Jessica Sanchez, Malaya Watson, and Jessica Meuse) were more numerous and had a slightly higher mean WNTS (72.3). More of them got robbed, and they got robbed even more than the men. Two women with scores above 80 were eliminated (Paris Bennett and Pia Toscano), which has never happened for men.

But the effect extends to more average performances as well. The black curves on the plots are the probability of being safe for each of the WNTS ratings (for an average popularity and not having been in the bottom 3 before) controlling for performance order, meaning that the effect of performance order is factored out. The men have a probability of being safe starting at 0.466 for a rating of 0, and 0.965 for a rating of 100. The women have a probability of being safe starting at 0.321 for a rating of 0, and 0.939 for a rating of 100. No matter how you cut it, you are at a significant disadvantage by being a women.

Anyway, this isn’t a surprise to anyone who watches the show. Of the 13 previous seasons, only 4 winners have been women. But here is the mathematical basis for the disadvantage that women face in American Idol, and it’s horrible. I said in last week’s liveblog that the save should only be used on women, and this is the reason I see for that.

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