Opinion: the old semi-final system was great. Idol should go back to it.

Credit: Ricky.org

Credit: Ricky.org

As I’m working on a video retrospective of Season 2 of American Idol (I’ll release it soon—promise), I’m struck by how awful the semi-final system was that year. The way it worked was that they assembled a Top 12 starting with four groups of 8. However, only two people were selected from each group, and then the rest were decided by the judges. This led to the debacle that was Carmen Rasmussen. But also, that season’s finalists weren’t that great and overall it was kind of boring.
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A more subdued, mature Idol returns in Season 13


After an exhausting year in Season 12, one filled with drama (mainly due to Nikki and Mariah’s ostensible hatred of one another), Season 13 of American Idol is certainly lower-key. Out are the irascible Nikki Minaj and the dotty Mariah Carey, and in is Harry Connick Jr. Harry isn’t like any judge that’s ever been on the show; he’s a genuine musician, somebody who has been playing New Orleans jazz piano since he was small boy, someone who knows music theory and is vocal about the artistic merit of the music people make. In one of the auditions episodes, he lectured returning judge Jennifer Lopez on the pentatonic scale. He also provides a bit of the vituperative nature of Simon Cowell, making the current panel have many of the same dynamics as that with Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson had.

Which is to say, I’m a fan.
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Closing thoughts

As I said at the beginning of the year, my sole aim this season was to build a predictive model worth a damn, just to see if it could be done. In the end, the model was 93% accurate in calling people safe (including winner Candice Glover tonight) and picked the person eliminated 78% of the time (89% of those eliminated were ranked either first or second most likely to go, FWIW). That’s pretty decent.

The site found an audience, as well, which I suppose I’m happy about. The site was the top Google search for “Idol predictions” as of yesterday, and about 6000 unique visitors showed up to see the (thankfully correct) call of Candice as winner. About 3000 people found their way to the site weekly, on average, during the finals.


A brief introduction to statistical modeling

Here I talk a lot about “the model” as if it’s a living, breathing thing. But there isn’t anything mysterious about a model, it’s a totally understandable thing based on math, data, and a bunch of assumptions.

When you think about a “model” used in regular life, it’s something like a scale model of a building. Why is such a thing useful? After all, the model of a building isn’t functional in any of the same ways as the building itself. Nobody can live in it, go inside it. The model is useful, though, to a group of architects trying to lay out a neighborhood, or to a plumber deciding where to run his pipes. That is, a model is purposeful: it only has to be like the real system in a way that you get the information you need.

When you build a numerical model, you’re building a description of something. Consider the first thing most physics students learn: the path a ball takes when you toss it into the air.

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The difficult decisions coming up

This started out as a response to a comment on the Liveblog, but I seem to be unable to keep it concise.

And, well, I think that’s setting up a teeny bit of a false dichotomy, at least at this point in the competition. I love both Candice and Angie; they’re both super. Which one I like better varies nightly, and choosing between them in the final (what? no?) is going to be really hard. I think they’re equally talented singers, just with slightly different styles.

If I had to bet on who would be more successful commercially, I might be tempted to say Candice, but then again it’ll come down to what she ultimately records: hopefully she’ll rock it out like she did last night and on Come Together. Kelly Clarkson-style rock would really work for her, but if she records something like Tamyra Gray’s utterly forgettable album (I bet you’ve already forgotten it) then, well, she’ll do equally poorly. Luckily she’s a much stronger singer than Tamyra, and I imagine there are way more people looking to write for her voice than for Tamyra’s perfectly pleasant but far less exciting voice.

Angie, on the other hand, might end up another Idol-on-Broadway. She certainly can do that sort of thing, but I think there might be a place for her in the pop pantheon; unfortunately it would most likely be making music that I don’t particularly like, e.g. emo-ish stuff like Evanescence or what Colton Dixon sings. Then again, she could be the next Sara Bareilles; when she did her original song, it was much more reminiscent of that sort of thing, which I do like (albeit somewhat ashamedly).

And then there’s Kree… I do love me some Kree, even though I don’t really love me some country. But Kree is more versatile than many country people (I’m looking at you, Janelle), and she has a Liv Tyler-esque prettiness that I really appreciate. A top 3 of Angie, Candice, and Kree seems about right, but I’m just not sure which two will come out of it and which will be sent home. It may very well be that once Kree absorbs Janelle’s votes—I’m thinking Kree will outlast the less-talented Janelle easily—she may be able to surpass either Candice or Angie. For me it will probably come down to how I liked their performances on a given night, since cumulatively I can’t choose between the trio.

We got really lucky with the girls this year, huh?