This year the auditions were abysmal (light spoilers)

Holy moley. Where to even begin with this year? I’m basically in agreement with this blog post at votefortheworst. Let me illustrate why.

In the prior 10 seasons one—only one—out of sixty two auditions episodes had no semi-finalists shown (season 6, episode 1). This year had four. Four whole episodes where not a single semi-finalist was shown. Out of seven. So more than half.

Not that the producers can totally be blamed: the Aspen and St Louis auditions both produced no semi-finalists. San Diego produced 2, but neither was shown. For illustration purposes, let’s plot the fraction of semifinalist auditions shown by year:

This year has the single lowest percentage shown in the entire history, and only about half of the percentage of any season in the modern history (since Season 3).

Given how lousy the rate was for some of the cities, this year was perfect for a “Best of the Rest” show, which was done in seasons 3, 6, 7, and 9. Time could have also been better spent in Houston, where only 2 semifinalists out of 5 were shown.

But thank goodness we got to see nearly 4 minutes of Ben Purdom auditioning even though he had a stuffy nose. He didn’t get through, by the way.

Look: the audition rounds are always the worst part of the show (with the group rounds coming in a close second and the Top 2 performances third). But this year? At least in past years the bad auditions were sometimes funny. There was no William Hung, no Pants on the Ground. No person who looked like they would suck but actually were quite competent. The only moment that was even so-so was Phillip Phillips’ acoustic rendition of Thriller, though after countless cross-genre acoustic covers even that seemed old.

Well, at least this season can’t get any worse. Right?

Physics envy, intangibles, and Idol

I really hope that you take the time to read Nate Silver’s blog fivethirtyeight, now part of the New York Times. Silver is a successful developer of numerical models of baseball, and has since turned the same methods onto politics. What I like best about his analysis is how unfirm his predictions are: he’s careful in consideration of variables, always gives an error estimate, and rightly criticizes the practice of overfitting.

When I say overfitting, I mean the following. Suppose that I want to model a certain physical phenomenon like air flow over an airfoil. Then, the flow rate at all points can be absolutely modeled as a function of things like the shape of the airfoil, the density of air, the moisture concentration, and at most a few other variables. That is, in principle it is possible to find a relationship where there is no unpredictability or aspects of the observed data that are not captured by the model. Just collect more data until your noise is small, and do a fit. Continue reading

Idol Sighting

Out here where we live, celebrity sightings are pretty rare. You almost never see them going about their day as if they were ordinary people (which of course they’re not! and of course I’m kidding about that). But last night we had our first genuine Idol sighting at the Moreno Valley Panera. We came in and who was ordering dinner for himself and his child but Moreno Valley homeboy Andrew Garcia. We were pretty surprised to see him, given how un-fabulous Moreno Valley is compared to LA. I opted not to be a total dork and bother him, particularly since he had his kid with him, but I was definitely tempted.

I was always a fan of Andrew, particularly after his awesome rendition of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up.” I voted for him every week, and was sad to see him go. I found it pretty funny that every time they filmed something inside his parents’ house, it looked exactly┬álike the inside of my house. I think we might live in the same tract or something. Hey Andrew, if you’re reading this (yeah right), are the hot and cold reversed in your parents’ master bathroom shower?

I continue to be a fan of Andrew Garcia not only because I like his music, but because from time to time he advocates staying out of gangs and the gang lifestyle to his Twitter followers. I think that’s a really great thing for him to do; he’s been there, done that, and can speak with authority that that’s not a good road to go down. He sets a good example, I think, of someone who got out of that life and pursued his dream (successfully!).

So good for you, Andrew, and I wish you well in all your future endeavors.

Worst finale ever?

More people watch the Top 2 than watch the Top 3. The average Top 2 performance episode (Seasons 1-9) got a higher Nielsen rating than the Top 3 by an average of 0.83 in the 18-49 demographic. It has never gone down.

Until this year.

This is the first evidence I’ve seen that the voting system in Idol might be having problems. The public was liking this season better than last year’s contest. The Top 3 was markedly better than last year, but last night many fewer people watched.

Huge caveat: the episode last night was moved to Tuesday from its normal slot on Wednesday to get the Finale into the May sweeps schedule. So, it’s possible Dancing With The Stars took some votes away here.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to see that the voters voted in a Top 2 that fewer people went out of their way to watch.

PS: The drop in Season 7 after the Top 5 was when Brooke White was eliminated. What’s up with that???

Few pathways to victory for Haley Reinhart

The event of 2 of the Top 3 being country-type artists is severely limiting the possibility of Haley Reinhart winning the competition.

Suppose we know that Haley is edging out Scotty McCreery in the voting as it is right now. I find this unlikely, given how much Scotty has over-performed his numbers, but let’s assume it for the sake of argument. Then, supposing that this week Lauren Alaina is eliminated, where will all her votes go?

The answer is probably not “nowhere”. Finales in American Idol tend to get a huge number of votes, more than any other stage in the competition. Season 8 had 100 million votes in the finale, whereas there were only 88 million votes in the Top 3 round. The multi-million votes for Danny Gokey likely weren’t lost. What I think happened was that Gokey’s votes were apportioned among the two remaining contestants (most for Kris Allen, I’d guess), and then people voted 13% more because of excitement over the finale. The only other explanation is that all of Gokey’s votes dropped out, but the remaining voters voted approximately 50% more times. This is possible, but I don’t find it that likely.

Thus the outcome that’s most likely is that Lauren is eliminated, Scotty picks up her votes, and beats Haley in the finale by a comfortable margin. Needless to say, if Scotty were to somehow be eliminated this week, the situation is mostly the same, though Haley’s chances might improve somewhat.

Now, there could be a hidden variable here, in that Haley may have been picking up votes from all of the contestants who have gone in recent weeks (sort of like The Highlander). Casey Abrams’s votes very probably could have gone to her, as well as Jacob Lusk’s and James Durbin’s.

But only if Haley has a very substantial lead can she hope to win. And as much as I’d like that outcome, I wouldn’t put any money on it.