Top 9 pre-game

I’m working on a longer piece about song selection, and what choices are smart (statistically speaking) and which are not. For now, I’ve listed below all performances of Beatles songs, along with the breakdown of how well the performance was received and what the voting result was (the final column indicates if that contestant had already been in the Bottom 3). These are listed in order of approval rating. Anything below 50 is considered to have been scored below average (and, indeed, most of the not-safe people are in that half of the table).

There haven’t been too many repeats of any of these. Across the Universe (twice), Let It Be (twice) and Come Together (three times) have worked out well for those who sang them. Oh Darling and The Long and Winding Road have been a mixed bag—they worked for one person, not for another. That’s one reason I don’t put too much stock in analyses that focus solely on song choice.


Song Contestant WNTS Rating Result Bottom
Let It Be Brooke White 84 Safe No
Come Together Crystal Bowersox 83 Safe No
Come Together Carly Smithson 81 Safe No
Eleanor Rigby David Cook 81 Safe No
She’s A Woman Chikezie 81 Safe No
Blackbird Carly Smithson 71 Bottom Group No
While My Guitar Gently Weeps James Durbin 70 Safe No
With A Little Help From My Friends Casey Abrams 70 Safe No
Let It Be Katie Stevens 68 Safe Yes
The Long And Winding Road David Archuleta 68 Safe No
Across The Universe Siobhan Magnus 65 Safe No
Oh! Darling Katelyn Epperly 64 Safe No
Day Tripper David Cook 63 Safe No
Something Taylor Hicks 63 Safe No
Fixing A Hole Lilly Scott 62 Safe No
Yesterday Syesha Mercado 62 Safe Yes
Across The Universe Michael Johns 59 Safe No
All My Loving Tim Urban 57 Safe Yes
If I Fell Jason Castro 57 Safe No
Hey Jude Lee DeWyze 56 Safe No
Eleanor Rigby Michael Lynche 51 Saved No
You Can’t Do That Amanda Overmyer 51 Safe No
I’ve Just Seen A Face Chikezie 47 Safe No
Come Together Kris Allen 46 Safe Yes
Oh! Darling Jen Hirsh 45 Eliminated No
Here Comes The Sun Brooke White 43 Safe No
Michelle Jason Castro 43 Safe No
Here, There & Everywhere Clay Aiken 39 Eliminated No
A Day In The Life Michael Johns 38 Safe No
Got To Get You Into My Life Syesha Mercado 38 Bottom Group No
Can’t Buy Me Love Andrew Garcia 36 Bottom Group No
I Should Have Known Better Ramiele Malubay 35 Safe No
In My Life Ramiele Malubay 33 Safe No
The Long And Winding Road Aaron Kelly 33 Bottom Group No
Back In The U.S.S.R. Amanda Overmyer 29 Eliminated No
I Saw Her Standing There David Hernandez 26 Eliminated No
We Can Work It Out David Archuleta 18 Safe No
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away Kristy Lee Cook 17 Bottom Group Yes
I Want To Hold Your Hand Haeley Vaughn 12 Safe No
Eight Days A Week Kristy Lee Cook 5 Bottom Group No

Jessica Sanchez vs. Phil Phillips

Phil vs Jessica. These two contestants could hardly be more different.

Phillip Phillips has many traits that make him the favorite to win. He was featured in the auditions a lot, with a total pre-exposure time of more than 1000 seconds, and with his initial audition having been shown in-episode and in promos. He’s white, male, plays guitar, and sings mostly songs that are new to Idol. Compare that to winners past, and you check off a lot of boxes:

Contestant Season Sex Race Age
at start
Hometown Avg Of
WNTS Rating
2/3 ever?
Kelly Clarkson 1 F White 20 Burleson, TX 76.8 11 No
Ruben Studdard 2 M Black 24 Birmingham, AL 63.6 16 Yes (Top 5)
Fantasia Barrino 3 F Black 19 High Point, NC 65.4 10 Yes (twice)
Carrie Underwood 4 F White 21 Checotah, OK 57.3 15 No
Taylor Hicks 5 M White 29 Birmingham, AL 61.3 10 No
Jordin Sparks 6 F Black 17 Glendale, AZ 59.6 11 No
David Cook 7 M White 25 Blue Springs, MO 64.7 15 No
Kris Allen 8 M White 23 Conway, AR 61.1 7 Yes (Top 5)
Lee DeWyze 9 M White 23 Mount Prospect, IL 57.8 9 No
Scotty McCreery 10 M White 17 Garner, NC 52.5 13 No

Here are the stats for the finalists this year:

Contestant Sex Race Age
at start
Hometown Avg Of
WNTS Rating
2/3 ever?
Phillip Phillips M White 21 Leesburg, GA 54.1 11 No
Jessica Sanchez F Asian/
16 San Diego, CA 66.6 6 Yes (Top 7,

The mean age of winners is 21.8 years, and Phil is 21. Phil was never in the Bottom Group, just like 7/10 of his predecessors. All winners except Lee DeWyze and Jordin Sparks hailed from the South or Midwest United States, and Phil is from Georgia.

On the flip side you have Jessica Sanchez. She had significantly less pre-exposure (600 seconds), with her audition never having been shown. She’s non-white (mixed race, if I’m not mistaken), female, has never played an instrument on stage, sings mostly songs that have been sung on Idol before. If she were to win, she would be the youngest ever, at 16. She was the bottom-vote-getter in the Top 7 and had to be saved. She is from California, which has not yet produced a winner.

So, on a purely demographic and historical basis, she would appear to be the underdog.

What can we put in Jessica’s column that favors her? Her approval rating, as computed by WNTS, is significantly higher than Phil’s, at about 67, much more in line with previous winners. She has four performances rated higher than 80 on WNTS (Love You I Do, And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, I Will Always Love You, and Sweet Dreams), whereas Phil has only one (Volcano). The only contestants to win with as few as Phil has were Lee DeWyze (1 song over 80) and Scotty McCreery (0 songs over 80), so in this respect Jessica has the edge.

There is the matter that Jessica has a large following specifically because of her racial identity. Looking at Dialidol’s Geopredictions, Phil and Joshua barely registered any votes at all in Hawaii, a state with a large population of Filipinos. However, relying on that did not work out so well for Jasmine Trias, Camile Velasco, or Jonah Moananu.

As I said in an earlier post, I think Jessica can certainly win, but probably won’t. In light of the evidence above, I think you might agree that her odds hover somewhere around 2:1. But that’s enough of a margin that if she really kills it, she could take the title. This may be the first Finale since season 8 that actually mattered, and as such I think we can say that it’s been an entertaining year, despite the producer’s fumbles and the egregious judging.

Top 13 pre-game analysis

Here are some thoughts that may be of interest for this week.

The theme is split (first time that has happened, to my recollection), with Men singing Stevie Wonder songs and Women singing Whitney Houston songs. The site TIP reported that they thought it might therefore be a double elimination. However, the listing of the episode name on zap2it is “1 voted off”, so I highly doubt this.

This theme to me seems to play most against Skylar Laine and Jermaine Jones. Jones is sort of a crooner of lumbering tunes, a bad fit for the typically uptempo  tenor vocal style of Stevie Wonder. Laine may decide to xerox the Dolly Parton original of “I will always love you”, but I will note that the Parton version never charted on the Hot 100 (although it did on the Country version), mainly because it sucks. Moreover, there would obviously be some competition for that tune, and the producers haven’t been letting contestants repeat songs in recent years (but, again, who knows?).

As I noted a couple days ago, 3 out of 5 seasons that had a Wild Card pick had one removed in the first voting round. If we want to narrow that a bit, I could point out that they were all women. That would seem to single out Erika Van Pelt, but I would be very cautious, as Whitney Houston songs must be her bread and butter. Moreover, season 8 was a double elimination, which arguably knocks the number down to 2 out of 5.

But if I’m going to pick on someone whom I think is the most unlikely of any finalist, it’s Jeremy Rosado. To me he seems to have none of the things that make for a successful Idol contestant. His choice last week (can you recall?) was a Coldplay song that I had never heard of, never charted, and had very low recognition. His performance was bland; it’s better to be bad than forgettable.

Pre-game projections (for what they’re worth)

Here are the projections for the men and women in the first week, based on a model that assumes that each contestant puts in an average performance (50/100). As such, any variance depends only on pre-exposure. Note that I have included here Jermaine Jones and Schyler Dixon, and assumed that only 5 from each gender will get through to the finals based on voting, with perhaps 2-3 being chosen by the judges in a wild card round. This drags the percentages down from  the last pre-voting projection, which included only 12 people per gender and assumed 6 got through. As such, this is only a projection on what will happen on Thursday from voting. The individual probabilities are higher to “make the finals”, because that includes a wild card round, which a better singer is more likely to get picked in. These are probabilities for “being selected by the audience”. Continue reading

Top 3 pre-game: 3 chances to get it right

In the recent weeks, I’ve been saying that to the extent that any variable is important to who is eliminated, that variable was how well the contestant had done lately. That is, there was a significant effect of momentum, and contestants were eliminated even if they had a good week because people stuck with their favorites from the prior weeks.

For the Top 3, though, this isn’t the case. There is good statistical evidence that not only does performance matter, but the performance that matters most is the best performance that a contestant has that evening. The contestant can screw up on two songs so long as they don’t have the worst top-score for the night.

That being said, usually the worst average performer also has the lowest top-number for the night.

Supposing, though, that Haley Reinhart has a bad-to-disastrous run at What Is And What Should Never Be tomorrow night, which is very likely, as long as she comes out and kills it with one of her other songs (You Oughta Know being the most likely), I would still expect her to be safe. We don’t know what Lauren or Scotty will be singing, but historically these contestants have produced generally consistent but not stratospheric approval ratings. This is particularly true of Lauren Alaina, who is perceived (rightly) not to have had “a moment” on the show. This would be the time to do it, if she were going to.

So, no numbers this week. What happens this week is almost entirely dependent on what happens tomorrow night.

By the way, Dialidol has gotten 5/6 Top 3 calls correct. However, 7/9 calls were correct based on the above strategy, which is much stronger evidence.