Top 8: Experts vs Idol Analytics

The Zap2It American Idol Exit Poll has published this week’s picks. Here they are alongside my model.

Why are the experts so confident about Paul? Nobody would lay any money on Haley? And they say it’s six times more likely that Paul goes than Stefano? This is weird. If somebody were to offer me 4:1 odds on Stefano, I’d be on that in a heartbeat. Of course, the people polled only get one pick, and they don’t collaborate. Still, that’s very certain. They are also notably sure that Jacob won’t go. I just don’t see the wisdom here. Again, 4 or 5 to 1 on Jacob, I’d take that bet.

Top 8 Forecast

Here’s a bit more detail than I previously printed. The name, gender is printed, followed by the preliminary approval rating from WNTS, the Dialidol score (also preliminary), the average of the 3 previous rounds WNTS scores, and finally the projected probability of going home.

       Contestant Sex WNTS.Rating Dialidol.score PriorAverage  Probability
1   Paul McDonald   M          20          11.83        51.66   0.14932005
3 Stefano Langone   M          58          12.09        36.66   0.12445903
7      Jacob Lusk   M          43          16.56        56.00   0.07198350
5    Casey Abrams   M          39          10.86        58.66   0.06979012
4 Scotty McCreery   M          45          22.93        58.33   0.06134782
6  Haley Reinhart   F          46          11.77        58.00   0.06083877
2   Lauren Alaina   F          63          14.32        69.66   0.02243664
8    James Durbin   M          71          13.98        74.00   0.01471944

Paul McDonald is forecast to go home, with Stefano as a close second. Dialidol predictions at this stage in the contest are pretty bad, and they don’t predict anything anyway—nearly all the scores are the same. Gender doesn’t factor basically at all. What does factor in is the average of the three previous rounds score (from WNTS) and the preliminary results for this night (shown above)

This was a dismal night, to be honest. While this season has been on average 4 points better than any other season, tonight was its nadir, and was below the finals average, historically speaking.

James Durbin should be safe (what Dialidol says notwithstanding). Jacob, Casey, Scotty, and Haley are all running almost even. If I had to guess, I would put my money on Haley to round out the bottom 3, but ultimately be safe on the strength of the previous two weeks, which were popular and kept her out of the bottom 3.

Top 9 Projections

I sure hope this is wrong

Contestant Probability of elimination
Haley Reinhart 0.289
Lauren Alaina 0.189
Stefano Langone 0.181
Jacob Lusk 0.131
Paul McDonald 0.018
Casey Abrams 0.015
Pia Toscano 0.006
James Durbin 0.002
Scotty McCreery 0.001

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really feel wrong to me. Women get the short stick when it comes to the Top 9, even in rounds where there are only 3 of them left. Haley’s performance was good, but not quite good enough according to the model, especially considering the order that she went.

Now there is no clear favorite to go. Haley, Lauren, Stefano, and Jacob are the likely bottom vote getters. Everyone else has a much smaller probability. But it would not be shocking if Stefano (P = 18%) were to go instead of Haley (P = 29%). But, the smart money is on Haley.

Top 9 pre-game odds

Let’s get right to it

Name Probability of elimination
Haley 0.218
Lauren 0.126
Pia 0.125
Paul 0.124
Stefano 0.097
Casey 0.093
Scotty 0.092
Jacob 0.079
James 0.052

Now that we’re in the Top 9, the odds of being eliminated as a man get marginally bigger. The problem here is that the data from previous seasons is lopsided towards women; therefore, I’ve based current projections only on seasons with 3 or 4 women only left in the Top 9. This week now incorporates average prior approval ratings into the mix, taking the average of the last three weeks.

Conventional wisdom is that Pia Toscano needs to step up her game, and I don’t see any reason why this is wrong. Despite having only 3 women, they are still at a huge disadvantage here, and her performances lately have been perceived as boring. Her song choice this week, River Deep – Mountain High, is in my opinion a terrible choice. It is a marginally well-known song, and has a limited but disastrous track record on the show. She runs the risk of being forgettable very easily; if you’re rooting for her, it could come down to performance order, so hope for the pimp spot.

Last week notwithstanding, Haley Reinhart is still in big trouble. She has to beat Paul and Stefano by about 10 points to not be considered likely to be in the bottom 3. Lauren, Pia, and Paul are all about equally likely to go, and so their performances will sort them out. The only people I consider bulletproof are Jacob Lusk and James Durbin, though Jacob is certainly singing against type this week, as it’s Rock and Roll and he is more of a soul/R&B guy.

Sizing up the competition

By and large, I would say that a general rule of American Idol is that the eventual winner comes out early with a very good performance. By “a very good performance”, I would qualify that as something that scores 85 or better on the approval ratings. Only one winner ever, Taylor Hicks, has managed to win the title without a score of 85 or better in the first few weeks. Kelly Clarkson had one in the second week of the finals, as did Ruben Studdard, Carrie Underwood, and Jordin Sparks. Fantasia didn’t have one until week 5. David Cook and Lee DeWyze had theirs in the 3rd week, and Kris Allen in the 4th.

We are now past week 4, and we have three performances over this threshold:

Contestant Song WNTS Rating
Pia Toscano I’ll Stand By You 91
Jacob Lusk A House Is Not A Home 88
Casey Abrams I Put A Spell On You 85

In fact, the people who got scores over 85 in the finals reads like a who’s-who of Idol finalists. Of those 40 contestants, only 6, George Huff, Trenyce, Siobahn Magnus, Amy Adams, Mandisa, and Constantine Maroulis, failed to make the Top 4. Huff missed by only one, Magnus and Maroulis by two, each in a huge upset.

If one of the other contestants wants to make a showing, the time to do so is rapidly passing. Lauren Alaina, for instance, generally scores well. But without a huge memorable performance to insulate her, one false step could send her packing.