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Tapdancing On the Tightrope 4/11


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Tapdancing On the Tightrope 4/11


OK, we’re doing quick and dirty ranking of how well people did tonight and how likely they are to get through to tomorrow.  Once we have our Top 12 tomorrow I’ll evaluate their ranking with both performances taken into account.


1. Chayce Beckham, “Waiting In Vain” by Bob Marley & The Wailers

I'm amused that Chayce's past as a reggae-singer has resurfaced, but reworked into an alt-country song.  Chayce is beginning to feel increasingly inevitable to me.  It's a sign of the overall strength of the season that the rock/alt-country WGWG with an affecting backstory, distinctive voice, and ability to emote hasn't already been declared the inevitable winner by everyone EXCEPT me, leading me to roll my eyes about jumping to conclusions and snark at the crowd.  It's weird that this year I'm the one kinda wondering if he's already won. But if he does get sent home at some point, it's not going to be after a pimp-spot song-flip.  See you next week Chayce.


2. Willie Spence, “Set Fire To The Rain” by Adele

This was actually my favorite performance from Willie.  It felt more dynamic and passionate than he has previously, including a fakeout with avoiding going full-belt at first, and reserving his power for a more gradual build.  The end got a bit out of control, but kudos to him for getting through the bizarrely awkward key change in the arrangement without a disaster.  Sailing through to the next round. 


3. Casey Bishop, “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

Casey is a Haley fan correct?  Because there were a lot of elements from Haley’s Postmodern Jukebox performance of this song which popped up in Casey’s rendition, even if the arrangement wasn’t similar.  That being said, this was actually my favorite performance of the night, and my favorite Casey performance.  This is the most control she’s had over her voice and especially her upper range, but she continues to throw herself into the song even when she’s not on the verge of going off the rails.  There was maybe a hint of reservation in the performance, but it was solid.  I’d be extremely shocked if she didn’t get the votes for Top 10.


4. Grace Kinstler, “Elastic Heart” by Sia

Grace seems to have taken Joss’ advice from last week to heart, as she held back for the early part of the song before unleashing in the end.  It wasn’t as much of a knockout blow as what she delivered at the end of her duet though.  The arrangement, again,  felt awkward.  It didn’t slow the song to a full ballad, but cut out the driving beat which keeps it going, so it felt like an awkward mid-tempo.  I think in this case pulling back for a full ballad would’ve worked better.  Still, there is virtually no chance of her missing the vote.


5. Cassandra Coleman, “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak

This performance had pros and cons, and I could see it being very divisive.  Personally, I thought the opening section, which was more intimate, was magical.  However, when she tries for more power, she loses some of the interest in her voice, and starts to verge on strained.  However, my husband thought it didn’t get interesting until that point.  The whole thing continues to feel distinctive and identifiably her, which helps with voting.  It’s memorable.  However, as the competition continues to narrow, I wonder if she’ll have trouble attracting a wider base.  I think she’s most likely in the Top 12, probably by vote but by WC if not.  However, if Ava makes it by vote, Cassandra doesn’t, and the judges have some hard choices of who to put through, I could see a scenario where she doesn’t get through.


6. Beane, “Searching For A Feeling” by Thirdstory

After a scare with his mediocre solo last week, Beane delivered much more strongly this week.  This was probably the first time we’ve seen him give what felt like a sincerely emotional performance, without quite as much superficial glitz.  Given that Beane seems like one of the contestants most likely to attract a rabid “my Idol and NO OTHER” fanbase, that emotional connection has additional weight, and I think he probably had a good chance of attracting broader support.  I do wonder somewhat if choosing the only truly obscure song on a night of pretty well known material might have been a hindrance.  I think he most likely goes through on votes, and is probably the #1 most likely guy to get a WC, but if push came to shove I could see a couple of the women potentially taking the spot from him.


7. Alyssa Wray, “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack

I’m glad this song finally, after 19 years, made it onto the show, it was one of the strangest omissions of a classic tune.  I’m not sure it did Alyssa any favors though.  Roberta Flack’s version is very smooth and controlled, and the Fugees version runs heavily on the groove of the arrangement.  This felt too manipulated, it weighed the song down, and because the opening is exposed the exaggerated tone felt more jarring.  She would’ve been better off to either commit to the restraint, or go full uptempo.  I think she’s potentially on the bubble voting wise, and this could be an issue for her momentum.  However, as a previously strong contestant and the only Black woman left in the competition, she’s the #1 guarantee of a WC among those who might need it.


8. Caleb Kennedy, “Midnight Train to Memphis” by Chris Stapleton

Caleb was passable this week, and still has a sufficient grasp on the Country base that he is a strong contender for Top 10.  This felt a bit monotonous though, and a bit inauthentic, which may have a negative impact in the future.  I’m not sure why these teenagers keep singing Chris Stapleton songs about being a landscape of bad decisions when they haven’t even had a bad prom date yet?  If he needed a WC he might not get one, but I doubt he’ll need one at this point.


9. Ava August, “2002” by Anne-Marie

It is… uncomfortable that Ava is singing about 2002, when she wouldn’t be born for 3-4 years at that point.  I don’t think this was as good as either of her performances last week, which puts Ava in a tentative position.  The song lacks any real emotional weight or notable melody, which made it feel like filler, and while Ava has a distinctive tone, she’s not necessarily experienced enough to make a bland song interesting by sheer power of her artistry.  Last week’s momentum may be enough to carry her through to the Top 10 by votes, but this does slow down some of its impact.  Like Cassandra, if she needed a WC I could see her getting it, but if the other was already in the Top 10 and there were limited spots, Ava could fall short.


10. Hunter Metts, “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver

This was better than Hunter’s performance last week.  It felt less timid and constrained, and he had the resources necessary to deliver the song unlike last time.  Of the overabundance of WGWGs (6/9), he feels most likely to attract some free-floating votes aside from Chayce.  I think he most likely takes the last Top 10 spot by votes, but if he misses I don’t really see him getting a WC.  He feels disposable in the way some other people don’t.


11. Alanis Sophia, “The Story” by Brandi Carlile

It’s possible I’m overly pessimistic about Alanis’ chances of advancing.  I just feel like she’s going to struggle to connect to the Idol audience.  Both her solo last week and this week were big belty numbers that are beyond what she can quite manage comfortably.  Some of the big notes worked, some were rough, but comparison to Brandi, one of the biggest powerhouse singers working right now, isn’t necessarily favorable.  I also feel like there’s an emotional disconnect continuing in her performance.  I think she’s a very likely Wild Card if she misses the vote, but it feels like she’s going to need it.  


12. Wyatt Pike, “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon

This felt a bit toothless.  The very first line felt like it was going to hold onto the raw and energetic tone of the Kings of Leon original, but then Wyatt kind of closed in on himself and it got limited in scope.  The performance felt awkwardly jittery at times, and the vocal was undistinguished.  In a pack full of WGWGs, I’m not sure Wyatt did enough to stand out, and while he’s been solid thus far, he hasn’t been outstanding enough at any one time enough to guarantee a solid backing.  Not completely out of the running for Top 10, but I don’t see him getting a WC.


13. DeShawn Goncalves, “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone

It’s basically another round of the same thing with DeShawn.  Capable vocals, delivered without any musicality or charisma.  At least this time he actually landed the notes he was trying to hit, but he never delivers anything which feels notable outside the individual note, it doesn’t hang together into something cohesive.  He has very little chance of making the Top 10, but I could see him as a default WC if all the necessary people get in.


14. Graham DeFranco, “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra

I honestly barely registered anything from this performance.  Well, I liked the arrangement reasonably well, it would be nice as a mid-set breather on a jazz club set.  But everything was completely impactless.  Graham has mostly bored me up to this point, but he had a few nice vocal moments last week.  Nothing this week was notable.  Won’t get votes, and has 0 chance of getting a Wild Card.


15. Colin Jamieson, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears

The breathiness is starting to verge on self-parody, and he remains pure cheeze-wiz on stage.  Last week at least had some energy, this felt completely lightweight.  I don’t know why people keep doing this song on Idol, it’s a terrible fit for the format unless you’re going to do the uber-dramatic Lorde arrangement.  0 chance of a Wild Card, and I think very little chance of the votes.


16. Madison Watkins, “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles”

Madison feels like she barely snuck into the Top 16, and I don’t think this was what she needed to make up the lost ground.  Mostly she’s been a solid technical vocalist, even if last week got somewhat desperate, but she was very shaky this time.  The tears read more as struggle than emotional connection to me, and I don’t think she really did enough to motivate votes from tentative supporters or draw new ones in.  




Top 10












Wild Cards









Edited by muse273
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Top 12 Ranking


Ok, contemplations with the Top 12 revealed.


I’ve been thinking about this group a lot over the past few days.  I’m actually extremely happy with the outcome overall.  I don’t hate anyone in the Top 12 with a burning passion, which might be the first time ever in my Idol viewing experience.  There are some who I don’t particularly care for in terms of style, and some who are slipping in my estimation as the competition goes on.  But none of them are blatantly undeserving of being there like, say, Lazaro or Gianna.  I’m sure there’s still time for at least one elimination to infuriate me, but we’re starting from a strong position.


While none these performances were absolute showstoppers, I think many people gave their best solo performances thus far.  Ava, Casey, and Beane particularly stood out.  With one exception, none were truly terrible.


As a result, I’ve been spending less time thinking about the immediate “Is this person going to be able to get through next episode without utter collapse,” and more about what makes a successful long-term Idol campaign.  Especially since we actually have a semi-decent number of performance episodes to come.  


I would say there are four primary elements which contribute to a winning Idol campaign.  No winner has clearly delivered on all four, although a couple hit three and could have a fourth argued.  Nearly all hit more than their Finale competition.  I would break them down as follows:


Standout Moments- These are the classic Idol MOMENTS, the performances which generate serious buzz and momentum, and which have the power to convert casual voters into consistent supporters, potentially for the rest of the contestant’s run.  We could all name a dozen or more.  These are weighted towards the earlier stages of the competition, when voters’ minds are less made up about who to support.  I’ve noted in the past that the sweet spots for these to land are usually the second performance (1st to a lesser extent) and 5th-6th (7th to a lesser extent) that we see from a contestant, with diminishing returns afterwards. 

Former winners- Kelly, David Cook, Candice, Fantasia, Trent, Carrie; Arguably (for various reasons) Caleb, Kris, Maddie, Jordin, Lee


Consistency- A contestant’s ability to avoid delivering performances which would potentially cause undecided voters to permanently turn against them, or even make their supporters lose interest.  This is somewhat variable, because it can differ depending on the contestant’s genre, and can be relative in comparison to the contestant’s general standard.  Many vocally dominant contestants have given numerous outstanding performances, but started to sag in the taxing late season, delivering performances which would be perfectly fine from less gifted competitors, but disappoint in comparison to their own highlights.  Crystal is an excellent example.  On the other side there are contestants whose performances may not universally grab the Idolsphere as a whole, but never really disappoint those who prefer their style, such as Scotty.  It’s possible to slide by 1-2 isolated off-putting performances, but racking up a large number, putting them in succession, or (again) delivering them in the late game can be very damaging.

Former winners-  Kelly, Cook, Candice, Kris, Maddie, Trent, Caleb, Ruben, Carrie, Taylor, Nick, Scotty, Laine; Arguably Jordin


Growth- Idol voters love a growth arc! It’s an Idol truism.  While a fantastic performer right from the start is captivating, watching someone who’s still a raw talent develop on live tv has its own appeal.  Especially because Idol in particular mythologizes the unknown-to-superstar image, unlike various competing shows which either tend towards more established performers, or briefer views of their growth.  This is somewhat the reverse of Standout Moments, as it is weighted towards the late stages of the competition rather than the beginning.  While it’s difficult (but not impossible) to deliver real knockout punches late in the game when people are mostly decided, a growth arc can elevate the impact of a slightly lower tier but still strong performance (around the high 70’s-mid 80’s on WNTS), or turn an out of nowhere moment into an even bigger gamechanger (Heartless being maybe the greatest example).  Backstory and the emotional weight of certain moments can also play a certain role here.

Former winners- Kris, Maddie, Fantasia, Trent, Jordin, Lee, Phillip; Arguably Nick, Cook


Funnels- Longtime readers may recall my discussions of this factor in the past, and it’s too lengthy to go into extreme depth here.  Essentially, this is the number of competitors whose voters overlap with a potential victor but also cover a different slice of their genre/demographic/style.  If a contestant is the only one who appeals to a certain segment of Idol voters, they run the risk of those voters who aren’t 100% on board with their subsection of that style tuning out or losing interest in voting, which limits the lonely contestant’s ability to expand their voting base.  For example, if the only rock contestant in the finals is a growly grunge guy, then voters who prefer classic Southern rock or current pop-rock might not have much reason to keep paying attention.  However, if there were three rockers, then by the time Hayley Williams goes out at Top 6 and Gregg Allman is eliminated at Top 6, some of their fans may have heard performances from Eddie Vedder that were close enough to their preferred style that they’re inclined to vote for him in the Top 2 over the completely different soul belter he’s up against.  This category can be particularly nebulous, since many contestants straddle multiple genres (for example, Kris had both folk and soul elements to his style).  It can also get tricky depending on the circumstances of the supporting contestant’s elimination.  If it was particularly cruel or unjustified, especially in the late game when people are strongly invested, their voters may be outraged enough to boycott altogether.  For example, while Hollie and Jessica in Season 11 shared quite a lot of territory which theoretically would make Jessica the most likely recipient of her castoff voters, Hollie was also eliminated after a string of episodes in which she was perceived to be unfairly targeted by the judges/producers, leaving many of her voters burnt out by the Top 3/2.

Former Winners- Kelly, Cook, Candice, Kris, Maddie, Fantasia, Ruben, Carrie, Taylor, Jordin, Lee, Phillip; Arguably Trent, Scotty, Laine


(Season 18 was so truncated and bizarre as to be basically unanalyzable in the wider context of Idol, but in a normal season Sam could potentially have done quite well in both Moments and Growth, but may have struggled with Consistency and Funnels)


There other aspects which can come into play, with the elephant in the room being demographics.  Let’s just be up front and call it the WGWG factor.  This can definitely play a role in how a season proceeds.  However, it’s a mixed bag. While there have obviously been many WGWG winners, there have also been numerous others who were eliminated along the way, being outlasted by competitors who were none of the above.  I would say this is less of a primary factor, and more of a tiebreaker.  Men, white people, and instrumentalists (and Southerners) frequently edge past people who are roughly on par with them, but in most cases it’s not enough to leapfrog someone past contestants who are delivering much more strongly on the primary factors. It’s also somewhat covered by the Funnels aspect, especially since the classic WGWGs are mostly folk/rock/country types with a lot of stylistic similarities to each other beyond the acronym.


These are the deep thoughts on my mind as I put together the rankings for the final. 

Edited by muse273
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1. Chayce Beckham (Previous Round 4), “What Brings Life Also Kills” by Kolton Moore and the Clever Few”


I had a subconscious feeling that Chayce was a formidable competitor, but consideration of the long-term factors put those feelings into much more coherent form.  In many ways he reminds me of Maddie, although it remains to be seen whether he can match her mastery of Idol strategy.  Like her, while he is not a powerhouse vocalist like some of his competition, he is well within the expectations of his genre, and has been technically solid thus far.  His Consistency is likely to be high, especially as he’s shown the ability to cross genres while maintaining a coherent artistic profile.  He also has strong potential for Growth.  Because he has primarily been campaigning on interpretation rather than heavy vocal or performance display, relatively small steps could have a larger impact compared to someone who’s already displaying powerhouse vocals like Grace.  I question his ability to deliver a Moment on the basis of pure performance, however he still has emotional depth to potentially dig into, which could potentially provide a major momentum boost at a key moment.


However, the largest factor I see favoring Chayce is the Funnel aspect.  By virtue of being at a comfortable genre intersection of folk, country, and rock, Chayce shares potential voters with most of the Finalists.  Casey and Caleb in particular are fairly close to his style, without having any other contestants who would clearly benefit from their departure.  Additionally, because his two closest competitors are very similar in style, and likely to go deep into the competition, it may be difficult for the competitors he DOESN’T share potential voters with to clearly line up behind one or the other.  This again reminds me of S16, where due to Caleb and Gabby both making the Finale, their fans remained divided (as the Finale is the point where voters are least likely to share votes), leaving Maddie in a stronger position even aside from her superior Finale performances.


2. Grace Kinstler (Previous Round 1), “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande


Grace is likely to take a different path towards success from Chayce.  Her strongest suit is the potential to deliver game-changing Moments, which she has arguably approached already with her Midnight Train To Georgia duet.  She’s more than capable of delivering the vocal wattage to power a showstopping performance, more than any of her competitors.  She’s also shown the most signs of someone looking for songs which resonate with her backstory or the moment, in that way which turns a strong performance into a great one.  While none of them have quite taken that step yet, all three of her live solos (and her showstopper choice) have been in line with her story and emotional arc.  She also has some potential for Growth in certain directions.  Dangerous Woman was a step towards a more energetic and confident stage performance than she’s shown previously.  She also hasn’t really done a full-on classic emotional ballad aside from her showstopper.  Her already evident vocal prowess may make this a tough impression to fully sell though.  


Consistency is somewhat of a question mark.  I’ve discussed her occasionally poor musical choices, and while she’s a powerful vocalist she doesn’t have quite the polished uniformity that a truly seasoned professional like Melinda had.  These could potentially drag her performances down at key moments, especially in comparison to her basic level of capability.  In a shorter season like the recent ones, she might be able to slide through easily, but there will be enough performances this year that maintaining a consistently high level might be tricky.  She also faces the issue I mentioned earlier, in that her strongest voter overlap is with Willie, who is also likely to go far.  Alyssa may be somewhat more likely to transfer voters to Grace than Willie, but it’s a hard call.  Casey could also share a little territory, but probably less than Chayce.  Given Grace has thus far been choosing more pop-rock material than soul, it’s somewhat to her detriment that Alanis didn’t last.


3. Willie Spence (Previous Round 3), “Diamonds” by Rihanna


Willie seems to be following a third frequent path to victory, which relies primarily on Consistency.  It is entirely possible that he currently has the highest number of core voters, based on his early exposure and the show’s promotion.  I am skeptical that it is as large a gap as may be believed (his social media dominance isn’t a fraction of Alejandro’s lead, and we know how that ended), but he has a strong head start.  He’s also a steady performer for the most part, with a high baseline of quality.  If he maintains those factors, and his competition fails to capitalize on their own strategies, he could chart a steady course to the winner’s circle.  However, his last performance suggests to me that we have seen close to the limit of his abilities as a vocalist.  He strained a fair bit towards the end of Diamonds, and at times in Set Fire To The Rain although it was less obtrusive.  While I thought SFTTR overall was his best performance, and very good overall, it didn’t reach full Moment level, and I’m skeptical that he has a lot of extra to give.  The main potential way for him to stretch would be if he gave a more emotionally connected performance, but I haven’t seen a major inclination that way either.  


Obviously, the Funnel aspect which may give Grace issues also faces Willie.  DeShawn is maybe the most direct support Willie has among the cast, but he is also likely to be gone in the near future.  Nobody else really boosts Willie when they leave, with the possible exception of Alyssa, but that’s a hard call between him and Grace.  If one of the two goes home early, it could have a major impact on how things play out.  However, given both are frontrunners, it would likely be a classic shock boot, which has major potential to lead to their supporters checking out altogether.  


4. Casey Bishop (Previous Round 7), “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals


I am somewhat surprised by how quickly Casey has grown on me, as I really am not a fan of most teen contestants.  However, she’s delivered very strongly since Hollywood, possibly the overall strongest set of 3 semifinal solos.  While Decode still left me concerns about her potential for disaster, both Black Hole Sun and House of the Rising Sun were surprisingly controlled without feeling restrained.  She’s also one of the most energetic performers left, especially as Alyssa’s rapidly plummeting.  These combine to give her a strong potential to deliver a Moment, although it may take more luck and good timing to land on the exact right song/arrangement/time confluence.  She also has a high chance of a Growth arc.  This is almost inherent to capable teen contestants, as they start with lower expectations, and are often openly developing their skills during the competition.  Casey already has a start on this, as her Hollywood performances were somewhat overwhelming, making her recent show of strength more impactful.


Consistency remains a big concern for me.  While her last two performances didn’t show any major issues, the spectre of a vocal blowout remains in the background.  Her lack of experience may also start to cause trouble when themes start becoming more narrow.  A knowledgeable contestant has a chance to find a workable option in all but the most limited themes.  Blake was an excellent example, using both the “find an outside the box” method (his Country choice for example), or “rearrange it until it works” (do I really need to specify which?).  However, a younger contestant who isn’t familiar with as much repertoire outside their genre might end up defaulting to a poor choice.  She also doesn’t have many potential funnels, other than Chayce who is likely to out last her.


5. Ava August (Previous Round 6), “Love of My Life” by Queen


Again, the teenagers ranking well in my estimation is… just weird.  And my favorite is a country-adjacent WGWG?  Are we through the looking glass?  Anyway, Ava has a lot in common strategically with Casey, despite being very different performers.  She has also delivered some very strong performances, with her duet potentially nearing Moment status.  While it’s harder to deliver a Moment based on interpretation than on vocal prowess, it’s not entirely impossible, and Ava has shown a solid vocal base to build off of.  She also shares the inherent Growth potential Casey has due to her age, and has already shown a significant amount as she’s gone from apparent fodder to a possible contender.  She also benefits from a similar aspect to Chayce, as her more restrained style leaves more room for smaller steps to read bigger.


On the other hand, Consistency is a mixed bag.  For her age, Ava has been remarkably stable performer.  This was very evident in her victory performance, because she had to cope with an awful arranging choice which was almost set up for her to fail.  If you’ll allow me to talk nerdy for a moment: Love of My Life is a WEIRD song.  It’s written in F major, but the verse is sung in C major.  The full piano introduction starts in F, functionally modulates to Bb, and then modulates to C in time for the vocal entrance.  However, the introduction in Monday’s arrangement jumped straight from the F section to Ava’s entrance without setting up the key change clearly.  While it did give her the correct note by ending on a C arpeggio, it didn’t telegraph the shift from using Bb to B.  Not only did this make it difficult for Ava to enter in tune (which was clear, but which she recovered from quickly), it just sounded jarring.  By comparison, Laci’s version used the last measure of the introduction instead, which sets up the correct key.  The fact that Ava was able to navigate this without complete disaster is a mark in her favor, as it could easily trip up a seasoned professional.  However, she also lacked the savvy to see the problem coming, and make sure the band made a better transition.  This lack of insight also showed in her Top 16 song choice, which really didn’t do her any favors.  She had sufficient momentum to get past it, and her other choices have been better, but she’s a prime candidate for a bad song pick at a bad time.  She’s also somewhat middling in terms of her potential Funnel competitors.  Cassandra is the most obvious overlap, and is facing some obstacles, which could lead to Ava picking up the majority of the female folk support, but Cass isn’t 100% out of the game yet.  Both have potential overlap with Hunter, but not quite as much as Chayce does I would say.  Overall, Ava has potential to deliver on all four angles, but hasn’t fully locked into any except maybe Growth yet.


6. Caleb Kennedy (Previous Round 10), “Nowhere” by Caleb Kennedy


Caleb is traveling a parallel path to Willie, oddly enough.  He has been a steady, if not outstanding, performer thus far, and there’s a strong chance of that continuing.  While his performances haven’t had wide appeal, they’re solid country renditions thus far, and that’s a sizable fanbase to have the primary grasp of.  I’m not sure the Consistency path is a guarantee for him.  It is certainly possible to turn off the country base with a weak performance (Hi Cecil, Hi Hannah!), and while Caleb has made decent choices with open themes, he seems likely to potentially make missteps with future themes.  Disney in particular seems likely to default for the third rendition of You’ve Got A Friend In Me, unless he knows to dig for the less well known country options.


On the other factors, Caleb’s potential is limited.  It doesn’t seem like he has a lot of room to stretch his vocal capabilities, even with lowered expectations, and his interpretations seem about par for a teenager.  He could maybe grow some as a performer, but I’m a bit skeptical of that.  He also seems to have very little potential for a real Moment, even with some growth, although more original songs could give him a step in that direction.  As for Funnels, Chayce is obviously similar, and the weaker of a pair of contestants can benefit from the current voting systems, but probably not as much as in the other direction since they have a more narrow appeal.  I think Caleb’s on the cusp, where he could potentially go deeper than expected based on his consistent appeal to his base, but a path to victory is difficult to see unless multiple frontrunners flop. 


7. Hunter Metts (Previous Round 13), “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt


From here on down, the contestants’ chances at actual victory (or even Top 3) start growing slim, with Hunter just barely being on the edge of that.  This was maybe his best performance, although personally I have so much attachment to this song that I wasn’t a big fan of his rendition.  The most likely factor Hunter has in his favor is Growth, as we’re already seeing notable improvement from him over the course of the season thus far.  I have trouble imagining him reaching the point of a real momentum builder in the late season, much less an actual Moment, but he could eke out a few extra rounds from a growth arc.  


The counterpoint is that Consistency is likely to be a severe issue for Hunter.  Part of this is that the basic quality of his performances has been all over the map.  Both nerves and vocal technique appear to be potential problems, which makes each week a bit of a minefield.  I feel like he may have issues in really uniting his core genre fans behind him.  Where Caleb (or Willie, or Chayce) fits into a sound which is pretty mainstream for his genre, and therefore has fairly broad appeal within it, Hunter’s sound and style is more idiosyncratic.  Folk, of all genres, is probably the most forgiving of artists with unusual vocal qualities (this is, after all, the genre which gave Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen superstar careers), but it’s still a factor which could cause trouble.  While he has strong Funnel potential with Cassandra and Ava, and some potential spillover votes from Chayce, that offbeat sound may reduce how much voters who are more inclined to those sounds will transfer.


(I’m 99% certain that Hunter had the Justin Vernon cover of ICMYLM in mind while putting his performance together, giving him back-to-back Bon Iver.  Can we get 715 - CR∑∑KS next?)


8. Beane (Previous Round 8), “Grow As We Go” by Ben Platt


I really, truly, do not want to inflict this pun upon you, but it’s really unavoidable:  Beane is very much the wild card in this lineup, in addition to being a Wild Card.  I’m sorry.  


There’s a strong possibility that Beane fails to escape the triple elimination in the next round.  ABC Idol has been merciless to its Wild Cards, with not a single one outlasting a non-WC.  On the other hand, Beane and Madison are the first ones in the ABC era to actually have been voted through a round before needing the judges’ help (and only the second pair, after S14’s Quentin and Adanna, both of whom went reasonably far). If it were only a double elimination, I’d be almost certain one would escape, but that third spot is going to be tough to dodge. Still, I think Beane’s save performance might have been enough of a boost to get him out of the danger zone.  While it wasn’t necessarily universally loved to really call a Moment, it was a strong motivator to his fans (who seem fairly devoted) to vote, and could have won some undecided voters over after an uneven previous run of performances.  Beane has the potential to put together a full Moment, but it would take the perfect choice of song and delivery, he can’t quite deliver it on pure vocal heft.


The other factors are all basically giant question marks.  Consistency, for one, is an issue.  Again, like Hunter, this is a two-pronged problem.  On the one hand, the quality of his performances since Hollywood has been up and down: weak solo, strong duet, solid but divisive Top 16 and then strong in this last round.  Beane can deliver powerful performances, but he’s not really secure enough to power through a bad choice.  The other side is that he’s been going OBSCURE on his song choices, with only Dua Lipa being a widely-known tune among his solos, an issue I’d noted before.  Because many of his potential supporters are most likely encountering his songs for the first time, it will be hit or miss whether they enjoy them.  Can he maintain a coherent identity while delving into more well-known material?  This also exacerbates potential issues with Funnels: What is Beane’s genre? I really don’t know, unless “Songs So Niche Even My Nerdy Self Is Confused” has become a genre without me noticing.  He’s done jazz-funk, glam rock, old-school soul, dance pop, basically Broadway, and… I don’t know what Thirdstory is, Wikipedia doesn’t even know.  Who is the most likely beneficiary of Beane’s supporters?  Who favors him?  I have so many questions.  It could, potentially, create a strange form of Growth.  If Beane can settle into a clearer genre (and quick, since he’s in a precarious position), the impact of “Oh wait, now I get it” could have a comparable effect to improvements in performance and vocals.  He could also get some mileage from a more strongly-delivered high energy performance, with Oscar’s Night offering some intriguing possibilities when many will probably be going ballad.


Question marks.  He could go home Sunday.  He could upset the apple cart and make the late finals.  It’s all a mystery.


9. Cassandra Coleman (Previous Round 5), “Light On” by Maggie Rogers


It is so disappointing to have Cassandra, probably my favorite contestant in the early stages, tumbling down the rankings, but it’s hard to deny.  I truly believe she is one of the rare contestants with the potential to deliver a Moment without a huge vocal or performance.  Her pre-show videos show captivating qualities which could be magical when given the chance to shine, and we’ve seen glimpses of that in her performances.  But she seems unable to keep from getting in her head and making missteps.  The biggest issue seems to be that she believes she DOES need those big vocals to compete.  In both of her performances this week, she started out promisingly with an intimate vocal.  However, once she started trying to deliver more power/range/energy, she was unable to sustain it, and the magic was lost.  It’s ironic, because her frequently discussed issues with confidence haven’t really made her too timid in her performances.  If anything, they’ve made her too reckless, because she doesn’t have the faith in her ability to succeed on her own terms. 


If she can overcome that, she could have serious Growth potential.  She has the capacity for SOME vocal power and energy, but she needs to carefully save it to deploy at the right moment.  Doing so could have a massively increased effect in comparison to more subtle moments, and the emotional side of overcoming her nerves is a classic story.  She has a decent amount of Funnel overlap with Ava and Hunter, although it’s late to be starting to build crossover appeal with their fans, especially as they’re both on the upswing.  If she could really settle into the style that works for her, she could even have potential to deliver on Consistency, despite a rough start.  But she has no time to spare on these efforts.  If she doesn’t get things seriously under control, I think she’s gone in the next two rounds.


10. Alyssa Wray (Previous Round 2), “The Greatest Love Of All” by Whitney Houston


While Alyssa has fallen even further in my rankings than Cassandra, in this case I’m more aggravated than sad.  I’m honestly baffled as to how Idol has taken a contestant with as much charisma and confidence as Alyssa, and made her… boring.  Cliche.  Underwhelming.  It feels like it’s most likely a result of her not having a clear non-Broadway genre identity coming in.  She’s confident in her ability to perform, but doesn’t seem to have developed the instincts for exactly what to apply those abilities to.  As a result, she’s getting pushed into a basic Idol belter box, which is particularly jarring given that most of this year’s finalists have a strong identity, including her teenage compatriots (certainly Casey and Caleb, Ava a little less so but closer than Alyssa).  This isn’t to say that the soul genre of Killing Me Softly or The Greatest Love Of All is a bad fit for Alyssa, that general region is where I’d encourage her to go.  But there are infinitely better song choices within that region than the latter, and more coherent ways of performing them than her version of the former.  She’s just coming across as generic, which is deeply unfortunate.  It’s not just having no Consistency to her performances, it lacks coherence.  It’s ironic that Paula, the cameo appearance from Old School Idol, gave her one criticism to Alyssa, who is increasingly feeling like a throwback to that era with her less-than-inspiring song choices and delivery.


Alyssa has the ability to deliver a Moment, on paper.  She has the vocal ability, she has the performance ability.  However, the thing that really makes a MOMENT out of a performance is making smart choices, with the song selection and the arrangement and how you use those abilities.  And I’m not sure Alyssa has the savvy to pull those off.  In a way, starting off as a strong vocalist and performer almost inhibits her ability to have a growth arc.  It’s harder to discern growth in HOW someone uses the abilities you already know they have.  Jordin was able to pull it off, and also had some strange all-over-the-map choices and mixed-bag performances before she figured out what worked for her.  But Jordin had longer to grow, and a less competitive field to face off against.  Alyssa also has to face off with her two main competitors/Funnels being two of the strongest contestants in the competition, which is going to make siphoning off votes from an already tight race especially tough.  Jordin, again, had to face off with Melinda (and to a lesser extent Lakisha), but Season 6 had a much narrower range of genres represented, meaning the majority of voters getting performances that appealed to them were in the R&B realm anyway, while S19 is much more mixed.  If Alyssa doesn’t make good choices soon, like Cassandra she’s going to be gone soon.


11. DeShawn Goncalves (Previous Round 17), “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder


Deshawn is probably the finalist who I enjoy least personally, but I don’t really actively dislike him, and I’m not invested in him enough to be frustrated like I am with Cassandra and Alyssa.  If he hadn’t been voted in (and I suspect he came in 11th, but benefitted from Wyatt's departure), I wouldn’t have objected to him receiving a Wild Card, and it was actually his only solo performance that I’ve more or less liked.  But I find it hard to believe he lasts past this round, or Top 9 at the most, regardless of his performances.  Maybe I’m underestimating him, as I do occasionally.  He did get the votes after all.  I don’t know though.  


I don’t think he really has a viable path to victory.  While he’s technically proficient, his inability to use that proficiency in a way that really hangs together really impairs his chance of a Moment, and his mannered way of performing makes that more difficult.  I don’t really see a lot of potential for him to achieve Growth, since he’s already polished but not really attention grabbing, and while his technical ability could help with Consistency, I don’t think his performances have been broadly appealing enough that maintaining that baseline support is enough.  Right now, I suspect he’s mostly benefitting from spillover votes from Willie’s voters who are also reasonably amicable towards DeShawn, but the gap between them is large enough that turning that into a real momentum builder is unlikely.  Still, he’s exceeded expectations twice now, maybe it will be thrice.


12. Madison Watkins (Previous Round 14), “Hotline Bling” by Drake


Madison caught a lucky break, to be honest.  If Alanis had delivered a Wild Card performance at least on par with her (admittedly, underwhelming to me) previous solos, Madison probably would’ve been gone.  That seems like the reason the judges basically gave her a brushoff after her performance.  However, Alanis fully tanked her performance, with her occasionally strained high notes going fully off the rails.  With Wyatt’s departure leaving only 3 people being eliminated, and Graham and Colin filling niches already well covered (although both gave my favorite of their performances in the competition), Madison was the default choice for the second Wild Card spot.  She wasn’t utterly undeserving of it, but unlike Beane I don’t think she has a chance of escaping its curse either.  There’s no real route I see to success for her, and I’m similarly uncertain as to exactly where her genre overlaps might fall.  I guess maybe a bit with Grace in the pop-belter arena?


It’s funny, if Alyssa is starting to feel like a throwback to the First or Second Epoch, Madison feels like someone who would have found better footing around Season 8 or 9.  She’s a solid vocalist without being so much of a cliche diva, confident, and approaches the competition with a certain savvy.  Her choice of a rearranged Hotline Bling was straight out of the David Cook/Brooke White/Kris Allen playbook (or, you know, Amy Vachal).  However, we’ve almost reached a point where those overtly strategic moves are as passe as relying on big vocals was in the Third Epoch.  It’s fine if you want to rearrange a song (it worked for Laci, and Caleb Lee… Alejandro was a mixed bag), but it’s not ENOUGH on its own.  You have to use that rearrangement to say something, and sell the interpretation.  In a way, I would say ABC Idol has been the Sincerity Idol Era.  And Madison just comes across as too calculated to really pull that off.  


(Interesting to compare: Chayce also did a classic “flip a song by a black artist into an acoustic white-boy genre” rendition, which went more or less ignored.  Some of that may be that Chayce is just a more coherent and consistent artist than Madison, so the flip was less overt.  But it also helped that Chayce sold the performance sincerely on its own merits, rather than the main selling point being cleverness.)

Edited by muse273
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Alright, Top 12 ranked.  I will probably be back with song suggestions tomorrow (pretty late, but whatever).  Have at it.


... How do I edit my footer?  The defunct old links are making me sad.

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You made an error in your comments on DeShawn.  While I agree that he probably got in thanks to someone dropping out, it was Wyatt, not Hunter, who withdrew.


 As for your rankings, while I’m no fan of Chayce and I hope that someone else beats him, I can see why you’d put him in first for now.  He does fit most of the boxes that you mentioned.



Edited by CarmenSandiego
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Thanks for providing your power rankings for the Top 12. I really enjoyed reading them. I guess the only one I greatly disagree with is the one for Madison. I just don't think she is nearly as bad as you're making it seem like. While I agree that she doesn't have the clearest of artistic identities, I feel she has made some better song choices the past 2 shows. If she keeps on performing the way she has been and others continue to make some missteps, I could see her finishing higher than you think. Although, to be fair, I can't see her lasting for more than 2 more weeks, tops, especially given that she's supposedly singing a Whitney song this week. And given how I felt about Grace Vanderwaal and Courtney Hadwin when they were on AGT, I can't believe how much I actually enjoy Ava and Casey as well. I'm looking forward to reading your song suggestions, as usual, too.

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22 hours ago, CarmenSandiego said:

You made an error in your comments on DeShawn.  While I agree that he probably got in thanks to someone dropping out, it was Wyatt, not Hunter, who withdrew.


 As for your rankings, while I’m no fan of Chayce and I hope that someone else beats him, I can see why you’d put him in first for now.  He does fit most of the boxes that you mentioned.



So I did.  Corrected.

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21 hours ago, Winterfan said:

Thanks for providing your power rankings for the Top 12. I really enjoyed reading them. I guess the only one I greatly disagree with is the one for Madison. I just don't think she is nearly as bad as you're making it seem like. While I agree that she doesn't have the clearest of artistic identities, I feel she has made some better song choices the past 2 shows. If she keeps on performing the way she has been and others continue to make some missteps, I could see her finishing higher than you think. Although, to be fair, I can't see her lasting for more than 2 more weeks, tops, especially given that she's supposedly singing a Whitney song this week. And given how I felt about Grace Vanderwaal and Courtney Hadwin when they were on AGT, I can't believe how much I actually enjoy Ava and Casey as well. I'm looking forward to reading your song suggestions, as usual, too.

I don't think any of her song choices have been good.  Not actively horrible (although her Oscar song might be), but not winning any points.  If it were a single cut she could slide past an unexpected flop, but I don't think Hotline Bling really won anyone undecided over like Beane might have, and without that she's too far behind to survive a triple cut.  Especially not with that song.

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1 hour ago, muse273 said:

I don't think any of her song choices have been good.  Not actively horrible (although her Oscar song might be), but not winning any points.  If it were a single cut she could slide past an unexpected flop, but I don't think Hotline Bling really won anyone undecided over like Beane might have, and without that she's too far behind to survive a triple cut.  Especially not with that song.


Oh I hear you about her most likely definitely going home this week after making such an uninspired song choice. I just don't think she's been quite as bad as you're making out to seem like, even if I don't think her song choices have been so great, either. I'm just curious which contestants might end up reaping the benefits if contestants like Cassandra and Alyssa keep on making missteps. Will that benefit contestants like Casey and Ava? Or will some of the male contestants end up in a better position because of other contestants' missteps, like DeShawn?

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3 minutes ago, Winterfan said:


Oh I hear you about her most likely definitely going home this week after making such an uninspired song choice. I just don't think she's been quite as bad as you're making out to seem like, even if I don't think her song choices have been so great, either. I'm just curious which contestants might end up reaping the benefits if contestants like Cassandra and Alyssa keep on making missteps. Will that benefit contestants like Casey and Ava? Or will some of the male contestants end up in a better position because of other contestants' missteps, like DeShawn?

I don't really think she's BAD.  She'd be a solid midcard in a lot of seasons.  This one is just stacked.

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1 hour ago, muse273 said:So I did.  Corrected.



24 minutes ago, muse273 said:

I don't really think she's BAD.  She'd be a solid midcard in a lot of seasons.  This one is just stacked.


Yeah, Madison might be in the middle of the pack most seasons (especially Season 9), but because there’s so much talent this season, she’s at the bottom.  Just bad luck.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I want to add my two cents on the eliminations of Alanis, Colin and Graham before moving to the Top 9.


Colin and Graham were just living on borrowed time.  Neither of them were able to show much vocal or performance skill, and the only reason why they stayed in as long as they did is because they had enough fan support to scrape by.  But their luck ran out when they both did badly enough not to get enough votes to make the Top 10, and they weren’t good enough to be Wildcards.  Graham did have his best performance when trying to get a Wildcard slot but it was too little, too late.  And it didn’t help that they were in genres that were already well covered.  That’s why they lost.


Alanis had a different problem.  She was good enough to at least get a Wildcard spot — if she chose songs that weren’t too big for her vocal prowess.  And she chose songs that were too big for her.  She had one final chance to save herself and had she chosen a song that would be at least mediocre she might have gotten past Madison, and had she chosen a song that was good if not great she would have gotten past Madison.  But she blew the first rule and gave her worst performance.  She should have made better choices but she didn’t and that’s why Alanis lost.

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Love this analysis! Though I feel like the "funnels" bit can be a double-edged sword in the era of 3-person finales, because the "vote splitting" can actually take hold there. The obvious things to look at are Season 10 vs. Season 16. There's a clear parallel between their respective final threes. Old-school country male, country-pop female, non-country female. In both cases, the two country contestants aren't actually catering to the same fanbase, but there's some overlap. In S10, when Top 3 wasn't the finale, Haley got eliminated. I maintain to this day that this was complacency at work--I was still on the official, FOX-run forums at the time instead of here at IDF, but I remember that a lot of the other Haley fans there felt like her making the Finale was a foregone conclusion after James was eliminated in 4th. And to be fair, that seemed like a logical conclusion given what we'd seen in Season 3's Top 7 and Top 4, and arguably Season 6's Top 4 and Top 3 (though the latter could have also been the same phenomenon I'm about to discuss). Given how on edge we'd been all season when she was one of the only ones getting criticized by the judges and regularly landing in the Bottom 3, I felt like this could be dangerous. And the thing is, country is very polarizing. It's clear that someone who dislikes country would rather see Lauren in the finale than Scotty, though obviously they'd rather see neither. And I feel like what happened might have been that too many people assumed that Haley making it was a foregone conclusion and floated Lauren some votes to try to get her past Scotty, just like how Melinda was easily the best contestant in Season 6 but went out in 3rd place as a result because people saw it as a referendum on who should join her in the finale. In Season 16, on the other hand, Caleb and Gabby just split votes and Maddie won easily. Seeing that Top 3, Gabby being in third was pretty obvious, because Maddie had the advantage of being the only non-country singer and Caleb had the advantage of being the only guy. Taken to its extreme last year, we had a five-person finale with 4 guys and one girl. With little in the way of other vote-splitting factors (Jonny and Francisco were the only two that I'd really consider to share a genre, and Sam herself might've split the "sob story" vote with Dillon but apparently it didn't hurt her), the lone female won.


As I post this, we're now down to our Final Five. And I'm still not sure which combinations of Final Three are best for each contestant.


Willie: The obvious best Final Three for him would be going up against the other two guys, Caleb and Chayce. No, they don't really overlap, but they sort of do. Caleb's first performance last night sounded more rock than country to me, and they did both sing originals while playing guitars and being white in Round 2. But he'd also do fine against Casey/Chayce.

Grace: ...I don't think Grace is going to win. Her best bet is probably against Casey/Chayce since I think they actually have the most overlap in style...at least when Casey is doing rock. Thing is, Casey's also gone off and done classics a number of times. So maybe she's in the best position against Caleb/Chayce, too.

Casey: Possibly Caleb/Chayce again, since she can outrock both of them or go stand out with the standards. But I'd lean towards Willie/Grace, because they're both belters and Casey can stand out by staying on the rock side.

Caleb and Chayce: For both of them, it's almost certainly Willie/Grace. Again, I think they've actually got the most overlap, and despite their differing genres technically, they can only benefit from the other being eliminated and leaving them alone in the WGWG category.

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