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Meditating on the Tightrope 5/23


muse273
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Meditating on the Tightrope 5/23

 

Alright.  We’ve reached the endgame.  I’m going to save overall thoughts on the season till after this Finale (and as god as my witness, I will write my damn end-of-season analysis this year), but we still need to crown a winner.  But who will it be?

 

There are a lot of factors that go into a victory lap, and I’m going to rank each of the Top 3 under different categories, then see how things shake out.

 

Established Fan Base

1. Chayce

2. Willie

3. Grace

 

This is possibly the most important factor, but also the hardest to pin down when we don’t have Bottom 3 placements to look at.  However, there may be some guidance to be found in the streams/sales/views for the Winner’s Singles.  They seem somewhat more likely to be specifically of interest to the singers’ primary fans, since you have to go out of your way to watch them rather than just going through the Idol YouTube channel.  This pretty decisively favors Chayce.  While it’s not inaccurate to say that the iTunes ranking isn’t as weighty as it was at the height of the platform’s use, it’s still a massive gap between Chayce and the others.  It might not be as difficult to get to #1 as it used to be, the fact is that Chayce got there and lingered for a substantial period of time, while the others didn’t even get close.  He’s still at #10 (#2 on Country), while Willie is #42 on R&B and Grace is #128 on Pop (neither is on the main chart).  He also leads moderately with all the music video/lyric/etc original videos, and significantly on Spotify (about 225K vs about 30K for Willie and 50K for Grace). 

 

How much this translates into an actual gap in voters is hard to say.  While Chayce is almost certainly in the lead, the current voting format favors casual voters since voting is so easy and limited.  If the cast-off fanbases of eliminated contestants were transferring more smoothly, it might be harder to overcome.  I’m not 100% certain that’s happened this year though.  Chayce definitely has more in common with almost everyone who’s been eliminated than either Grace or Willie, with only DeShawn and Alyssa respectively really sharing space.  However, there have been a lot of contentious eliminations this season.  Arthur’s return was polarizing, meaning some of his fans may have dug in to defend him, while other fanbases were extra bitter due to the perceived unfairness of him coming back.  Falling just short of the Finale can put a lot of people off, and Casey’s elimination may have been more upsetting to her fans than average.  And Caleb, who may have been Chayce’s closest funnel, is a whooooole mess of possible issues.  So while Chayce most likely picked up a reasonable number of the undecided, it may not be as many as expected.  

 

Between the other two, I’d give the nod to Willie over Grace.  He came into the live rounds with probably the largest fan base, though it feels like he plateaued at a certain point.  While Grace has had several strong weeks recently, which could bring in devoted supporters, I’m not sure she’s doing as strong a job of holding onto them as Willie or Chayce.  Which leads to the next factor.

 

Consistency

1. Willie

2. Chayce

3. Grace 

 

There are two factors here: A. Has the contestant given a consistent enough string of performances to not only attract voters who are positively inclined towards them, but really lock them in enough to overlook the occasional slip? And B. How likely are they to get through the Finale without a serious error which might jeopardize their casual votes?  

 

Here, Willie has to take the lead.  He’s a very polished performer, and has gotten to this point without a real technical error in any of his performances.  While I question the breadth of their appeal, for the people most inclined to vote for him I’d say his song choices were reliably pleasing.  I’d be surprised if there were really a problem in any of his Finale performances.

 

Meanwhile, Chayce has been fairly consistent himself.  He’s chosen songs which should appeal to his fans consistently, with the possible exception of his Oscars performance, and he hasn’t had any performances which were as technically challenged as some of his WGWG predecessors, though Colder Weather was a bit shaky.  I can’t entire rule out vocal strain or other issues causing him trouble in the final performances, but I think he could easily manage to get through unscathed.

 

Grace, again, trails here.  While she might have the best vocal instrument of the three, she’s not quite as pristine as Willie in terms of execution.  Some of her performances (most recently A Moment Like This) have had moments of strain and pitch uncertainty, and because she’s more oriented towards big vocal displays than Chayce this is a bigger issue for her.  Her song choices have also been less consistently aimed at her target audience than the other two.  Her Top 10 and 7 song choices were pretty strong, as was Father, but others were kind of headscratchers.  While she didn’t really have much choice in her songs for the Finale as far as I can see, there’s still some potential for a less than stellar performance to put a dent in her casual votes.  

 

Challenge

1. Grace

2. Willie

3. Chayce

 

Grace’s potential technical slips are potentially exacerbated by the vocal difficulty of her Finale songs, but that could also be a potential saving grace (no pun intended).  I Have Nothing, All By Myself, and Natural Woman are all archetypical “Let me blow your face off with my overwhelming vocal talent” songs, which makes them high risk/high reward in a certain way.  Of the three, she’s the most likely to have a performance which just stuns the audience with its vocal display, which could win over a solid chunk of casual voters, and help her slip past her competitors.

 

Willie’s songs are also vocally showcases, but a little less in your face with their frying pan of talent.  Both Georgia On My Mind and A Change Is Gonna Come can be turned into belt-fests, but it’s not necessarily something which really serves the songs’ atmosphere or emotional tone.  Going too hard on showing off could actually cost him some votes (I, personally, hate when people take ACIGA, an incredibly meaningful song, and distort it to show off their high notes).  Stand Up struck the right balance the first time he performed it, but it may lose a bit of impact since it’s the most recent repeat of the three.

 

Chayce is clearly behind on this metric.  Which isn’t surprising, given his genre, you wouldn’t really expect Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson to belt out an endless series of high notes (though other artists, like Chris Stapleton for starters, certainly have been known to).  However, Idol has never really escaped its talent show pop star roots, and there will always be some voters who aren’t satisfied without some belting.  Neither Afterglow nor Blackbird is likely to scratch that itch for them.  There’s a small chance of Fire Away, as one of the previously mentioned Mssr. Stapleton’s songs, pushing Chayce out of his comfort zone into some vocal display, but it may be too late for him to have a shot at those voters.

 

Individuality

1. Chayce

2. Grace

3. Willie

 

This is, to be honest, a bit of a nebulous catch-all of a metric.  Some of it is how much creativity and artistry they’ve shown, which helps set them apart from the last 18 seasons of Idol contestants.  Part is how much we’ve been given the opportunity to connect to them personally, and how well they’ve capitalized on that.

 

In terms of song choice, Chayce feels like the clear winner.  Out of 13 live performances (not counting the reprise), 11 will have been new to Idol, and Blackbird has only been performed once.  They’ve felt specific to his style, without really delving into cliche, and he’s the only person who’s presented any self-written songs.  I think there’s also a sincerity to Chayce’s performances which doesn’t necessarily get enough credit.  While both Grace and Willie at times feel like they’re choosing songs to get through the competition, rather than because they have a real resonance with them, Chayce’s songs always strike me as authentic and emotionally invested (with, again, the possible exception of Everything I Do).  Similarly, I think he’s struck the right balance of letting the audience connect with his backstory.  It’s present in his song choices, and he’s open emotionally about it, but it hasn’t been smashed into the audience’s faces as much as some past sob stories.  I think there’s a lot for the audience to connect to that feels specific to Chayce.

 

Between Willie and Grace it’s a hard call, but I think Grace is a small step ahead.  While she’s made some very expected choices (I remain baffled by AMLT), she made some efforts to avoid the obvious diva cliches earlier in the competition.  They didn’t always work out for her, but she hasn’t entirely blended in with the ghosts of Idols past.  The gap would be wider if it weren’t for the fact that her Finale songs have been performed a total of 21 times previously, which is pretty brutal.  I also feel like, while she hasn’t necessarily drawn as much personal connection to her songs as Chayce, she’s had some moments of emotional resonance, most notably Father.  Unfortunately I think it’s going to be difficult for her to mine emotional weight out of her Finale songs, which may negate some of this aspect.

 

As for Willie, while this is obviously going to vary from person to person, I find it difficult to connect with him beyond admiring his singing ability.  Part of this is that his song choices have been especially played out, even by Idol standards.  While Grace has only had six songs new to Idol in the live rounds, that still doubles Willie’s count of three.  Notably, I feel two of those three were his strongest performances (Stand Up and I Was Here), with the third being the mostly underwhelming Winner’s Song.  It feels like those gave him more opportunity to really dig into the song and put his personal stamp on them, and that he identified with them more.  To me, Willie has been very careful to avoid risks in his performances.  It really struck me with Glory, which is a hugely impactful song, but one which he only sang a fraction of.  Dodging the verses entirely, and just singing the (pretty repetitive) chorus and brief bridge, sapped the song of its drive.  The same could be said in a certain way of most of his other song choices.  They lean towards generic tones of love or inspiration, but lack emotional depth.  While you could argue Chayce’s choices have also been safe (in a vocal sense), they’ve had a lot more emotional heft to them.  To be honest, a part of me would like to see Willie win, because it has been so long since we had a Black male winner.  But I’m not sure that has much to do with Willie himself.

 

I think the issue is compounded by the way the show has handled Willie, and the contestants in general.  There’s a lot of talk about him being inspiring, or “healing people with his voice,” but not much discussion of his actual performances.  It almost feels condescending in a way.  A lot has been said, and justly so, about how the judges’ lack of criticism has hampered contestants’ ability to grow and improve in the ABC years.  However, an aspect which I think has been overlooked is how that also makes it harder for the audience to really connect to contestants.  When criticisms, good or bad, focus on the details of a performance, it makes it memorable.  When we see someone struggling with an aspect of their singing, and improving, it gets us invested in their progress.  But when the starting point is a very bland “You’re perfect, you’re wonderful, your smile is beautiful, did you stone those tights?” litany, what is there to latch onto?  This is a problem across the board, but it feels like Idol has a particular problem with letting Black male contestants have a growth arc.  They tend to be shoved particularly deep into their niche, and discouraged from growing beyond that, and it happened with Willie this year particularly strongly.  And it’s disappointing.  

 

So where does that leave us combined?  Chayce- 7, Willie- 8, Grace- 9.  Of course, this is a completely unscientific, unweighted system, but that feels like the likely outcome.  The unpredictable factor is whether the voters of whoever is eliminated first will actually transfer over to one of the Top 2.  While this would favor whoever of Grace and Willie remains, I’m feeling skeptical of how much it will contribute.  Switching loyalty at the last moment, just after your first choice has been eliminated without even a week to settle, and after having already voted once, feels unlikely.  It’s hard to predict, because we’ve only had one prior example, and neither Alejandro or Laine really shared much territory with Madison.  Oddly, while I think Willie is more likely to make Top 2 than Grace, I feel like she might be more likely to get crossover votes if she does get there.  I’m not sure it will be enough to overcome Chayce though, barring a significant gap in performances.

 

We shall see.

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Thank you for sharing your extensive thoughts about how you think things are going to play out in the finale for the top 3 contestants. I greatly enjoyed reading your write-up, as usual. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of any of the remaining contestants. However, I would honestly like to see Willie win the most just because as you pointed out, he's been the most consistent and I feel that still has to count for something on this show. If he doesn't win, I'd be more than okay with Chayce winning, especially because he's certainly shown more artistry than Willie and Grace and once again, I feel that should still count for something on this show given how much TPTB are okay with original songs being sung, etc., which I greatly appreciate. I'd like to see Grace win the least, especially because of her song choices. While I don't doubt that she'll probably sing a few of them really well, just imagine if another female contestant from this season were going to be singing the same songs, like Madison or Alyssa. They certainly wouldn't get too much of a pass from voters. And I really don't think Grace should, either. But, as you wrote, we'll see how things shake out.

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