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Rules that American Idol Season 20 Contestants Need to Follow


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When the websites Reality News Online and Foxes on Idol were running, website creator David Bloomberg not only had news about reality TV shows like Survivor and American Idol but also analyses about those and other shows.  I loved reading the articles on what contestants on various shows needed to know, and why they would either lose (most commonly) or win.  Those websites are gone now and I really don't watch Survivor anymore, but I still watch American Idol and with Muse not being around to do his Tapdancing on a Tightrope analyses at the moment, I thought now was as good a time as any to bring back a list of things that AI 20 contestants need to know in order to get far on the show.  The American Idol Top 24 from Season 20 have done enough things right to get to the semi-finals, but now they need to do more to at least survive the first round of voting cuts, and this list of rules will show what they need to do.

 

Show Singing and Performing Talent

 

The Top 24 obviously have singing and performing talent; otherwise, they wouldn't have gotten to the Top 24.  But now that America will be voting, it's not enough.  They have to show the singing and performing talent that they have for America in order for people to vote for them.  This is especially true when it comes to showing singing talent.  Despite the fact that beginning with David Cook from Season 7, a lot of American Idol winners have played instruments (particularly guitars), the show began as a singing competition and you need to show enough singing talent to impress enough people to vote for you.  One shining example of a contestant that lost because they didn't show enough singing talent is Alejandro Aranda.  The judges praised him to the skies for his musical ability and songwriting skills, and indeed he showed enough of both skills to make the finale.  But what he didn't show enough (and what he probably didn't have enough of) was singing talent.  He was able to compensate for his vocal shortcomings by being allowed to do a lot of his own songs, but his vocal weaknesses were exposed when he had to do covers.  That is why he lost to Laine, who might not have had as much songwriting talent but showed enough performance skills to compete with Alejandro, and was much better vocally.  The Top 24 of this season would do well to show more vocal talent than Alejandro did if they want to win.

 

Song Choice is Key

 

One way to show singing and performing talent, especially in the early rounds, is through song selection.  There's a reason why Randy Jackson, a former judge, said "Song choice, song choice, song choice."  One good song can enable a singer who had little exposure prior to the voting rounds to advance, while one poor song choice can sink even a singer who had a lot of exposure, although that fate is more likely to happen to someone who didn't have much screen time before the voting rounds.  The list of people who fell victim to horrible song choices are too numerous to count, but I can give one recent example:  Arthur Gunn.  He had a distinctive singing style, albeit one that you either loved or hated.  He needed to choose songs that could be easily adjusted to fit his style.  However, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was not a song that could be arranged to easily fit his style.  Yet he chose it anyway, and it tanked.  Had the season been longer, it might have kept him out of the finale; as it is, he lost to Just Sam in the end and one reason was his violation of this rule.  By contrast, Chayce Beckham from last season won in part because he was strategic in his song choices, especially towards the end.

 

Be Consistently Outstanding or Better Yet, Constantly Improve Every Week

 

This might have been more important in the earlier seasons, before the semi-finals and finals got shorter weeks, but the Top 24 still need to be great each and every time you're out there.  They can't afford to have an off night, even if they've been great before.  One of the reasons why Nick Fradiani won his season despite being one of the weakest winners in terms of vocal talent is because he was able to be consistent when everyone else pretty much fell apart around him, having too many off weeks.  He might not have been consistently outstanding, but he didn't fall apart either.

 

And if they've been great before, the Top 24 can't afford to coast on their laurels or even appear to do so.  There's a reason why front-runners have often fallen short of the finals and that's because they usually start at the top and all too often, the only place to go is downhill or just stay consistently great.  It's very difficult for them to improve.  That is one of the reasons why LaKisha and Melinda from Season 6 lost -- they began at or near the top and either began going downhill (LaKisha) or just couldn't improve enough (Melinda).  Jeremiah Harmon from Season 17 is also an example of someone being eliminated before his time because he wasn't able to improve enough to excite enough people and after two sleepy performances in Week 3 of the finals, he was gone.

 

Stand Out By Being Unique, Or By Being Memorable For Positive Reasons

 

I'm going to combine these two rules, largely because with so many seasons there's less opportunity to be unique and more opportunity to be memorable.  But both are important in terms of enabling a singer to stand out.

 

In the early seasons, there were more opportunities to be unique, but even now the Top 24 can be unique in various ways.  One recent example is Wade Costa from Season 17.  Perhaps one of the reasons why he lasted as long as he did was because he had a voice that really stood out, for better or for worse.  Even more important, you can be unique by being the only person in a particular genre in the semi-finals or finals.  Allison Iraheta from Season 8 deserved to get to the Final 4 based on pure talent, but she also was possibly the only rocker (and certainly the only one after Alexis Grace was eliminated) in the finals.  Since I think Ava Maybee is the only real rocker in Season 20, this could be a way for her to at least survive the first round of cuts, if she made a wise song choice.

 

But there are other reasons to be memorable.  Singers can have an entertaining or endearing personality.  Many have gotten farther than they should have by being entertaining, even if it's in a train wreck sort of way.  Just ask Lazaro from Season 12.  He was a disaster, especially during the "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" performance with the other two guys, but at least that performance was an entertaining train wreck!  As for endearing personalities, Maddie Poppe from Season 16 was very endearing, especially since she auditioned singing "The Rainbow Connection", and that made her memorable, and was one of the reasons why she won (her wise song choices also played a huge role).

 

Singers can also be memorable by having a sympathetic backstory.  Just ask Just Sam.  She was a subway singer in New York City, and we all saw her relationship with her grandmother.  That made her sympathetic from the start.  Then COVID-19 came along, and she earned even more sympathy by having to be away from her grandmother, who was in New York City while Just Sam was in LA.  The sympathy she got helped carry her to the win, although her success with the other rules also helped.

 

But the Top 24 can't afford to be positive for negative reasons -- at least, reasons that aren't so bad that people won't sympathize with you.  Just ask Cecil Ray from last season.  He had a controversy concerning domestic abuse and that probably put him in some danger, although it was his horrible performances in the Top 24 that really sealed his fate.  Scarlet from this season should be careful not to let her unfortunate duet debacle with Douglas in the Hollywood rounds make her memorable for a bad reason, or overcome it with a terrific performance.

 

Remember:  You Are a Package

 

Being unique, being memorable, or just being extremely talented -- all those things can help the Top 24 create a package that will enable them to gain fans that will vote for them.  If the Top 24 are able to create a package that is exciting enough, they'll get lots and lots of fans on their side.  If they can't -- they're in trouble.  Lots of contestants who made the Top 24 in past years were eliminated in the semi-finals or finals because they weren't able to create a good enough package to get fans on their side.  One recent example is Anilee List from last year.  She was more talented than some singers who moved on, but she wasn't able to create a good enough package to move on (her solo and her duet with Joss Stone didn't really help enough either).  By contrast Maddie, Just Sam and Chayce all had packages that appealed to enough people to enable them to win their respective seasons.

 

Never, Ever, Argue With Any Of the Judges or Respond to Any Baiting From Ryan!

 

Okay, so this is very unlikely to occur with Katy, Lionel or Luke, since none of them are anything like Simon Cowell or Harry Connick, Jr.  But the fact remains:  if anyone in the Top 24 is criticized, even slightly, by any one of those three, they should take it in stride as constructive criticism and be gracious about it.  Matt Rogers from Season 3 was a contestant who dared argue with Simon, and his stay was appropriately short.  Then there was the "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" debacle in Season 12,  where after Lazaro single-handedly derailed his performance with Burnell and Devin, Nicki trashed the performance.  While I think the trio didn't argue with Nicki, Ryan managed to bait Devin into reacting in such a way that his own (weak) chances were gone.  Yeah, Lazaro screwed the whole thing up, but what Devin should have said is that he did his best and he hoped that the audience would agree.

 

Moreover, the arguments don't need to come after a bad performance, as we saw in Season 14.  After Joey Cook was eliminated in the Top 7 round (a case of one person who was unique enough to get far but too unique to win), Quentin Alexander was so mad that he not only expressed his anger openly, but got into an argument with Harry Connick, Jr.!  The instant I saw that, I knew that Quentin would be gone the next week.  Sure enough, he was eliminated because his actions, no matter how well-intentioned they were, left a bad taste in people's mouths.

 

Gather a Fan Base -- And Sustain It

 

This is the culmination of every other rule I mentioned on this list.  Every rule before this one is intended to enable members of the Top 24 to gather a fan base that will keep them in the competition.  Certain genres are particularly good at gathering fan bases that are dedicated to keeping a singer in the competition around, most notably country music.  Country music fans have shown their dedication to keeping a singer around in the past.  Just ask Carrie Underwood from Season 4.  While Bo Bice's fans were more openly supporting him, Carrie's were quietly dialing votes for her over and over and over.  This is what got her the win.  Others, such as Caleb Lee Hutchinson from Season 16, got farther than maybe they should have by having a dedicated base of country supporters.

 

You also should appeal to enough people that as the numbers dwindle, you can pick up their fans.  This is known as the "funnel effect", and occurs with singers who share a certain genre, such as R&B, as well as singers who are similar enough to appeal to a certain type of fan base, such as middle-aged housewives.  As the numbers dwindle, the survivors pick up fans who voted for others.  This is a major reason why Kris Allen won in Season 8.  As the numbers dwindled, he was able to pick up enough voters from those who lost their favorites to get past Adam Lambert.  It helped that while nobody could deny Adam's vocal talent, his performance style had people either loving him or hating him.  And as he moved on, those who hated him had fewer and fewer people to vote for, until finally they could only vote for Kris.

 

As the semi-finals begin, I'll be looking at the singers who perform and examine how well they succeeded with (or more often, failed at) these rules.  Until then, let me know what you think about my list and my plans to analyze the Top 24 as much as possible.

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If a girl wants to win, she needs to come across as sweet and humble. The America’s Sweetheart thing worked for Kelly, Carrie, Jordin and Maddie. Grace Kinstler had the best voice last season but she came across as very serious and reserved. I think that really worked against her. 

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2 hours ago, Carrie_On said:

If a girl wants to win, she needs to come across as sweet and humble. The America’s Sweetheart thing worked for Kelly, Carrie, Jordin and Maddie. Grace Kinstler had the best voice last season but she came across as very serious and reserved. I think that really worked against her. 

 

That's part of the "You Are a Package" bit.

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I just wanted to say thanks for starting this thread. I really enjoyed reading the post that you made. I think the list you made could be extremely helpful to this season's Top 24. And if there are more American Idol seasons heading forward, I think it could be very helpful to singers/artists who make the Top 24 in those years as well. And I definitely would enjoy reading any thoughts you have on the Top 24. 

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It looks like a lot of thought and effort was placed into this. I remember the Reality News Online site and used to enjoy reading David's commentary on why contestants placed where they did even if I disagreed with him sometimes. It appears this will be something similar to that. Regardless, I look forward to see how this works out.

 

17 hours ago, Carrie_On said:

If a girl wants to win, she needs to come across as sweet and humble. The America’s Sweetheart thing worked for Kelly, Carrie, Jordin and Maddie. Grace Kinstler had the best voice last season but she came across as very serious and reserved. I think that really worked against her. 

 

Agreed. I think likeability and relatability plays a major factor for all contestants regardless of gender, but it appears to be more so for females. A prime example of this working against someone is Crystal Bowersox. She was considered to be the best overall contestant of S9 if not the most consistent, yet she fell short of the title. One of the main reasons is because she didn't come across as the most embraceable contestant. She appeared aloof and guarded, plus her banter with the judges may have turned off some people.

 

With that said, two contestants who contrasted this are Fantasia and Candice. Fantasia was extremely polarizing in both her personality and voice. However, she was one of the strongest contestants who had some great performances. Her first rendition of Summertime is in the short list of the best all-time Idol performances. As for Candice, I recall some people who weren't fans of her attitude and personality. However, as with Fantasia, she was very strong and consistent; in fact, she was considered to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field her season. In addition, she had what is often considered to be the best Idol performance with Love Song. One thing that may have helped them, however, is they were in seasons in which the male fields were fairly weak. The results may have been different if the opposite were true. Nonetheless, these are couple of examples of not being exactly the most relatable eventually coming out on top, but it goes a long way to have that relatability.

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19 hours ago, Carrie_On said:

If a girl wants to win, she needs to come across as sweet and humble. The America’s Sweetheart thing worked for Kelly, Carrie, Jordin and Maddie. Grace Kinstler had the best voice last season but she came across as very serious and reserved. I think that really worked against her. 

Which female contestant (or contestants) this season have that quality? At least based on what we have seen so far

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12 minutes ago, Gustavo527 said:

Which female contestant (or contestants) this season have that quality? At least based on what we have seen so far

HunterGirl is the only one that I can see so far. She has that cute giggle and country girl personality. Leah is a bit OTT but she has a charming personality as well. 

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21 minutes ago, Gustavo527 said:

Which female contestant (or contestants) this season have that quality? At least based on what we have seen so far

Hunter Girl for sure. Maybe Nicolina and Lady K? Would say Elli but her personality hasnt been shown enough for that to translate to viewers. 

 

- Leah is too weird and OTT (I mean this in a good way!)

- Emyrson kinda gives off elitist vibes with how pretty she is and I can see that isolating viewers,  similarly to how some of us thought Kenedi would do pre-season (I dont really know how to phrase this nicely lol).

- Ava and Scarlet don't have the most welcoming or warm personalitys based on what we have seen from them, and they also have unconventional looks and genres. 

- Katyrah is too much of a vocal diva for her to ever win.

- Danielle/Allegra lack a personality in the first place.

- Don't know where I would put Cadence and Sage.  

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2 hours ago, m1key said:

Hunter Girl for sure. Maybe Nicolina and Lady K? Would say Elli but her personality hasnt been shown enough for that to translate to viewers. 

 

- Leah is too weird and OTT (I mean this in a good way!)

- Emyrson kinda gives off elitist vibes with how pretty she is and I can see that isolating viewers,  similarly to how some of us thought Kenedi would do pre-season (I dont really know how to phrase this nicely lol).

- Ava and Scarlet don't have the most welcoming or warm personalitys based on what we have seen from them, and they also have unconventional looks and genres. 

- Katyrah is too much of a vocal diva for her to ever win.

- Danielle/Allegra lack a personality in the first place.

- Don't know where I would put Cadence and Sage.  

 

If Kenedi winds up competing anyway, where would you put her?

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5 minutes ago, CarmenSandiego said:

 

If Kenedi winds up competing anyway, where would you put her?

Idk tbh. I think she fits the same category as Emyrson, but she also has a bubbly and sweet personality

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2 minutes ago, m1key said:

Idk tbh. I think she fits the same category as Emyrson, but she also has a bubbly and sweet personality

 

So Kenedi has a chance to overcome the possible elitist vibes that would otherwise hurt her chances of winning.

 

I also think that Hunter, Nicolina and Lady K. would have the best personalities for a female winner.  The others, not so much.

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2 hours ago, m1key said:

- Danielle/Allegra lack a personality in the first place.

 

Allegra doesn't lack a personality. She's certainly not as nutty as Leah and she doesn't really have a sob story like some others do I guess.  Allegra is one of the nicest person I have ever seen on any of these shows. Allegra's biggest potential story line isn't something that you would necessarily want to put on a singing show given how conservative the audience is and you need their votes so I get it and it is what it is I guess. I don't know enough about Danielle to comment on her though. 

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Just now, QueenKalie said:

Allegra doesn't lack a personality. She's certainly not as nutty as Leah and she doesn't really have a sob story like some others do I guess.  Allegra is one of the nicest person I have ever seen on any of these shows. Allegra's biggest potential story line isn't something that you would necessarily want to put on a singing show given how conservative the audience is and you need their votes so I get it and it is what it is I guess. I don't know enough about Danielle to comment on her though. 

 

What is her potential story line?  Is she a lesbian, bisexual, or transgender?  That wouldn't affect me so much, but then again I watched Supergirl, so I'm probably not as conservative as the audience on ABC is.  Also, it's not like I vote for cute non-threatening guys if there's a powerful female -- or male -- vocalist around, unless said male vocalist drives me crazy, which is what happened with Adam Lambert.  The only guy I ever voted for from the start is Clay Aiken, and he was a powerful vocalist.

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4 minutes ago, QueenKalie said:

Allegra doesn't lack a personality. She's certainly not as nutty as Leah and she doesn't really have a sob story like some others do I guess.  Allegra is one of the nicest person I have ever seen on any of these shows. Allegra's biggest potential story line isn't something that you would necessarily want to put on a singing show given how conservative the audience is and you need their votes so I get it and it is what it is I guess. I don't know enough about Danielle to comment on her though. 

I completely agree with you that shes an extremely nice and lovely soul as Ive seen her live videos and the way she interacts with her fans. However, you are speaking as an Allegra stan. The casual conservative viewers are not necessarily joining her lives and being able to see that personality from her like we do.

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1 minute ago, m1key said:

I completely agree with you that shes an extremely nice and lovely soul as Ive seen her live videos and the way she interacts with her fans. However, you are speaking as an Allegra stan. The casual conservative viewers are not necessarily joining her lives and being able to see that personality from her like we do.

I am aware that she hasn't been shown on tv and that is obviously going to affect her chances of receiving votes. I guess it was just the flat out statement that she doesn't have a personality that I took objection with. 

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3 hours ago, Gustavo527 said:

If i'm not wrong, she is pansexual. 

 

Well, thanks for explaining.  That would be too much for a conservative audience, I'm afraid.  It's quite a bit for me, I'm afraid, but as long as she's talented enough, I'm going to vote for her.

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Jeremiah's whole story in S17 was about how his dad was a Pastor and how Jeremiah felt isolated from his church because he was gay, yet he still made it to F6. 

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22 minutes ago, m1key said:

Jeremiah's whole story in S17 was about how his dad was a Pastor and how Jeremiah felt isolated from his church because he was gay, yet he still made it to F6. 

Getting to top 6 in a weak season isn't a massive achievement really.

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54 minutes ago, m1key said:

Jeremiah's whole story in S17 was about how his dad was a Pastor and how Jeremiah felt isolated from his church because he was gay, yet he still made it to F6. 

Based on the clips i saw from that season he easily should have made it farther, at the very least Top 4. 

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13 hours ago, Gustavo527 said:

Which female contestant (or contestants) this season have that quality? At least based on what we have seen so far

 

Based on their top 24 performances, so far I would say Nicolina, Emyrson and Elli. But, that's just what I think as of right now.

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