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Rules That American Idol 22 Contestants Need To Follow

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Two years ago, I decided to imitate David Bloomberg’s Rules For American Idol contestants on his Reality News Online website.  This is my third analysis of the rules that American Idol contestants need to follow in order to get far and even win on this show, and hopefully this time I won’t lose all interest and not only do analyses of why contestants in this season lost but actually analyze why the winner won this season.  The Top 24 from Season 22 did enough things right to get to the Semi-Finals, but now they need to do more to survive the first round of voting, at the very least, and this list of rules will help them do so.


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.  There are two pitfalls that contestants who make it to the live voting round have to avoid.  The first is having great performance skills but weaker vocal skills.  Cameron and Tristen from Season 20, as well as Zachariah from last season, are great examples of this pitfall.  All three were great entertainers, but Cameron tended to put his performance skills ahead of his vocal skills, Tristen just didn't have the vocal chops to compete with many of the others in his season and Zachariah was often in the middle of the pack in terms of vocal talent.  As a result, Cameron failed to make the Top 14. Tristen needed to have a wildcard slot and only made the Top 11 and Zachariah fell just short of the finale.


The second pitfall a contestant who made the live voting rounds must avoid is having fine vocal skills but having few if any performance skills.  Jacob from Season 20 was probably the best male vocalist, but he didn't do as well with his performance skills as he apparently didn't have a natural stage presence and when he tried to emphasize his performance skills, his vocals suffered and he was eliminated in the Top 14.  Tyson from last season also had this problem, as his performance skills were also a work in progress and he failed to make the Top 8.


But there's more to showing singing talent if a contestant wants to win.  They have to make sure that their vocal tone is pleasant to the ear.  Jacob had this problem as well, as his tone was grating to my ears.  Adam Lambert from Season 8 was an even more prominent example, as his tone on songs like "Ring of Fire" drove me so crazy that by the Final 4, I was willing to vote for anybody but him, despite the fact that he had tremendous vocal talent and fine performance talent.  Fortunately, not many singers have this problem and I don't think the contestants who made it this far this season have this problem.  Still, it's something to note.


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:  Mariah from last season.  She chose to sing Chris Stapleton’s song “You Should Probably Leave”, which is a really difficult song to do and I thought that after her performance, she should probably leave.  While she didn’t do so, her time was numbered and she failed to make the Top 12.


Another pitfall one must avoid is doing songs that don't give a singer the chance to really show off their voice.  This was one of the reasons why Elijah was one of the first to be eliminated last season.  He chose “Good Vibes”, which really doesn't give a singer a chance to show off their vocal ability and even winning a Platinum Ticket couldn’t save him.  Contestants from this season would do well to avoid repeating his mistake.


A final pitfall that the contestants from this season should avoid is singing any songs done by Whitney, Celine or one that a former American Idol contestant killed unless you absolutely have to do so.  Doing that kind of song just begs for comparisons with the original singer and more often than not, the new singer's going to come out a loser.  One shining example is Marybeth from last season.  She chose to sing a Carrie Underwood song in the Showstopper round and while this still got her in the Top 26, this set the pattern for bad song choices that ultimately ended her run too soon.  Olivia from last season also had this problem as other than her audition, where she sang “Hello”, she only sang Whitney, Celine, Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande songs.  Had she chosen other songs and made them sound like diva-style songs she would have had a chance to go farther than the Top 20; but she didn’t and ended her run far too soon.


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 completely 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.  LaKisha and Melinda from Season 6 lost because 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.  Fritz from Season 20 started out as a candidate that most (including me) thought would get into the finale.  But on Disney Night, he stumbled and never truly recovered, and was eliminated just before the finale.  And last year Wé began very well but after choosing to do “I Have Nothing”, she began to stall and fell short of the finale as well.


Another aspect of consistency that singers should take into consideration is doing well with both up-tempo songs and ballads (for vocal powerhouses) or doing well with both country and non-country songs (for country singers).  Nicolina from Season 20 could do great on ballads, or on Ursula's song "Poor Unfortunate Souls" on Disney Night.  But she had problems with doing up-tempo songs and a result, she was eliminated just before the finale.  By contrast, Noah from that same season was able to do non-country songs well enough times that it helped get him the title.


Have the Confidence to Believe That You Belong


The semi-finalists from Season 22 were obviously good enough to get this far; otherwise, the judges wouldn't have picked them.  But as they perform for votes, they have to believe that they are good enough to get even farther.  And to believe that, they need confidence.  Last season had two shining examples in Oliver and Colin.  In Oliver’s Showstopper performance, the judges noticed how he constantly looked up to the balcony where they sat, looking for their approval, and it was an early warning sign.  He never became confident until he was in danger, and by then it was too late.  Colin was a little better, since his performance of “Dancing On My Own” as his Victory song for making the Top 12 through viewer votes was one that even I praised.  But he didn’t have enough confidence to keep taking risks, staying in his comfort zone and while that got him to the finale, it wasn’t enough to get him past either Iam or Megan.


Know Who You Are As An Artist


After 22 years, American Idol isn't just looking for a singer anymore.  They're looking for an artist.  And if a singer has a distinct, believable artistic identity, they can go far, especially if they are a country singer.  One example of a singer who had problems with creating a believable artistic identity is Hannah from last season. She hadn’t been in the music industry long enough to have a distinct artistic identity and although Elijah’s problems with his song choice allowed her to skate into the Top 20, that was as far as she could go.


But it’s not enough to have a distinct artistic identity, you need the identity to be current and relatively marketable.  Nutsa had a distinct artistic identity but it was definitely over-the-top and that was one of the reasons why she only made the Top 12.  Nailyah also had a distinct artistic identity but it was too much of a niche identity to get far and she only made it to the Top 20.  And Lucy also had a distinct artistic identity but it was too old-fashioned and she also only made the Top 12.


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 Nutsa from last season.  Her duet with Carina d’Angelo was a train wreck because Nutsa failed to realize that Carina felt she needed to rehearse longer and Carina allowed her anger at Nutsa to send her into a downward spiral.  This (along with an over-the-top artistic style and not being American) caused her to fall short of the Top 10.  By contrast Maddie, Just Sam, Chayce, Noah and Iam all had packages that appealed to enough people to enable them to win their respective seasons.  Maddie and Noah were likable while Just Sam, Iam and Chayce all had sympathetic backstories.


The one thing you don't want to have is a package that is flat-out boring.  This was the main problem that Matt from last season had.  Despite the fact that he had a solid artistic identity and his backstory of teaching kids along with his love of his wife could have helped him create a successful package, he was too forgettable to stand out from the others in the Top 20 and after a bad song choice and not singing his Wildcard song well enough to move him past Lucy or Nutsa, he was gone.


Take Any Advice Offered To You And Follow It


Given that Katy, Lionel and Luke are unlikely to do critiques that contestants will argue with, I decided to alter this rule and suggest that contestants should take any advice that is offered to them, whether by the judges or by mentors.  One example of someone who didn't take advice was Malik from last season.  Mentor Noah Cyrus advised him to rein in his tendency to do too many runs and notes but while he was able to do so in the first half, he apparently couldn’t resist doing all big runs and notes at the very end.  Cameron from Season 20 was even worse, since Bebe advised him to tone down his manic energy for his Top 24 performance and he ignored her.  The result was a predictable train wreck.  While he survived over Sir Blayke because the only thing worse than being a train wreck is being forgettable, when he failed to make the Top 10 in public voting the following week, he was gone.  By contrast, Tristen took the advice from the judges to tone his energy down after his first audition and he made the Top 11.  That said, sometimes you shouldn’t follow the advice offered to you and instead go with your gut instinct, and that mistake is what happened to Haven last season — mentor Allan Stone advised her to sing “The Middle” and taking his advice proved to be a huge mistake.  But because she had been featured more than Elise or Emma and because she had a sympathetic backstory, she made it to the Top 8.


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 Colin from last season, got farther than 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.  And one of the reasons why Warren’s run ended in the Top 8 last season was because he and Colin were sharing the same country singer fanbase, and Warren was also sharing a fanbase with Megan — and both performed better, although Colin only did so at key moments during his run.


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.  But for now, I'd like you to comment on the rules from this season and tell me what you think about them.

Edited by CarmenSandiego
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