American Idol X(Y)

Yeah, things happened on the results show. Most of it was absolutely terrible. Russell Brand? Constantine? TMZ? Half-naked 60+ year old man flopping around a stage? More of Gwen Stefani’s outfits? In a normal week, I’d probably want to talk in great length about how gross and skeevy Constantine is or about how the trend in attempting to make legitimate Ford Music Videos is making them far more boring, but this isn’t a normal week. This week, Pia Toscano actually received the lowest number of votes and went packing in ninth place while Paul, Casey, Stefano and Jacob are all still in contention for the Season 10 crown. For some context, other ninth placers include EJay Day, Corey Clark, Megan Joy, Camile Velasco, and Andrew Garcia. Where did Pia misstep so drastically that puts her in this forgotten group of finalists? Worse still, Pia is now the fifth straight woman to be eliminated from the finals before a single man has been (permanently) given the boot. In a finals that started with seven competent female contenders, we are already down to our final two women: early frontrunner, but clearly immature Lauren Alaina and once-permanent bottom three fixture Haley Reinhart. Does either have a snowball’s chance in hell at becoming the next American Idol? Do women even have a reason to audition for Season 11 of America’s Next White Dude Who Can Kinda Sing Sometimes?

This is Idol, not Survivor, so it’s inaccurate to say that Pia got voted off in ninth place. She just didn’t get voted in to the top 8. That is, at this point, no one voted against her (when you start getting to the top 4 or so, I think votes against start playing a significant role), just not enough people were inspired to vote for her. I’ve watched every season of Idol while it first aired with the exception of Season 5 (which I’ve since caught up on), and this is the most legitimately shocked I’ve been at a result. I toyed with the idea of Pia being in the bottom three after the performances, but never did I think there was any possibility of her going home this week. Pia has been consistently good, if not great, and, most importantly, vocally flawless for some six weeks in a row. She finally gave the judges their uptempo number and performed in the last third of the show. She didn’t talk back to the judges. This wasn’t a Tamyra Gray “New Attitude” disaster. None of the normal red flags were there, so why and how did she fail to garner more votes than a steadily declining Stefano or an unnecessarily arrogant Jacob?

There are, of course, tons of opinions and explanations being thrown around to rationalize Pia’s early departure. Most commonly, she’s been criticized for being boring. Although, this is American Idol, so “boring” is sometimes disguised as “pageanty” or “robotic” or “soulless” but it all amounts to the same thing in the end. But this clearly doesn’t tell the whole story. Pia is not the only contestant left who can be described as boring. She’s made just as many forays into the uptempo as Stefano Langone and has a performing style just as varied as Scotty McCreery. Pia Toscano’s performances typically were straddled with a greater air of seriousness, but I don’t think they were, strictly speaking, the least inspiring of the bunch. Especially not this week, where a majority of bloggers gave Pia praise for going uptempo. (WhatNotToSing, though perhaps diminishing in its relevance to the Idolsphere, found Pia’s performance this week to be the most highly regarded of the night by a fairly sizable margin.)

Another complaint I’ve heard more than once is that Pia was too arrogant. I have to say, I have no idea where this criticism comes from. She never managed to say anything other than how much she loved her family and wanted to do well in the competition and whatever other run-of-the-mill Idol contestant sound bite everybody manages to give. Did she gawk a bit at the ridiculousness of the boys’ fascination with professional wrestling during that results show clip? Sure, but so did every other girl in that video and 95% of the viewers. She never claimed that if she didn’t get through it was because America just wasn’t ready for her greatness (or whatever Jacob Lusk was trying to imply with his post-“Mirror” speech). I do not think arrogance really stopped anyone from picking up the phone and voting for Pia.

Maybe it was just a culmination of all that and a billion other small factors, as is always the case on American Idol. Ironically, maybe the fact that the judges gave Pia one of the only helpful critiques of the night hurt her. In a night where performances were graded on a scale of excellent to perfect, perhaps Jennifer Lopez’s constructive criticism came off more like a signature Cowell send-off critique. In any other season, the disparity in vocal ability between Pia and any of her fellow contestants would have been highlighted via scathing or disinterested remarks towards the rest of the field. But in this season, Pia was getting scored for vocal excellence just like everyone else. Maybe her Gwen Stefani-mandated outfit was just a little too much. Maybe Pia is, somehow, too beautiful and therefore, perversely perceived as not real enough. Maybe Pia’s fans thought she was safe because she had finally performed her uptempo so they took the night off.

But let’s be real here. Maybe, American Idol voters just have stopped being inspired to vote for women at all. We are now five weeks into the finals and have lost five women. In the last three seasons, we’ve seen nine men and only three women make it to the top 4. In the last two season, four of the top five were men. Is the voting Idol demographic coupled with the increasingly hardcore-friendly voting system making it impossible for women to do well on Idol? American Idol has always had a primarily female audience. I would wager that the voting demographic skews even more female. The most hardcore fanbases have always been solely associated with male contestants – from the Soul Patrol to the Blaker Girls to the Arch Angels to the Glamberts all the way back to the Claymates. However, these hardcore fanbases were less important due to a greater viewership resulting in more casual voters and the fact that a hardcore fan could still only call in so many times. However, once text messaging was added as a means of voting (as well as become popularized in general), a hardcore fan could get in thousands of votes, effectively demolishing the impact of the casual caller placing one vote for that girl who was alright this week. This season, with text messaging and online voting available, I can only imagine the ways in which hardcore fanbases are working to devise the best powervoting techniques. As a result, the female contestants, who have never inspired quite the depth of hysteria as their equally talented male counterparts, have been suffering the consequences.

I think Pia is just the latest victim to an Idol voting audience which has become increasingly about who has the most loyal fans and less about who is giving the best performances. Let’s remember one thing, while Pia has been a labeled a frontrunner online by nearly everyone for weeks now, she was not given any particular focus in the audition rounds. She was shown fairly consistently, yes, but never labeled as the new “rising star” or “next Kelly Clarkson.” She didn’t come with sob story attached or with group round drama. She didn’t build up the following that Lauren Alaina or James Durbin or Casey Abrams might have been able to with their far more generous edits. She built up her following and her hype by coming out during the first week of live performances and belting out a vocal so far ahead of the pack that people were forced to take notice of her. With “I’ll Stand By You,” she proved that she was going to be a contender during Season 10 and managed to obtain the frontrunner label without the frontrunner fanbase.

I didn’t intend for this blog to turn into a defense of Pia Toscano. I really didn’t. I like Pia but I’m not particularly attached to her, individually. (In ten years of Idol, I can think of only two contestants that I was truly invested in.) But as I started writing this blog and trying to work my way through an explanation of her elimination, I’ve started to realize exactly what Pia’s elimination means. Pia might not have been the most electrifying or varied performer on stage every night, but she was certainly one of the most vocally gifted. She has an absurd voice and has proven that she can connect with a song and with an audience. From Pia, I always got the feeling that she could grow as a performer during the competition and that she had that one dynamite moment in her. I guess I think that Pia left before she could give her defining performance. And unlike the four women who left before her, I believe she was capable of that season-defining performance. But Pia can’t give that performance any more and instead we’re stuck with Stefano and Paul and Casey and Jacob who I think have already shown us everything they’re capable of. I don’t think Scotty is throwing us a “Summertime.” I don’t think Lauren has that “Stuff Like That There” up her sleeve. I hope someone proves me wrong, but the prospect of being truly surprised and wowed as the season continues just got a lot worse.

Five women in five weeks. Frontrunner female getting axed after giving a strong vocal performance. At least on some level, American Idol needs to attempt to be a singing competition.


3 Responses to “American Idol X(Y)”

  1. 1 Bebito April 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    To be honest I’m glad she went home. She is incredibly talented no doubt. But she isn’t likable. The audience needs to have a connection with the talent. It’s something they’ve recently started figuring out on So You Think You Can Dance. One season the judges put through a legion of dancing powerhouses lacking in personality. Then they were shocked to watch as one by one America sent them home in favor of somewhat less talented dancers but who were vulnerable and you could become connected with. They were technical dance perfectionists. And they were soulless.

    This is Pia. People know she is good. Heck great even. And that’s all they know. They never connected with her. And no one picked up the phone.

    • 2 jaytak April 8, 2011 at 3:44 pm

      But the question still stands – why didn’t Pia connect with a greater voting audience? I know of all the contestants left, I felt most motivated to vote for Pia. I, personally, connected with her on nearly every outing.

      What makes her personality or performances less conducive to “connecting” with the audience? Because “connecting” with the audience is a very individualized, amorphous quality. Technical excellence is not mutually exclusive with emotional vulnerability – there has to be a more solid explanation behind it.

  2. 3 chicagogirly April 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm


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