Season 9 on "American Idol" was supposed
to be a girls' season. Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, and even Simon Cowell all authoritatively decreed it so. Promising quirky-girl contestants like Lilly Scott, Katelyn Epperley, Janell Wheeler, Lacey Brown, and Didi Benami were all hyped early on as ones to watch and ones to beat. At one point, a Crystal Bowersox/Siobhan Magnus final showdown seemed quite likely. But sadly, "AI9" hasn't quite panned out in the females' favor. Most of the aforementioned girls all left the competition shockingly prematurely--including Siobhan, one of this season's most interesting, unique, and talented contestants. Now only one female, Crystal, remains in the competition, and despite her popularity, I fear she won't win this season. Season 9 will probably be just another boys' club, after all. I predict Lee DeWyze is going to win in the end, and this makes me sad.
See, over the years, "American Idol" has become an increasingly male-dominated production: We have to go back to Season 6 for a time when a female contestant (Jordin Sparks) won, and all the way back to Season 3 for a time when two females (Fantasia Barrino and Diana Degarmo) faced off in the finale. And now, this is the second year in a row when only one girl made the top five. This development is especially interesting considering that the two most successful "Idol" winners ever
are female: Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. So why aren't girls prevailing on this show anymore? And will a girl ever
win "Idol" again? Does Crystal even stand a chance?
The fact is, while millions of people from all walks of life still watch "American Idol," the voter demographic has drastically changed, in a way that's given male contestants a major advantage. Says one anonymous "Idol" insider: "I've realized lately that the 'Idol' voting fanbase is now totally dominated by 40-plus soccer moms and their tween offspring. It explains the past few years' winners and the weekly voting patterns."
This totally makes sense. It's pretty obvious that in Season 7, the ruggedly handsome David Cook attracted the older-female demographic (there was even a famous fan group called Cougars for Cook), while the little girls voted in droves for non-threatening teen dreamboat David Archuleta. In Season 8, classic-rock-evoking Adam Lambert and bespectacled widower Danny Gokey amassed huge followings among middle-aged women, while the cute and diminutive Kris Allen wooed the teens. This season, it seemed the moms threw their support at Fabio-haired construction worker Casey James, the David Cook-ish strong and silent type Lee DeWyze, and Vandross-like new dad/personal trainer Michael Lynche, while their daughters--some of whom probably had their own crushes on Casey and Lee--swooned for 17-year-old Aaron Kelly. (The younger female voters also probably kept mop-topped Tim Urban in the game much longer than many pundits expected.)
Some might argue that female viewers, particularly younger ones, seem to vote with their hearts and hormones more than with their ears. ("Since the rise of the tweens, circa Season 6, the only women that get anywhere are in the Jordin Sparks mode...the perpetually smiling, non-threatening best friend who would never, ever talk to a guy you like. And in the past couple years, even they haven't been allowed through," says "Idol" reporter/expert Richard Rushfield in Natasha Vargas-Cooper's excellent article, "American Idol: The Fascism of Tweens and the Case for Monarchy
.") But I think this problem has as much to do with male
"Idol" viewers, who seemingly aren't voting at all
. Taking a recent casual survey of my male "Idol"-watching friends, I was utterly shocked to learn that while some of them have purchased Idols' albums, none
of them--not even the ones who've been avidly following the show since Season 1--have ever voted. Not even once. Not even on finale night.
Meanwhile, my female friends, myself, and even my mom and grandmother have all speed-dialed or block-texted on behalf of our respective favorite (admittedly usually male) finalists. "Since text messaging has become ubiquitous, in the past four to five years, the road for girls has gotten increasingly hard," Rushfield tells Vargas-Cooper. He has a good point, as it's difficult to imagine any average American dude spending hours on his phone repeat-dialing the voting number for any "Idol" contestant, not even for one as foxy as, say, Antonella Barba or Haley Scarnato.
This behavior among female "Idol" viewers really only mirrors real-life fandom among female-versus-male music followers in general. As a former tween girl who once dwelled in a pastel-pink bedroom wallpapered with pinups of my pouty pop heroes, I can personally attest that the fandom experienced by female devotees can be much, much more profound than that of male fans. Female fans are more likely to become emotionally invested in their rock 'n' roll idols, as (yes, I'm making gross generalizations here) the "fairer sex" tends to be more romantic and loyal by nature. It could even be theorized that female fans' unflagging dedication to their heartthrobs (from Elvis to David Cassidy, Duran Duran to Hanson, NKOTB to *NSYNC) goes all the way back to hard-wired biology, which may render females instinctively more loving and monogamous. But social conditioning is at least as responsible as biology for the female fandom phenomenon. You see, if a teen girl turns her bedroom into a Jonas Brothers shrine, plastering all four corners with photos and posters of Joe or Nick, everyone just laughingly shrugs it off as "girls will be girls." But if a boy lovingly employs the same home-decorating technique using magazine clippings of Ke$ha, everyone jumps to the conclusion that he's a psychopath and warns Ke$ha to file for a restraining order. Simply put, boys aren't encouraged to idolize celebrities; such obsessive, unrequited worship among males is at best considered a character flaw, and at worst, almost a form of mental illness. Pop-star infatuation is just accepted as a normal part of development for girls, but not for boys, and that's why for every boy who openly declares his dedication to Beyonce, there are 1,000 girlies professing eternal love for Justin Bieber. So it's no wonder female "Idol" voters are so much more active than male ones.
It's just too bad that these active female voters apparently don't demonstrate the same enthusiasm for their "own kind," so to speak. One might expect that they would look at gifted girls like Didi, Lilly, or Siobhan as role models, the kind of girls who would inspire them to pick up a guitar--or at least pick up a darn phone and vote. But no. And last season's Allison Iraheta was arguably one of the best girl singers to ever grace the "Idol" stage, and was even compared to the one and only Kelly Clarkson multiple times by the judges--yet Allison landed in the bottom three repeatedly and stalled at fourth place, and her debut album, Just Like You
, only made it to #35 on the chart and has so far only sold a disappointing 97,000 copies. 19 Entertainment might have hoped that the likable then-16-year-old contestant would connect with teenage girls watching at home, but instead the teenage girls were casting their votes for the boys.
In an earlier "Idol" season, someone like Allison may have won the entire show--but the Irahetas (and Benamis, and Magnuses) of the world no longer seem to have the female demo's full support.
So that begs the question: How about the Bowersoxes of the world? Will Crystal, undoubtedly a strong female role model who women of varying ages can relate to, and who has long been championed as a Season 9 frontrunner, break the girls' dry spell on "Idol"? Well, her prominent presence in the media, and in Yahoo! searches and buzz reports, indicates that she has a decent shot of doing so. And to touch on what Rushfield stated in his above-mentioned interview, Crystal is a "non-threatening" type (deliberately and defiantly unglamorous, hippie-ish, soft-spoken, a mom) who won't alienate female voters. I'd personally love to see Crystal make it all the way to the victory circle and represent the ladies this season. But her fate, and perhaps the fate of the entire "Idol" franchise, lies in the speed-dialing, text-voting hands of America's moms and daughters.
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