After watching the show for so long, I get the psychology behind American Idol (see “How to Win American Idol“). Last season, when it came down to the final two, I correctly predicted that Lee DeWyze would win in textbook fashion (See “Why Lee DeWyze Will Win American Idol“).
This year, I’m going to go out on a bigger limb and predict the winner with three contestants to go. This is tricky because all three remaining contestants– Haley Reinhart, Lauren Alaina, and Scotty McCreery— very much appeal to the main voting demographic (mostly tween girls and their mothers).
Let’s start with the women. Haley and Lauren both play the role of ‘American Sweethearts’. They both had a great arc throughout the season, not peaking too early. They both check the right boxes that allow the voters to relate: they show humility and are good but not too good where their success appears out of reach to their fans. However, I predict Lauren will triumph over Haley. Lauren is just that much more of an ‘American Sweetheart” than Haley. She shows that much more vulnerability, is more obviously unsure of herself (which is very relatable among the voting demographic and plays more to the underdog aspect), looks more the part, and is closer in age to the main voting demographic.
In fact, I think Haley was in trouble last week, and the judges knew it. However, I think the judges made a decision that they wanted a female to win this year so they biased things psychologically so that Haley would remain in the competition (thus increasing the chances that a woman would win this year). How did they bias things? I think the judges met before the performance on Thursday and came up with a plan. Steven Tyler would be the ‘nice guy’, during Haley’s first performance, and Jennifer and Randy would be the bad cops, being harsh but hinting that she could make a comeback during her second performance that evening.
Note the importance of this hint. I’ve noticed that when the judges decide they really want someone to go, they will just flat out make a statement like “I don’t think you have what it takes to remain in this competition” but when they want someone to stay, they will instead say “This wasn’t your best performance, but we know you have more in you and can come back and knock it out of the part next time“. The former phrasing activates an “it’s over” mindset for the voters whereas the latter phrasing activate a completely different drive– the basic human desire to root for the underdog. What the judges did on Thursday was very clever. They decided to actively re-calibrate Haley’s arc, making people empathize with her, and want to root for her to make a comeback.
Still, that psychological trick won’t be enough to carry Haley all the way. The finale will include Lauren and Scotty. Between the two, who will win?
To make this prediction, let’s not forget the voting demographic. This isn’t just a talent competition. If it were, the final three would have been James Durbin, Pia Toscano, and Jacob Lusk. But that didn’t happen. The ones that didn’t make it through this season either peaked too early, were too consistent, were too good, too quirky, too different, or even just too old. This year’s James Durbin was extremely talented and put all his passion into every single performance, but like Adam Lambert who was eliminated in the finale two seasons ago, he came out too stong, too early. Also like Lambert, Durbin was too good, too ‘out there’, made too many voters uncomfortable, and did this all too consistently.
Lady Gaga wasn’t kidding when she told Lauren: “When I was 16 years old, I was too weird to be on American Idol. They would have shut the door right in my face.” I believe it! That would have been unfortunate though had that happened, as there is lots to learn from people like Lady Gaga (see “Lady Gaga is Out of Her Mind– And I Love It“). No, this show has come down to a red state, middle-school popularity contest. I think I’m going to move on to X-Factor where hopefully there will be more of an appreciation of diversity!
My prediction is that this year’s American Idol finale is going to be neck and neck, perhaps one of the closest calls in the history of American Idol (although they seem to say this every year).
But in the final count, I predict Scotty McCreery will win American Idol. Scotty ticks the most boxes in this regard (many of the same boxes the winners of the last two seasons have ticked– shoot, what were their names again?): Scotty sings a popular genre (country music), Scotty is talented but non-threatening, Scotty is likeable, Scotty is dreamy, Scotty is religious, Scotty is down-to-earth, Scotty is normal (he doesn’t have– god forbid— a weird tick or Asperger’s like James Durbin had! Because remember, voters don’t like people who are different on this show), Scotty is confident, and Scotty has a nice smile.
Oh, and the most important reason of them all? Scotty has the best name in the world.
***UPDATE*** Congratulations Scotty McCreery on winning American Idol Season 10!
© 2011 by Scott Barry Kaufman