Friday, November 5, 2010

American Idol, Sort Of

American Idol is running ads for the upcoming season regarding the fact that they represent, well, a broad cross-section of America. Fair enough, they certainly go to a broad enough cross-section of audition cities.

This would have passed by unnoticed and uncommented on, except for one little mistake: they started to show some of the actual winners and their hometowns. And the states seemed to... cluster. Texas. Alabama. Arkansas. Missouri. Oklahoma.

My brain sometimes latches onto the strangest, most inconsequential things. This turns out to be one of them. And with me, sometimes the only way to get it out and make room for something else, something more important, is to just go with it. I warn you in the profile over there to your right. I never said what kind of knowledge you'd be getting around here. Just knowledge of some sort. Sometimes you get election coverage, sometimes you get economic disaster in Albania, sometimes you get me turning my full investigative fury on an innocent American Idol commercial that did nothing wrong to anyone. Back in the glory of statistical masturbation.

This is probably how those studies end up happening on things like the pattern in which a skunk sprays when it gets run over by a Mack truck. People like me happen.

The show can let anyone it chooses through the audition process, any combination of people at all, but once they turn control over to the viewers, they lose almost all control over what cross-section of America survives to the end. So here's what we're going to do. We're going to pull out a map of the United States. We will then mark off, on that map, the locations of the hometowns (at the time) of every contestant in American Idol history that has placed in the top five.

First, we'll list them off.

1st: Kelly Clarkson, Burleson, TX
2nd: Justin Guarini, Doylestown, PA
3rd: Nikki McKibbin, Grand Prairie, TX
4th: Tamyra Gray, Atlanta, GA
5th: R.J. Helton, Cumming, GA

1st: Ruben Studdard, Birmingham, AL
2nd: Clay Aiken, Raleigh, NC
3rd: Kimberley Locke, Nashville, TN
4th: Josh Gracin, Westland, MI
5th: Treynce, Memphis, TN

1st: Fantasia Barrino, High Point, NC
2nd: Diana DeGarmo, Snellville, GA
3rd: Jasmine Trias, Mililani Town, HI
4th: LaToya London, San Francisco, CA
5th: George Huff, New Orleans, LA

1st: Carrie Underwood, Checotah, OK
2nd: Bo Bice, Huntsville, AL
3rd: Vonzell Solomon, Fort Myers, FL
4th: Anthony Fedorov, Trevose, PA
5th: Scott Savol, Cleveland, OH

1st: Taylor Hicks, Birmingham, AL
2nd: Katharine McPhee, Los Angeles, CA
3rd: Elliott Yamin, Richmond, VA
4th: Chris Daughtry, McLeansville, NC
5th: Paris Bennett, Fayetteville, GA

1st: Jordin Sparks, Glendale, AZ
2nd: Blake Lewis, Bothell, WA
3rd: Melinda Doolittle, Brentwood, TN
4th: LaKisha Jones, Flint, MI
5th: Chris Richardson, Chesapeake, VA

1st: David Cook, Blue Springs, MO
2nd: David Archuleta, Murray, UT
3rd: Syesha Mercado, Sarasota, FL
4th: Jason Castro, Rockwall, TX
5th: Brooke White, Van Nuys, CA

1st: Kris Allen, Conway, AR
2nd: Adam Lambert, San Diego, CA
3rd: Danny Gokey, Milwaukee, WI
4th: Alison Iraheta, Los Angeles, CA
5th: Matt Giraud, Kalamazoo, MI

1st: Lee DeWyze, Mount Prospect, IL
2nd: Crystal Bowersox, Elliston, OH
3rd: Casey James, Fort Worth, TX
4th: Michael Lynche, St. Petersburg, FL
5th: Aaron Kelly, Sonestown, PA

Man. If this isn't a testament to a talent show's credibility resting on the actual quality of the talent it finds. Riding high earlier on with Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry and Bo Bice and Tamyra Gray, and then you look at more recent years and... Danny Gokey. Lee DeWyze. What the hell. The talent pool fell off a cliff after season 5.

But anyway. We will map the hometowns (as best as possible, anyway) to see what kind of pattern emerges, if any. Winners are shown in red, runner-ups in pink, 3rd place in blue, 4th in green, 5th in grey. The seasons are noted. So Burleson, Texas, hometown of Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson, is denoted by a red 1.

Here's the map. Linked because it's way too big to fit here.

As the commercial indicated, it stacks up in the South, particularly in the top three. When fourth and fifth get added in, you start to see the Rust Belt pop up a lot as well. The Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles metro areas seem particularly prone to getting people deep into the competition, though Los Angeles didn't start making these showings until Season 5 while Dallas and Atlanta began placing immediately. And Birmingham, Alabama has come up with two of the winners, Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks, something no other STATE has managed.

Meanwhile, New York, city or state, hasn't put a single singer in the top five yet as we head into Season 10 (and not for lack of trying on the part of the show; auditions have been repeatedly held there). New England is also entirely absent. The Mountain West only has David Archuleta of the Salt Lake City metro and, if you want to be generous, Jordin Sparks of the Phoenix metro.

South Carolina and Mississippi are also absent. And with the series in well-publicized chaos, they may want to hurry. Besides, they're in the part of the country that seemingly has all the singers who are actually any good.

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