Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Idol - Why Kris Allen will win

Guest and possibly soon-to-be semi-regular contributor James Davis explains why Kris Allen will win American Idol. Ready to put your co-workers to shame and maybe win a little money in the process?

Danny Gokey was seen by many as the only possible threat to Adam Lambert's march to Idoldom, and now he is eliminated. Radio stations across the countries are already crowning Adam and proclaiming him as one of the best Idol's in history. Bloggers are declaring that it would be a catastrophic upset if Lambert doesn't win in a landslide, and once again dragging the dreary cliché of Chris Daughtry's elimination through the mud for yet another season in anticipation of such a shocker.

Meanwhile, Kris Allen has quietly chugged along with some truly elite performances, mixed in with some clunkers. It's tough to quantify the chances of winning for a candidate who can pull off an acoustic version of "Heartless" or "All she wants to do is Dance" while also looking extremely awkward singing "Renegade" and "Come Together" during rock and roll week. It looks like we are setting up for a blood bath in the finale. And yet, Ryan said the Final 3 vote was separated by a mere 1 million out of the 88 million cast. If that is true, this race is a lot closer than public perception seems to make it. (Last year the judges shamelessly promoted David Archuleta in an effort to make it seem he had a chance in the finale against Cook. The truth was betting sites knew it was going to be a landslide and Cook won by more than 12 million votes.)If Kris and Adam were indeed separated by a million votes, there are a few factors at play that seem to favor Kris over Adam.

The first advantage at play for Kris is his versatility. He can sit and sing a ballad, rock out on guitar, or sit behind a piano in any given performance. He is stronger in some areas than others, but he is versatile. Adam Lambert, on the other hand, really only has 2 gears - and those are not nearly as distinguishable. He can sing slowly and eerily, as we heard in what I believe is the performance of the season in "Mad World," or go pure rock, as we saw with "Whole Lotta Love." But, in a finale where the contestants sing 3 songs - is it not possible that the voting audience raises an eyebrow when Adam's 3 performances all sound somewhat similar?

Perhaps a more important concept all the American Idol bettors I know employ is vote re-distribution(yes, I actually know several people who bet AI. This is the life of a professional gambler). The basic process for considering how things might change in the balance of the competition from week to week stems from both the performances delivered, but also the person most recently eliminated. Think back to Season 4, when rocker Bo Bice was storming into the finals after several weeks where he was praised just as loudly as Adam has been. Going into the finale he was listed as a 5/8 favorite on Pinnacle.com; a heavy favorite. Meanwhile, the underdog Carrie Underwod was listed as a 3/2 underdog. This betting line suggests that Carrie only had a %40 chance to win. We all know what wound up happening. The question is - why? The answer lies in both the obvious answer - hot girls singing country music have more material relevance and appeal than bizarre looking southern rockers - but also in the relatively obscure R&B singer, Vonzell Solomon.

Solomon was the girl who was eliminated the week before Underwood "upset" Bice in the finale. Clearly, to make it to the top 3, she had quite a strong following. Her song choices were heavily pop, r&b and female influenced. Now assume that a large portion of her following just loved her, and stopped voting when she was eliminated. There must still have been a large group of people who simply love American Idol who also just liked her the best. Are the people who connected with the songs listed previously more likely to go to a strange looking guy who sings Lynyrd Skynyrd or a charming girl who sings female-driven songs? You could easily imagine Underwood garnering an overwhelming majority of Solomon's votes and overcoming a decent gap in votes between herself and Bice. It seems more likely to overcome a deficit when people would already be inclined to vote for you than it is to change their mind with one set of performances in a 20 week season.

So once again, we asume that Ryan was telling the truth. The top two were separated by less than a million votes. The vote could have been

Lambert 35 million
Allen 34 million
Gokey 19 million

This seems unrealistic though, because Gokey has been a major factor all along. More realistic seems to be

Lambert 31 million
Allen 30 million
Gokey 27 million

I would argue that Adam is such a polarizing figure that supporters of other contestants have been frustrated with the overwhelming Adam-love this season. He is definitely a "love him" or "hate him" type for many people, and I have to imagine those who were sad to see Danny go are more likely to latch on to Kris' campaign than Adam's. By this logic, the more votes Danny had last week, the better it will be for Kris in the finale. Look at this model:

Gokey had 27 million votes.
7 million of those votes only liked Gokey, will not vote in the finals.
20 million of them will be re-distributed.

Kris needs just 10.5 million of those 20 million votes to overcome a one million vote deficit - or just 52.5% of Danny's votes! I would project that he inherits a much larger percentage of Danny's votes, personally.

All of this is for naught if the true results were something different than reported by Ryan. But when someone tells you that Adam is definitely going to win - it might not be a bad idea to tell them to put their money where their mouth is. Folks that don't understand odds might easily bet $20 to win your $5, which can't be close to the true odds if Ryan was reporting accurately.


  1. Since Nigel Lythgoe has stated that Carrie Underwood led wire to wire, your analysis of that season is off. Carrie may well have picked up a goodly number of Solomon's votes, but she didn't need them to make up any deficit. Any betting line that had her the underdog wasn't paying attention.

    While I think you are right in thinking that hard-core Gokey fans will either not vote or will vote for Allen, hard-core Lambert fans may well figure that out for themselves and vote like maniacs. Is anyone (tween girls?) so enthusiastic about Allen as to vote their fingers off? Maybe. And how big and committed is the homophobic anyone-but-Lambert vote? Further does Lambert really want to win, or would he prefer the exposure he has already received without the constraints of being the Idol and thus take a dive?

    I have never voted for American Idol or any other pop voting option, and I don't listen to or buy pop music (or any other kind of music). However, I am thinking of voting for Lambert because the homophobic stuff out there has pissed me off. Are there others like me--possible new voters who are energized by the finale and who will vote without regard for past contestants and performances, but because they want to register a stand either for or against Lambert? I can't imagine any new voters being energized by Allen's charisma-less persona.

  2. Thanks for your comment! Let me address your points.

    First of all, you are partially correct about Carrie Underwood. She led for most of the season - at one point being nearly even money(50% chance to win) in spite of there being several contestants remaining. That alone makes this a different case, as you would never have called Kris Allen the favorite this season. However, the betting sites know far more about the actual spread of votes than the general public. Every single betting site had Bo as the favorite - just as every site has Lambert as the favorite this season. The public perception might have seen Carrie as a favorite, but that was not the case going in. It is similar to last year where many people saw the Archuleta/Cook battle as 50/50 even though Cook was an overwhelming favorite.

    Your quote, "While I think you are right in thinking that hard-core Gokey fans will either not vote or will vote for Allen, hard-core Lambert fans may well figure that out for themselves and vote like maniacs," proves my point. If(and it's a big IF) Ryan as stating accurate information regarding the vote total splits, that indeed the top 2 were separated by less than 1 million votes, then Kris has very little work to do to overcome this.

    Your position is based on the idea that Adam's fans MIGHT go crazy voting...why would they increase the proportion of the craziness of their voting relative to Kris' supporters? Certainly we have no reason to suspect that his voters will turn out in significantly more significant numbers than last week(relative to kris' supporters) - because they would have been just as passionate last week about pushing him through what was seen as a very tight final 3.

    Your point about Lambert not wanting to win only supports my case that he shouldnt be seen as the overwhelming favorite, no?

    You have a clear bias against Allen for having a "Charisma-less" person, and a seeming bias towards Lambert because of what you perceive is a homophobic uprising against him. This is fine! This is the beauty of American Idol - your opinion is good enough no matter how you arrive at it. But you need to realize that you are simply approaching this through the lens of your perspective - what I am trying to do is look at the situation statistically instead of subjectively. If this were a "singing competition," Adam would have already won. But since it's not, we'll all be tuning in tonight.

  3. congrats to Kris; he stuck it out, got the votes he needed when he needed them and ended up winning the whole thing; he's like a politician, only more sincere