I watch American Idol. And yes, I enjoy it. It’s something I can do for a few months of the year with my husband (and now my daughter), and despite the fact that we both have “good taste” in music, we really get into it. I own this, and I feel no shame. But something’s been eating me as of late: the show and its audience doesn’t seem to be particularly kind to its female contestants.
As Idol watchers know, this week’s result show was shocking, and not just because some clueless/disgruntled producer booked Iggy Pop to play shirtless and scare the bejeezus out of poor Jennifer Lopez. Pia Toscano, who I would argue was technically the best singer of this year’s top finalists, was booted off the show. This news prompted booing from the audience, crying from J.Lo, and swearing from Randy Jackson. But should we be surprised that Pia got kicked off so early in the game? After all, a woman hasn’t won American Idol since Jordin Sparks overtook the underwhelming human beat-box Blake Lewis in 2007 (Sparks, incidentally, was also the last person of color to take the title).
Of the eight contestants now left on season 10 of American Idol, only two of them are women. I’d like to think that one of them (amazing 16-year-old Lauren Alaina) will win, but given Toscano’s departure, things aren’t looking good for the ladies. While some of the men left are not bad, many of them lack the combination of singing power and artistry that is needed to become a successful recording star. Why are the drippy Stefano Langone and inexplicably creepy alt-country dude Paul McDonald (the official candidate of the snarky Vote For the Worst campaign) still there when the girl with pipes that could stand up to Celine Dion is now watching on TV from the comfort of her own home?
The obvious group to point the finger at would be tween girls. Young girls have long been scapegoated for leaving crap contestants on American Idol. The past three winners (Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, and David Cook) have been cute but bland white men in their early 20s with varying degrees of non-threatening facial hair. People tend to assume that young girls are more likely to sit for two hours pushing the redial button on their phones, thus skewing the vote in favor of dreamy boys. The problem is, I don’t think that any of these recent winners are dreamy enough to appeal to tween girls.
Maybe I’m out of touch, but Kris Allen, who beat out the greatest Idol contestant of all time, Adam Lambert, is no Justin Bieber. He’s okay, but nothing that would get a 12-year-old version of myself to vote two hundred times a week. If anything, I think Lambert, who didn’t publicly come out until after Idol was over, would appeal more to young girls than Allen. When I was a young girl, I would have been more prone to vote for the women contestants than the boys. Would 22-year-old Pia Toscano not seem like more of a role model to 12-year-old girls than an object of jealousy? These are the same girls who go out and buy Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift albums – they hardly have a history of hating on female singers.
So, it’s a mystery as to why women have fared so poorly on American Idol in the last four or five seasons. It’s funny, the biggest post-Idol successes have been women; Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson are such big stars that it’s easy to forget that they all got their start on a talent show. Word has it Pia Toscano has already been offered a big record deal, so the odds are she’ll be all right. But what about all of the girls watching and voting, feeling like American Idol is no place for a woman?