December 27, 2003 | Graham

Don’t SMS Guy

World Idol screened last night (be prepared to wait if you click on that link, it’s one of the worst professionally designed sites you’re likely to ever use). It’s not as good as the regional competitions. It is a one-off Eisteddfod style competition where the only innovation is that the public gets to vote for the winner. There is no attempt to build a community of supporters around the contestants.
The show has been done on the cheap. Judge Simon Cowle called it a Karaoke Competition. You would have thought that with the international audience that they had they could have afforded any number of backing artists, rather than a pre-recorded soundtrack. Belgium Idol Peter Evrard did a heavy metal number and was told by one judge he shouldn’t have been there, he should have been fronting a band. Indeed. Why wasn’t he, and who is to blame? Surely not Evrard?
I’m not prepared to say Sebastian had the best voice on the night, nor that he deserves to be the winner. But then, my career hasn’t been based on getting the best candidate into first place, it is based on winning with whatever candidate you have, so here’s some technical analysis.
For my money US Idol Kelly Clarkson was the best. She was stylish and her voice was incredibly controlled for a 21 year old as she sang Carole King’s Natural Woman. That doesn’t mean that she will win. There are geopolitical forces at work.
In our focus group research on the proposed US Australia Free Trade Agreement we found a very strong strand of anti-Americanism. That is also a theme that international research work has uncovered. Put bluntly, the US involvement in Iraq is a major hurdle for Clarkson to overcome. She looks and sounds great, but in the Aussie rhyming slang, she’s a Septic Tank, and as a result her prospects may well tank.
The voting system is a bit like our constitutional referendum voting system. Each of the 11 participating countries is treated as a bloc. They vote for the contestants and a country rank order is generated which automatically gives 12 votes to the hometown contestant and then starting at ten numbers the others off in descending order of popularity. These numbers are then taken and added together. The contestant who scores the highest number wins. So the smallest countries exercise disproportionate influence. A win in South Africa counts as equal to one in the US, even thought the US is 50 times larger.
This is a system designed to give the win to the least offensive candidate. Rational voters in individual countries will be least inclined to vote for the obvious winner who might threaten the prospects of their local champ. The more hype around a singer, the worse they will fare.
This is a system which should favour a dark horse like Sebastian. It also may help Norwegian Idol, Kurt Nilsen. I think it was “Dicko” who said that Australian Idol had helped a lot of ugly people to win record contracts when commenting on Nilsen. The judges thought Nilsen had the best voice, and one can infer, the worst looks. His gap-toothed smile is one for the under-dog.
Of course there are other things at work. The Get Out the Vote factor will be significant. How many viewers will actually vote if they can’t vote for their national idol? Any country that runs an organized campaign can help their own Idol. I have read that Australians are messaging people in other countries to vote for Sebastian. What are the Americans doing in a country where everything is professionalised within an inch of its life? Is anyone pushing the message – “Well, if you can’t vote for Sebastian, vote for X (where X is anyone other than the most likely winner).”
In this context the US has a big advantage. Their total population is probably larger than that of the rest of the contestant countries together. As a result, there should be proportionately more connections from Americans to voters in other countries who can vote for Clarkson, than there are from Australia to voters who can vote for Sebastian. It’s quite possible that the result of World Idol will come down to a power law of 6 degrees of separation.

Posted by Graham at 10:39 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. who cares what the world thinks? we ” KNOW “that GUY SEBASTIAN is the best.

    Comment by c mills — December 28, 2003 @ 12:02 am

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