Does American Idol Have A “White Guy” PR Problem?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 23, 2012 – 10:01 pm

The past five winners of American Idol – including tonight’s winner, Phillip Phillips – all have something in common. They’re all white males.

You’d have to go back five years to find a winner who wasn’t. Since Jordin Sparks took the title in 2007, the winners have all been white guys: David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Scotty McCreery, and Phillip Phillips.

I have no objection to Idol voters selecting white men as the winners. But I do have a problem with a program that consistently slights superior singers for ones who appeal to the 10-15-year-old female demographic. As a result, the winners are now predictably always “aw shucks” nice guy white male contestants. 

And that creates a PR problem for Idol.

Philip Phillips, winner of this season's American Idol

No one who watched this season can credibly argue that Philip Phillips was the best vocalist. R&B crooner Joshua Ledet, a church-tinged singer who consistently provided a “wow” factor, finished third. That’s like James Brown, Otis Redding, or Sam Cooke finishing third to Huey Lewis, Dave Matthews, or Rob Thomas. They’re all good singers, but the first group of three is in a different league.

The below video is of Phillips singing Time of the Season. Listen to that falsetto and tell me he deserved to be named the best undiscovered singer in the United States.


If Idol results were based on merit, Joshua Ledet wouldn’t have been eliminated before Philip Phillips. Here’s his masterful performance of James Browns’ It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.

American Idol’s judges regularly proclaim that their show is, first and foremost, a “singing competition.” The facts don’t bear out their claim. And I’d maintain that the show’s slipping ratings are, in part, a result of the voters’ obvious slant, which renders the show completely predictable.

What can Idol do to give singers who don’t meet the “guitar-playing cute white male with stubble demo” a fighting chance? Here are three ideas:

1. Change The Voting Formula: I suspect that as the show has aged, it’s viewing demographic has narrowed. (As an example, I almost never see the 2,200+ people I follow on Twitter discussing results). Idol can use the same voting formula that The Voice uses; the public gets a 50 percent share of the vote, and the judges get another 50 percent.

2. The Judges Can…Well, Judge: The judges – Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler – are nice. Too nice. By complimenting even mediocre performances and pairing critical feedback with undeserved praise, the viewing audience isn’t able to use the judge’s reactions as a voting guide. They should offer unsparing feedback, audience boos and hurt feelings be damned.

3. More Jimmy Iovine, Please: Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine is a legendary music producer who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and U2. He tells contestants exactly what he thinks. The problem? Idol doesn’t air his comments until after the voting concludes. They should air his comments before the voting begins so he can help influence voters.

What do you think? Do you agree with my analysis? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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