Friday, March 02, 2007

Is race affecting the votes on American Idol?

I'm still in shock over what happened last night on American Idol. It seems almost unbelievable to me that Sanjaya Malakar was NOT voted off the show. Even Sanjaya exclaimed that he was shocked when the decision was read. I find myself looking for an explanation to this, and there's only one thing I can think of -- Sanjaya is Indian.

Before you accuse me of being racist, stop. I'm not. If I were racist, my statement would be that an Indian can't or shouldn't win American Idol. I don't believe that. I just don't think Sanjaya is as good as the other contestants. He's terribly shy, and seems unable to handle the pressure of the show. Both of Sanjaya's last two performances have seemed over-rehearsed and cold, as if he's reading from a script. He's consistantly been the worst singer in the bunch. That's saying something, too, given the terrible performances of just about all the men from the first week.

Incredibly, Ryan Seacrest indicated that Sanjaya was in the top 4 men after the first week. This week, I can't imagine he was that highly ranked, but I wouldn't be surprised. This brings me to my explanation of why I believe that Sanjaya's race is influencing his standing. I discount the fact that Sanjaya is young and handsome as being a contributing factor. Several of the other male contestants are also young and handsome. This dilutes the "teeny bopper" vote, which typically go to the cutest singer, not the best singer. I discount the charisma vote. The folks that voted for Taylor Hicks in Season 5 were voting as much for his personality as his musical ability. Sanjaya has no personality, he's just boring. I discount the musical ability vote. Sanjaya demonstrated some ability during the auditions and Hollywood week, but has shown nothing in the way of talent so far in the finals. That leaves the only thing that sets Sanjaya apart from the other contestants. As far as I can tell, he's the only Indian to have ever made the semi-finals.

There is a HUGE Indian population in the United States, made even larger if you include neighboring South-Asian countries as being part of the same minority group. I would not be at all surprised to find that the vast majority of Indians and Asians voting on American Idol are casting their votes in favor of Sanjaya, simply because he is the first Indian to have arrived on the big stage, and because they want to see him do well regardless of talent. Meanwhile, racially motivated votes for the others are split pretty much half and half between black and white, but diluted by the quantity of contestants representing each race. Non-Indian Asians have been on the program before, which could explain why Paul Kim didn't get the benefit of the vote last week despite being a better performer than Sanjaya.

Assuming that I am correct, how do we address this issue? I don't think anything really needs to be done. As we continue, other contestants will get voted off the show. People voting for those contestants will choose new favorites. Statistically, most of those votes will not go to Sanjaya. Eventually, the numbers will start to weigh more heavily against him and he'll get voted off. And, unless Sanjaya makes some enormous improvements to his act, he'll be gone sooner than later.

Alternatively, perhaps there should be a way for people to vote AGAINST a contestant. American Idol could set up a Digg style system, by which people could cast negative votes for people they believe deserve to get voted off, to counteract the affirmative votes cast by others. If it works for Digg, it could just as easily work for American Idol.

Tell me what you think. Is race affecting the votes? Am I just nuts in thinking that Sanjay is as bad as I think he is? Do you think some other forces are at work in keeping him in the running? Let me and my readers know!


Anonymous said...

First things first. He is not an Indian. He is an American with half Indian and half Italian lineage. So he as much Indian as he is an Italian. I not not sure if he is not white is anything to do with your comments even though you have stated that you are not racist.

The one thing I agree to is that he should have been voted out by now.

Jim Phillips said...

When I say he's Indian, I don't mean to imply he is an Indian national, but he is most certainly "an American of Indian descent". I don't think the fact that Sanjaya is half Italian is a factor which affects the Indian community's determination to support him. His singing ability certainly isn't a factor, although last night, at least, he wasn't especially terrible.

Also, last week's votes tend to support my theory that the "non-Sanjaya" votes will eventually get to a point where they are sufficient to push Sanjaya out of the competition.

Anonymous said...

perzflHaha, ok so I agree with you on most points there. But "first things first"... to the other anonymous: Ok, whatever. He looks Indian so people are going to think he's Indian. Most Idol voters aren't going to research his history to find out just exactly what specific ethnic background the kid has. Conclusion- Jim's probably accurate in his theory that he's getting plenty of votes from the Indian community. On the other note, I do think he's getting plenty of other votes from non-Indians because I mean, come on, look at that hair. He's got one of the best 'dos on the show. Also, he's young. He's got one of those innocent, kindhearted personality that scores a load of votes in and of itself. I would have to disagree with your "teenie-bopper" idea, though, Jim. I think he's more appealing to the teenie community than some of the other guys, when you compare him to some of the less-talented-but-super-cute-to-youngsters pop singers out there today. For that reason alone I think many kids are drawn to him. He's closer to the preteen age group than some of the other contestants and that kind of attention pays off for him. Agreed, he does not have a super powerhouse voice and probably won't make it to the finals, but he's got enough on his side to keep him there for at least another week.

Jim Phillips said...

I'm inclined to agree, especially after seeing how "Crying Girl" reacted to his performance on Tuesday. Although I still think a large percentage of his support comes from the Indian community, I'm thinking more and more that his greatest supporters are the 8-13 year pre-teens out there. My own daughter is rapidly approaching that age group and I've been checking out the age-appropriate TV programming and music. Sanjaya strikes me as being in the same category as Hannah Montana, Raven, and the Cheetah Girls. He'll make a ton of money if he targets that demographic, but he's killing Idol's reputation while he's at it.

I just hope the adult fans start voting in greater numbers, so we can offset the votes of those who aren't voting based on actual talent.