If you were with us during Season Seven, you may recall that we took a hard look at Idol song ages. At the time, I called the numbers “preliminary”. Since then, I’ve wanted to take a closer, more detailed look at the numbers. Unfortunately, that little thing called real life decided to interfere and delayed it, but eventually I found the time.
For people who didn’t read the early version, here’s the short summary. Song age turns out to be a pretty influential factor in the success of Idol contesants – both on and off the show. The younger an Idol contestant’s song, the more likely he/she is to succeed – either on the show, after, or both. This shows itself in a few ways, but we’ll get to the exact details later.
Of course, before we get to analyzing song ages, we need to discuss the ground rules. Analyzing each and every contestant in the seven seasons of American Idol would result in a classic case of information overload. Besides, for semi-finalists there isn’t really enough data to draw any sort of useful conclusions. So, we’ll limit ourselves to everyone who’s made it to the finals stage – top 10 for Season One, top 12 for the other seasons. That’s 82 contestants in all.
The other thorny question is, just how do you measure song age? Cover songs cause the most problems in this area; do you measure from the original or the cover version? We’ve decided to stick with what’s called the primary song age – i.e., when the song was first made famous in the US. Occasionally, this results in some oddities. For example, David Hernandez sang It’s All Coming Back to Me Now when the theme was the 80s. However, because the song was made famous by Celine Dion in 1996, we date it to that year – not 1989, when it was first released in Britain.
But the song age is just the raw data – to get any meaning, you need to use some statistics. Everyone knows what the average is, but sometimes it’s not too useful. One song with a disproportionately high or low age can distort the data. So, we use something else called the median. The short version is: for our purposes, the median will be an age where half of the songs being considered are younger, while the other half is older. Check the link to Wikipedia for the details.
Let’s give credit where the credit is due as well. Our first effort – and this one – would not have been possible without the data provided by Nick over at What Not to Sing. They have our undying thanks, and any serious Idol viewer should check them out.
And now, let’s take a look at each season of Idol, and see what the numbers tell us. (more…)