More than half of ‘American Idol’ singers over 15 seasons from the South including this year’s top 4

Idol season 15 top 4

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Monday, March 28, 2016

It’s a theme I’ve addressed many times before but “American Idol” is ending its 15 seasons with a serious Southern crescendo: all four finalists are from the region: Dalton Rapattoni from Texas, MacKenzie Bourg from Louisiana and two from Mississsippi: La’Porsha Renae and Trent Harmon.

Time and time again over the years, the South has risen to the occasion on the show, with a disproportionate number of finalists. There has been at least one Southerner in the final four every year. And this year is the first time the South has a clean sweep of the top four.

Of the 178 “American Idol” finalists over 15 seasons, a whopping 52% are from the South although this region only represents 36 percent of the U.S. population.

Of those 60 who finished in the top four, the percentage is even higher: 63 percent.

And of the winners, it’s 10 out of 14 – or 71 percent. And since the top 4 this year is all from the South, the final count will certainly be 11 out of 15 or 73 percent.

The U.S. Census defines the South as Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. (I don’t really consider Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and Oklahoma as the South but I need a consistent definition.)

Other regions didn’t fare nearly as well.

The Northeast – which covers Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island – was poorly represented.  About 12 percent of finalists hail from this region despite taking up 18 percent of the country’s total population. The region has all of one winner: Nick Fradiani from season 14.

The Midwest did even worse than the Northeast. It covers Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Although it has two winners in David Cook (Missouri) and Lee DeWyze (Illinois), just 11 percent of the finalist come from an area that represents about 22 percent of the country’s population. This was the worst area to find singing talent.

The West brought in a proportional number of finalists you would expect based on population size. About 24 percent of the contestants came from the area when 24 percent of the population is represented. Still, the region can only claim a single victor in Jordin Sparks (Arizona).

This region covers Alaska, Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Amazingly, three states where you’d expect to find a lot of great singers – California, New York and Tennessee – failed to bring in a single winner. Neither did Florida. But North Carolina garnered three: Fantasia (season 3), Scotty McCreery (season 10) and Caleb Johnson (season 13).

Puerto Rico was represented by one person the one time “Idol” held auditions there: Jorge Nunez (season 8, 12th-13th)

States with most singers represented:  California (25), Florida and Tennessee (16 each), Texas (14), North Carolina and Georgia (9 each) New York (8) Illinois and Alabama (6 each). Alabama has an exceptionally high disproportionate number of finalists given the population (4.8 million compared to 12.9 million for Illinois)

Georgia, the eighth largest state, tied for fifth place with most “Idol” singers.

States under-represented given their size: Pennsylvania (sixth largest state with just 3 singers), Ohio (seventh largest state with just 3 singers), Michigan (ninth largest state with just 3 singers). Both New Jersey (the 11th largest state) and Washington (12th largest state) had just four each.

Number of states that had no singers at all among the finalists: 13 (Delaware, Maine, Kentucky, Alaska, Vermont, West Virginia, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Minneosta)

Of the 10 smallest states, only two were represented: Rhode Island (1 million) and New Hampshire (1.3 million).

Largest states with no representation: Minnesota (5.4 million people), followed by Kentucky (4.4 million)

Smallest state with representation: Rhode Island (Erika Van Pelt, season 11, 10th place)

In the past, I’ve written stories about why the South is so strong on the show. The most obvious factor is church. So many of the best singers grew up singing in choirs and learning the art of emotive singing, the type that tends to do well on “Idol.” The small-town factor helps. There is a Southern charm and authenticity that tends to bring in votes.

I know in the early years, Southern states tended to also do better with ratings and that likely translated into votes as well. And Southerners probably voted for fellow Southerners in many cases. Given how ratings have fallen so far, I have no idea if that’s the case anymore though given the final four are from the deep South, that could still matter.


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