American Idol

How 'American Idol' can make things more fair for the girls

March 21, 2012 at 3:41 PM ET

Fox /
Elise Testone, Erika Van Pelt and Shannon Magrane were all in the bottom three on March 15 on "American Idol."

This has not been a great stretch for the women of “American Idol.”

Men have won the crown four years in a row. While the first two singers to leave this season were male, one was kicked off for his past behavior and the other was a judges’ choice who may or may not have actually received the fewest number of votes. Last week, the first where everyone competed against each other and not just their own gender, the bottom three vote-getters were women.

Are the judges and/or the viewers biased against women? Probably not, but just in case, here are four ideas to make the show more gender-equitable. 

1. Give women a chance with better theme weeks

Let’s be blunt. Whoever got the bright idea to have the “Idol” women sing Whitney Houston songs two weeks ago should never get that kind of power again.

There’s a reason that the “Idol” judges have long warned against singing her songs – because they’re really difficult and the contestant who attempts such a thing inevitably falls short.  Now “Idol” is actually encouraging that sacrilege? It’s almost like the show is looking to exploit her tragic death to generate some excitement by jumping back on the nostalgia bandwagon!

It’s possible that the same singers would have struggled even if they had their choice of songs. But at least give them a fighting chance and let them pick songs they can actually sing.

2. Bring in a female mentor

This is nothing against Jimmy Iovine, who is an equal opportunity judge of talent. (Just ask Lady Gaga, who he signed to Interscope in 2007.) But bringing him on, combined with removing Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi as judges and returning to a two-man, one-woman panel upon Simon Cowell’s departure has made this a show filled with male authority figures.

After the vocal coaches retreat off-camera following the auditions, it’s all men except for J.Lo and the occasional guest mentor. Getting Mary J. Blige for one week is always nice, but bringing in someone else to work alongside Jimmy every week couldn’t hurt.

Who's your pick to win the crown this year?

Besides, wouldn’t it be fun to leak names that Simon is desperately courting as Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger replacements for “X Factor” as “Idol” mentor possibilities? If nothing else, it would cause him additional stress and perhaps drive up their price.

3. Don’t waste the judges’ save

The judges have had the right to save one singer per season for the last three years. In all three years, the recipient has been male.

Give the judges a pass on Michael Lynche in season nine, because it was use-it-or-lose-it week anyway. But saving Matt Giraud in season eight was pointless, and Lil Rounds was one of the casualties the following week. OK, when Lil Rounds is your big example of a singer who was wronged, that’s not a great case. But they also could have used it earlier to save Alexis Grace, who went from favorite to victim after one bad week early in the competition.

That’s an interesting note, considering that two years later, when faced with the same choice at the same stage, the judges elected to use the save on Casey Abrams. Everyone was happy, because who didn’t like Casey Abrams? The problem was that everyone also liked Pia Toscano, and when she got sent home two weeks later, the judges couldn’t stop it.

It would be great if they’d think strategically about things this time around before using the save at the first opportunity.

4. Pick better female contestants

Nobody was saying anything about the show or its fans being biased toward the guys after season six, when Jordin Sparks became the third woman in four years to be crowned the champion. And don’t forget that Crystal Bowersox came in second place in 2010, while Lauren Alaina and Haley Reinhart took second and third a year ago. But it’s also true that most of the rest of the women in the finals have been forgettable lately.

And therein lies the rub. “Idol” seems to guess wrong when selecting its women a lot more often than it does the men.

Shannon Magrane didn’t get the boot last week because the “Idol” voters hate women -- she got the boot because she was bad two weeks in a row. Elise Testone isn’t in trouble because of gender bias, but because she tends to look like she’s angry she has to go through this ritual of competing and being judged before being crowned the champion. And Erika Van Pelt may be this year’s Janis Joplin, but has that ever been a recipe for success on the show?

As for the guys, they’re all distinctive in some way. They’re not all ready for this (DeAndre Brackensick, for one, is going to have to get it together quickly), and they’re not all great singers (would Heejun Han still be here if he wasn’t so funny?), but they all have a certain something that makes them easy to cheer for. Too many women on the show haven’t had that, and that, rather than bias, is the most likely explanation for the voting patterns.

Then again, maybe viewers really do have a thing against women taller than Ryan Seacrest. Sorry, Shannon.

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