You may think you sound good in the shower. Or in the car. Or even out with your friends at karaoke night. But what are the odds you have the vocal range to hit those high notes needed to steal American hearts on your favorite reality television singing competition? While natural talent may seem like a prerequisite for showing up and testing your tunes, it hasn't always stopped some from gambling on pure charisma in spite of coming off as a bit tone-deaf.
In the 10 seasons of "American Idol" we analyzed, men were the final victors 80 percent of the time. While Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood's victories in the earlier seasons have stayed with us over the years (and earned the most cash over the course of their careers), it was men who dominated between the sixth and 15th seasons. A woman may have won the first season of "Idol," but a man won the most recent when country crooner Trent Harmon beat out La'Porsha Renae in the series finale of "American Idol" in 2016.
Other common characteristics of 10 seasons worth of winners on "Idol" included facial hair – seven out of the 10 winners over the last decade of the show sported some type of beard or stubble when they won – like David Cook, Kris Allen, and Lee DeWyze, who won in seasons seven through nine, respectively. In fact, the only beard holdouts over the years we analyzed have been female winners like Candice Glover (season 12) and Jordin Sparks (season six), along with clean-cut songsmith Scotty McCreery (season 10).
Holding the Note
While women only won two of the last 10 seasons of "American Idol", men and women had a virtually equal season completion percentage. Men held only a slight edge over female contestants on the singing competition. While age didn't seem to have a dramatic effect on whether participants made it through a complete season of the show, those between the ages of 22 to 24 made it further on the show than any other age group.
Asian-Americans had the best odds of making it through a complete season of "Idol" (but never actually won over the 10 seasons we analyzed), while contestants of a Middle Eastern, other, or Hispanic ethnicity struggled to make it as far in the competition. While only two African-American contestants were victorious during the 10 seasons we studied, Caucasian contestants had only slightly better odds of making it further into a season of the show.
As the name suggests, NBC's "The Voice" makes it all about a singer's voice from the beginning, since celebrity mentors like Alicia Keys and Gwen Stefani pick their contestants without ever actually seeing them first. While the judges on "The Voice" don't initially know anything about a contestant beyond how they sound, there have been some common physical traits among the show's winners over the last five seasons.
Over the years we examined, there has only been one female winner (Alisan Porter from season 10), compared to four men – meaning that 80% of the winners on the show in recent years have been men.
Of the last five seasons, all five winners have been Caucasian, and 3 in 5 have had brown hair or brown eyes. While the average age for "American Idol" winners was under 23 years old, victors on "The Voice" were more likely to be pushing 29 at the time of their triumph. Contestants like Craig Wayne Boyd and Jordan Smith lead a wave of winners cut from similar cloth – white men with brown hair and brown eyes. Outside of Boyd and Head, most of the winners opted for a clean facial appearance too.
Keys to the Competition
Getting through a complete season of "The Voice" with millions of American voters calling in each week with their top picks isn't an easy task. Regarding making it to the end, men had the odds in their favor – of the five seasons we studied, they usually completed a little over half of their season on average. Meanwhile, female contestants over the last five years struggled to make it past the season's halfway mark. Alisan Porter, the season 10 victor, is one of the prime examples of defying the odds. She was the first female winner since Tessanne Chin from season five. That's three years – from Chin to Porter – for the show to produce another female winner!
Older contestants fared better on "The Voice" than "American Idol". Those aged 35 to 39 completed nearly two-thirds of the season. Participants between the ages of 30 and 34 also performed well over the five seasons we studied, making it more than halfway through their respective seasons, on average. Despite high praise from the judges for contestants like Dan Shafer, who was 57 years old in season 11, participants over the age of 40 only made it through a third of the season, on average.
If you're taking bets with your friends at the start of the season for shows like "The Voice" – or if you like to take it a step further and play in fantasy reality TV leagues – the odds generally sway toward men with brown hair and brown eyes to make it through the season and come out the other side victoriously. While "American Idol" may be off the air (for now at least), older contestants may have a shot too – as long as they're not over 40.
For race/ethnicity, only groups with over 10 members were used in calculations. We looked at 255 "American Idol" contestants over 10 seasons and 310 contestants over five seasons of "The Voice." Fewer seasons of "The Voice" were analyzed due to the larger number of contestants per season. For "American Idol" age groupings, there was a single 15- and 30-year-old that were excluded from calculations.
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