“(I) would never start with someone doing a really slowed-down ballad; I’d start the show with something up, if it existed. And I finish with something up, if I can”
- Ken Warwick, Producer of American Idol.
It is perfectly excusable that an executive producer, like Ken Warwick, would do anything to make sure that American Idol does well in viewership. After all, viewership numbers dictate the price of advertising for a particular show — its main source of revenue. However, it raises the question of what really reality is. Would the show still maintain its integrity if the producers somehow manipulate a seemingly trivial aspect of the show?
Looking at a study at the University of Westminster, last 2008, spanning eight Idol franchises (from different countries), including more than 1000 shows, they have found that looking at the order by which contestants performed, the critique that they received, and the results of the voting that:
- Irrespective of ability, contestants who perform first are more likely to be positively evaluated than those who come in second and third positions, which provides evidence of a primacy effect.
- Contestants who perform in the later serial positions (particularly last position) have the largest advantage with respect to positive evaluations, implying a strong recency effect.
- Specifically, one’s performance evaluation is influenced by the evaluation of the previous contestant. If you perform after a weak contestant there is a bias such that you are more likely to be evaluated poorly than if you perform after a strong contestant. Therefore, we find evidence for an assimilation effect with respect to sequential judgments.
Is there a way around these effects? The Eurovision Song Contest, held in Europe (go figure), which is held on an annual basis. Participating countries select a singer, group or band to represent them in the competition where they perform a previously unreleased song. To demonstrate the sort of acts that showcase their talent on this platform, we have selected Serbia’s 2009 entry.
Blogger Statscream, analyzed the data from this show to see how Eurovision’s change in voting system affected the primacy and recency effects. His analysis of the data between 1998-2009, where voters viewed all the performances and then voted for their favorite songs at the end showed that 63.9% of those who performed in the fourth quartile finished in either first or second place. This demonstrates a pronounced recency effect being produced. However, when the voting system changed in 2010,which allowed viewers to vote for their favorite throughout the show, there was no relationship found between performance order and finishing position.
Although the study for Eurovision is not as extensive as what was done by the University of Westminster, it would be wise for American Idol to change their voting system, for the sake of fairness among contestants. After all, American Idol has a history of changing its rules almost every season.