Southern voters continue to ruin American Idol. Let me get this straight: Southerners are awesome, and they make up some of the greatest musicians in American history, and many of the greatest American Idol contestants come from the South. However, Southern voters often ruin American Idol by giving their vote to Southern singers when a superior non-Southern is an American Idol finalist. This week Laine Hardy, a Southerner, became the 17thAmerican Idol winner by upsetting the heavily favorite Alejandro Aranda. The Washington Post published a story the day after Hardy’s win that suggested that Aranda’s upset can be attributed to his decision to perform his original music. However, I do not think that this was a motivating factor for Hardy’s win. In the end, the young Louisianan won because he was the favorite Southern singer in the competition.
This is not the first time that a Californian has been upset by a Southerner. In 2006 Taylor Hicks, a charming and charismatic Alabaman who sang unrelatable music beat the heavily favorite Katharine McFee from Los Angeles, CA. McFee went on to sell albums and has appeared on TV, in the movies, and on Broadway. Perhaps, the biggest snub in American Idol history, Adam Lambert, from San Diego, CA lost to Kris Allen of Conway, AR in 2009. In 2008, in what was supposed to be a neck-and-neck battle, David Cook of Blue Springs Missouri beat out David Archuleta of Murray, UT by 10 million votes. In 2004 Fantasia beat another Southerner in the finale, and Jennifer Hudson, of Chicago, IL finished 7th. In 2014 Jena Irene from Farmington Hills, MI lost to Caleb Johnson of Ashville, NC. In 2013 Southerners Candice Glover and Kree Harrison beat out Angie Miller from Beverly, MA. Less controversially, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina beat out all non-Southerners in 2011, Phillip Phillips from Leesburg, GA beat out another Californian (Jessica Sanchez), in 2003 Southerners Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken beat out all other contenders, and in American Idol’s inaugural season Texan Kelly Clarkson beat out Justin Guarini from Doyleston, PA.
The only two times a non-Southerner has beat a Southerner in a finale was last year when Maddie Poppe knocked off her boyfriend Caleb Hutchinson, and in 2015 when Nick Fradiani beat a very mediocre Clark Beckham. The only other two non-Southerners to win were Jordin Sparks of Glendale, AZ and Lee Dewyze of Mt. Prospect, IL. I do not want to insist that it is impossible for a non-Southerner to win against a Southerner, but history has proven that the South loves to watch America Idol, and they vote as a large block. Though the series is taped in California, it is received in the South. Californians do not have a good track record in American Idol Finales, having appeared four times and not having won once.
As we gauge American Idol contestants and their contributions to music, we need to be careful how much we consider how they placed on American Idol. Southern contestants will always have an edge because Southerners vote more than any other regional demographic. American Idol has not disclosed these numbers, but the placement of Southern contestants proves any other outcome unlikely. Alejandro Aranda did not win last night, but history will remember him for his future musical contributions. Like several other American Idol winners before him, Laine Hardy will only be remembered as a Southerner who beat out a far superior contestant. Most of the best American Idol contestants, such as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood (yes Checotah, Oklahoma is the South), Phillip Phillips, and David Cook come from the South. American Idol is a better show because Southerners participate; however, it is a worse show because Southerners will nearly always choose their own before more qualified non-Southerner contestants. Though it is possible for a non-Southerner to squeak out a win against a weak Southerner, it is impossible for a non-Southerner to blow out a Southerner under any context because the demographics of American Idol voters will not allow for it. On American Idol, to not be born a Southerner is to be a handicap, and it was one that Alejandro Aranda could not overcome in 2019.