Reality TV and Uneven Expectations

The reason why strong contenders don’t stay long:

To win praise this past week, Sanjaya merely had to improve a little bit from his previously weak performances. To earn criticism, Melinda only had to stumble slightly from her previously strong performances. Sanjaya didn’t become a singer of Melinda’s caliber overnight, nor did Melinda become a performer on Sanjaya’s level.

The audience’s diminished expectations for Sanjaya have, therefore, made his potential for growth unlimited, while viewers’ exceptionally high expectations for Melinda have made her potential for failure much more possible.

By underwhelming viewers and then impressing them with his growth, never mind his well-coiffed personality, Sanjaya may have found the key to winning “American Idol.” An F student has a lot of room to show improvement and growth, while any extraordinary work an A student completed will only keep them at the A level.

It’s all charisma versus talent. And mere talent can become boring. And more:

Sanjaya appears to be acutely aware of this tendency to reward those who stand out, but even if he isn’t, he’s certainly benefiting from it.

Perhaps he’s also watched a lot of “America’s Next Top Model.” On that show, Tyra Banks and her team of judges routinely drop aspiring models from the competition even though those women have looked fantastic in their photographs. Yet they still go home because, as Tyra frequently lectures her girls, some of them do not show desire, personality, and growth week after week.

Tyra tries to make an argument to the competitors and to viewers that those characteristics make good models, but that is a tough argument to make when the models with stronger pictures leave before those who stay.