What's behind 'Idol"s Southern accent?

145258__kellypickler_l_1Maybe they should rename it Southern Idol, since so many of the top contestants and finishers each year hail from the South — Kelly, Ruben, Clay, Fantasia, Bo, and this season, Chris, Paris, Taylor, Kellie (pictured), Elliott, and recently ousted Bucky and Mandisa. Why is this so? The Washington Post‘s Neely Tucker looks at several factors, but none of them seems enough on its own to explain the phenomenon.

True, the country and R&B that the show’s producers seem to favor has its roots in the South, but that doesn’t apply to theme nights like last week’s Queen catalog or this week’s Tin Pan Alley songbook. Tucker also notes that a greater share of TVs in Southern markets are tuned to Idol each week, but in sheer numbers, Southern viewers and voters are swamped by Idol fans from large urban markets outside the South. Finally, there’s a cultural heritage in the South of kids getting their start singing in church choirs, but that kind of training doesn’t necessarily produce great soloists.

So PopWatch remains as stumped as Tucker or anyone else. Any thoughts, y’all?

addCredit(“American Idol: Ray Mickshaw/FOX”)

Comments (36 total) Add your comment
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  • Liberal East Coast Ivy League Elitist

    Because people in the south are poor and ignorant, vote for George Bush and american idol.

  • anonymous

    Liberal East Coast Ivy Leage Elitist is an idiot!

  • Liberal East Coast Ivy League Elitist

    well obviously I am an idiot, i’m an Liberal East Coast Ivy Leage Elitist, i’m not in touch with america’s heartland values.

  • brandonk

    Well, while a lot of people from the South ARE poor and ignorant and did vote for Bush, the article clearly states that non-Southern urban voters are much more prevalent than Southern voters, so LECILE’s point is moot.

  • Liberal East Coast Ivy League Elitist

    Moot, i like that, it’s a very Liberal East Coast Ivy League Elitist word that people from the south wouldn’t understand.

  • GOB

    Just a guess, but wouldn’t it seem likely that holding auditions in the South would produce a lot of contestants from the South? Maybe next year AI should hold auditions in more cities north of the Mason Dixon… have they ever been to Minneapolis? Helena? Boise? Seattle?

  • Joey

    I can speak for all of them, but three Birmingham natives, Reuben, Bo and Taylor have done so well because of the support of its native city. Birmingham is the biggest small town in America. No other city is small enough to unite behind one its own while at the same time big enough to make such an impact in the number of votes. This is why Taylor is receiving the most votes each week.

  • Christina

    Well it’s no secret the South has a stranglehold over the North on Idol. The only final two contestant the North can lay claim to is Justin Guarini. Yikes! What’s up Northerners? Is it too cold up here for the talent to come out or something?
    Currently there’s only two contestants left who aren’t from the good ole south, and after tonight that number is probably going to be one. Katharine McPhee from sunny Los Angeles is going to be the last non-southern hope in this competition.
    The rumor going around for next season is that they are going to have remote auditions in all 50 states (with the lucky few moving on to the main audition cities). I guess that they’re going to do that in hope of finding a contender whose actually experienced snow.

  • holla!

    I dunno, but is Oklahoma in the south or Midwest?

  • jon

    As people have stated, I too think there are a couple of reasons for the South thing. First, I think it’s easier for good singers in the South to audition there. It’s difficult for NYC and other metro areas to get to the one audition in Boston or Cleveland they have. Second, when the singers are on the show, I think the Southern thing makes they seem warmer to audiences. Singers from the coasts or big cities seem too fame-hungry or stuck-up and that turns people off. Lastly, the South supports its own. If you’re from a big city, it’s hard to get that grassroots support.

  • Dub

    R&B and Country are two genres of songs that generate the most canned, fabricated performers. Rarely do performers in this genre write their own songs and many do not play instruments; they just sing whatever someone else put work into writing. It’s a ruse. And, like LECILE stated, this is what such voters are exploited into lapping up, as opposed to judging and rewarding talent, ability, hard work and competence.

  • Ep Sato

    Seems I outscooped both the Washington post AND Gary Susman by almost a year! Loyal Popwatchers will recall that I brought up this issue LAST SEASON when NYC-based Idol contestant Mario left the show for a separate record deal.
    At the time I called Mario the Smartest. Idol. Constestant. Ever. It was my contention, back then, that a yankee would not win on the show. Why? Because even Simon Cowell himself had said that American Idol was a “red america” based show (Nevermind that he said this in an interview with EW).
    Not surprising that the “get it” factor would be so low on the Post, but Sus, don’t you read your own magazine?

  • Smarty Pants

    It’s pretty obvious…
    1) Like many people have already mentioned, Southerners are more supportive, and small-town people know eachother. They will support and vote for their representative contestant.
    2) There is a big musical culture in the southern US. I am not just talking about Church choirs. Southerners are just more musical – they sing (and dance) at their parties, they play different musical instruments, it’s in their blood. I’ve hypothesized, purely by observation and NOT by any scientitid research, that there are more good musicians (and singers) per capita in the South than in the North, because of their upbringing.

  • Heather

    Honestly, I think there’s a decent reason for why the South has had so many do so very well – and that lies in the talent pool. It’s not that the south has so much more talent than the rest of the country, it’s just that it’s an untapped pool. The ones who have performed with a band (Bo, Taylor) have fewer opportunities of being discovered. The ones that are singers have fewer opportunities to be discovered. Atlanta is growing as a music city, and Nashville is a major player (mainly for country, but other music abounds), but where do people go to “be discovered”? New York or L.A. And for people who can’t afford to go off and be discovered (small town America), American Idol is a big chance. It just happens to be weighted in favor of the South because of where the biggest population is that this competition caters to.
    And also, when the producers are working on “casting” the show, they don’t necessarily go for the best singers in terms of skill. They want good TV. Look at this season and the variety – each ones fills a niche, which to me makes it hard to compare them and vote. It also makes more people take part in the voting because of the niche they like.
    And finally, I don’t know if this year’s crop is as heavily southern as many think. Paris has lived in Georgia for a year and is originally from Minneapolis. Katharine is from California and went to school in New York. Ace is from Denver, Colorado and moved to California. And then there’s the fact that to southerners, depending on where you live, Elliott might not be considered southern (personally, because most of the south doesn’t consider the Mason Dixon line the rule of where the south starts – it’s more “below D.C.” as the standard, if that). Face it, he doesn’t have the accent you would connect with Kellie or Bucky. Chris doesn’t even have the same accent.

  • Gio

    May we please keep politics out of this? Jeez. Grow up. We’re talking about American Idol, and some use it as a forum to bash Bush, not to mention southerners. What a class act you are.

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