PureDWTS Season 24 Court Rants: I Don’t Care How “Rabid” Your Fanbase Is, You Won’t Win Without the General Audience Vote!

For the regulars, you probably have witnessed what prompted this rant 😛 For the non-regulars, bear with me: it seems like every season, there is at least one fanbase that just bugs the ever-loving sh*t out of me – and it’s usually because said fanbase decides to obnoxiously remind the entire online DWTS fandom how awesome their favorite is, and how they’re going to win, and how they’re sooooo much better than other contestants, and how much harder they’re gonna vote than all the other fans, how rabid & supportive the fanbase is, etc.  Basically – if they can think of something to boast about, they will.  Loudly, frequently, and obnoxiously…and the rest of the fans just have to grit their teeth and bear it until the season ends or that particular contestant gets eliminated.

But here’s the funny part: for all the boasting these fanbases do, very seldom do their contestants actually win DWTS.  Why? To quote one of my Twitter followers, “If you have to tell us how big it is…it’s probably not that big.” 😉 But seriously, though – there’s a bit more to it than that.  You have to take viewing demographics into account, and whether or not that fanbase aligns well with the main viewing demographic; you also have to consider if there’s another contestant on a particular season who perhaps aligns better with the main viewing demographic.  The bottom line is this:

You cannot win DWTS if you don’t have the main viewing demographic of the show on your side.

And right now, I can hear the defiant protests of hoards of Harmonizers 😛 Go ahead – you guys can tell us all till you’re blue in the face how “rabid” you are, how “organized” you are, how “passionate & committed” you are.  It comes across as a tad insecure, but go ahead.  But I’m gonna warn you right now, unless Normani can get demographics on her side (or the show tries to pull off a pimping of never-before-seen proportions), I can almost guarantee she will not win. Let me explain why, using historical data from the show…

First, let’s talk demographics: basically, what does the average DWTS viewer/voter look like? One could probably guess that the general viewing audience skews female, and skews a bit older (the show typically never does spectacular in the coveted 18-34 demographic, but is still pulling in impressive overall numbers – so whoever’s watching, the majority of them are over the age of 34). Here’s something that some of you may find a bit more surprising: politically/ideologically speaking, the show also skews a bit more conservative – in a survey done around the 2012 election, Dancing with the Stars was ranked among the 15 most popular shows for Republican respondents. Also in that top 15? The Bachelor, which may shed some light on why we tend to see so many Bachelors on the show (aside from the fact that they’re ABC family, of course). In another, much more detailed study done just last year, the geographic distribution of popularity of certain shows was examined – and guess where DWTS is most popular: rural areas (which typically skew Republican), and it had a very similar geographical distribution in popularity to Duck Dynasty (Sadie was good – but if the demographics are right, then she was bound to go far in her season regardless). It also got more likes among viewers over 65 than any other show in the study. I personally found the whole study fascinating, and recommend you check it out.  But what does it all mean in terms of voting behavior?

Who the average viewer tends to like: Given that we know the biggest bulk of the DWTS viewing audience skews female, middle-aged and older, and conservative, we can actually deduce quite a few things about how they’re likely inclined to vote. They LOVE Olympic athletes, country boys, military servicemen, vocally Christian stars, people with inspiring backstories, and Republican politicians (think Shawn Johnson, Bill Engvall, J.R. Martinez, Alek Skarlatos, Noah Galloway, Candace Cameron, & Bristol Palin). If it’s patriotic and quintessentially “American”, they’re likely gonna vote for it – so NFL stars and racing drivers typically do well, too (Donald Driver, Hines Ward, Mike Waltrip, Helio Castroneves).  Given that they tend to skew older, they’re also more likely to favor older television/music stars, and stars from the heyday of soap opera popularity (think Maureen McCormick, Donny & Marie Osmond, Ralph Macchio, and Susan Lucci).  So who are they NOT likely to vote for? Given that the general viewer skews older, younger singers/actors/non-competition reality stars/internet stars typically struggle with votes (think Chelsea Kane, Roshon Fegan, Snooki, Audrina Patridge, Cody Simpson, & Hayes Grier, to name a few). Given the aforementioned conservative, Christian leanings, I would also say that anyone that tends towards the opposite end of the political spectrum (the two that pop in my head immediately are Chaz Bono & Carson Kressley) are likely going to struggle to court the main viewing demographic. I’ve also noticed that athletes from less mainstream-American sports (Victor Espinoza, Randy Couture, Sean Avery, & Lolo Jones come to mind) tend to struggle a bit more for votes, especially if they’re up against an athlete from one of the more mainstream sports I mentioned above.

So we know who they vote for…but how do they actually vote? And this is something that I feel the need to explain to the younger-skewing fanbases each year that like to tout their ability to “power vote”: we, the internet-savvy viewers, are the MINORITY. The average middle-aged, conservative-leaning female viewer is not creating beaucoup email accounts to vote with, and they’re usually not surfing the net to find sites like ours to get more info about behind-the-scenes goings-on.  The only social media that this particular age group seems to use with any degree of regularity is Facebook, and I generally just see them going on there to comment on their favorites or complain about skimpy costuming & naughty words 😛 They are the ones still voting by phone, and usually only by phone – so they’re only averaging maybe 20ish votes per week, after they use their cell & land lines. And you know what? They don’t need to power vote – they’re still the largest voting demographic by a mile, so if you can win them over, even only 10-20 votes per week from the average viewer is still a HUGE amount of votes when you lump them all together. Circling back to my point about the average viewer not being super internet-savvy, it’s also safe to assume that the bulk of the viewing/voting audience isn’t going to hear about any “scandals” that erupt online (i.e. some pro tweeting something potentially offensive, suspicious screen grabs being circulated on Twitter & Instagram), and thus aren’t likely to be affected to the point of changing their vote because of it – sorry, anti-Bonner squad hoping to blow up his game. He ain’t going anywhere anytime soon, methinks.

Some examples of these principles in action:

How the hell did Kelly beat Zendaya to win season 16??? Zendaya had all those young power-voters!: Probably the most vivid example of voting demographics in action in DWTS history. Z came into the finale as the favorite to win – and she might have actually pulled it off, had the DWTS website not crashed the night of the finale. So all of those accounts her Z-Swaggers created to power vote for her? Rendered utterly useless.  Just like in the early days of the show, all the voters were left with only their phones to vote with, and it had the interesting effect of magnifying just who was getting the majority vote and who wasn’t – and as a country girl from a popular reality competition show, it’s kinda easy to see how Kelly pulled out the win over a younger Disney star, regardless of actual dance skill.

How the hell did J.R. Martinez, Noah Galloway, & Alek Skarlatos last so long??? I had never even heard of them before the season started!!! None of the three were really household names when they did DWTS, and all had far more well-known celebs on their respective seasons.  The short answer? All three were veterans – and conservatives love vets. In J.R. & Noah’s case, they were both vets with a “courageous backstory” kicker – which can become a pretty tough to beat combo.  In J.R.’s case, he was also a pretty good dancer, so from week 1 of his season he pretty much had the MBT in the bag. In Noah’s case, despite not being a fantastic dancer (good for his disability, but I wouldn’t say good, period), I actually think he probably had the votes to win, headed into the finale – but as I recall, he got harshly low-balled in his scores during finale week, and also got a lightweight Nastia treatment with some less-than-flattering rehearsal packages. Towards the end, I recall Alek got the “unflattering edit” treatment a few times, too – I credit Lindsay with turning him into a pretty damn good dancer, so that, coupled with the vet factor, probably made him a voting force to be reckoned with.  I think it really says something about just how much voting sway vets hold when the producers have make two of them look like utter douchebags in an attempt to level the playing field.

How the hell did Bristol Palin, Bill Engvall, & Candace Cameron make it all the way to the finals??? They sucked!!! Again, it really has nothing to do with actual dance skill – and everything to do with demographics. Bristol was the daughter of a former Republican Governor & Vice Presidential candidate, and ended up being a marginally-ok dancer. That was enough to endear her to conservative viewers and get some votes thrown her way. Bill was a popular right-leaning comedian from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour – he also managed to have an adorable partnership with his pro.  Bada-bing, bada-boom – he’s in the finals. Candace may have suffered from one of the worst cases of stage fright in DWTS history (and her performances almost always suffered as a result), but she wasn’t shy about talking about her Christian values and desire to wear modest costuming. Stage fright be damned – you’re going to the finals.

The WTA/WTF Cha-Cha Debacle of Season 12: The Cliff’s Notes version: nostalgic favorite Ralph Macchio had been extremely popular with the general viewing demographic that season, and ABC family darling (and decent dancer) Chelsea Kane seemed to be struggling with votes as one of the first Disney stars to do the show (and hopefully bring in more of that coveted 18-34 viewing demo).  The semifinals rolled around, and suddenly the producers rolled out something called the “Winner Take All Cha-Cha” – basically, a massive 15-point dump awarded to the winner that all but guaranteed they would advance to the finals.  Guess who won; guess who got extraordinarily low-balled in his other dances that week and sent home. This was probably the first example of the powers that be having to go to great lengths to fight the power of the general viewing audience – Chelsea couldn’t get the votes, so they manipulated the points in her favor; they couldn’t STOP Ralph from getting the votes, so they messed with his points in order to guarantee that he couldn’t keep up with Chelsea.

Sabrina’s early elimination – TWICE: Sabrina Bryan is a perfect example of someone that was actually a good dancer, but just couldn’t seem to woo the general viewing audience into voting for her. And considering that she came from a music group that held appeal for much younger viewers (but was almost unheard of among adults), it’s not all that surprising that she got sent packing early, TWICE. The first time, in season 5, Sabrina had been pulling in scores in the 26 and above range from week 1; but as soon her score dropped below that in week 6, poof – gone. Then during the all-star season, Sabrina had a near-perfect score (only 1.5 points off) and highest score of all the couples after two weeks of points got combined, and she still got eliminated.  She’s a prime example of dance ability not meaning sh*t if you can’t get anyone to vote for you.

The Donny Osmond Phenomenon: This is probably the only instance of a self-proclaimed “rabid fanbase” actually succeeding in getting the win for their favorite – and it’s because his fanbase coincided nicely with the general viewing audience of DWTS.  Who were Donny’s biggest fans? Middle-aged women that had swooned over him as wholesome teenagers.  What group comprises the bulk of the DWTS viewing demographic? Middle-aged women with conservative leanings. Donny was the prime example of what a “fanbase ringer” is – someone whose popularity coincides so perfectly with the general viewing audience that they’re almost unstoppable.  Granted, Donny ended up being a pretty good dancer, so that definitely helped, but man – some of his fans could make the Harmonizers look downright tame, and it makes it a bit scarier because most of them are far old enough to know better than to launch an attack on a new blogger just starting to write about DWTS that dared to put Donny in second place in her initial power rankings. 😯

Why #s of Twitter/Instagram followers & YouTube views really don’t mean squat: I know some of you really have a bad case of uncertainty aversion, and simply want to try to read the tea leaves in any way you can that might help you determine ahead of time who is and isn’t getting the votes, but trust me when I say that there really isn’t much of a correlation between how many Twitter or Instagram followers one has/how many YouTube views one has and how many votes a contestant is actually getting on DWTS. Why? I go back to what I said above: THE INTERNET-SAVVY VOTERS ARE THE MINORITY, NOT THE MAJORITY. Sure, you and your friends may be following Normani on Twitter, voting for her eleventy-billion times on the DWTS website, and watching her quickstep 15 times on YouTube, but what about your mom? Your grandma? The 50-something secretary at your office that always has those weird strawberry hard candies in a jar on her desk? Odds are that they don’t even have Twitter or Instagram, and aren’t quite sure what YouTube is for or how to use it. But if they’re watching DWTS, they probably are calling in at least a few votes per week on their cell and/or land line – and there’s unfortunately not a very good way to measure that (so help me god, if one of you mentions Dial Idol…) At most, Twitter/Instagram followers and YouTube views are more likely to tell you how popular someone is with the younger demographic – the ones actually surfing the web for this stuff.  But as I keep saying – the 18-34 year old audience watching this show is not substantial in terms of DWTS.  So when someone like Ryan Lochte, who had well over a million Twitter followers when his season of DWTS started, ends up in 7th place, while James Hinchcliffe, who started the same season with a mere 29K followers ends up the runner-up of that season, maybe ask yourself “Should I really be relying on social media to predict who’s gonna do better?”

There are, of course, many other examples of the voting demographics in action – and I’m sure you guys will share yours in the comments, and remind me of a bunch of other instances where we’ve been able to see just how the general viewing audience tends to vote. But how do these demographic principles apply to THIS season?

Who has demographics on their side this season and who doesn’t: Right off the bat, I would say Simone, Rashad, & David are all going to hold appeal for the general viewing audience – and I think David may get an additional boon from being the first major league baseball player the show has ever had…it’s America’s pastime! Bonner may be from a less mainstream sport, but he comes across as a good-ol’ country boy, so that will likely work in his favor. Nancy will probably also do well as a former Olympian AND a nostalgic favorite, and given the overlap in DWTS fans & Bachelor fans I mentioned earlier, Nick could also stick around for awhile.  I would have originally said that Charo & Mr. T would probably also do well as nostalgic favorites, but given that a lot of the older fans of the show seemed to be voicing their displeasure on Facebook over Charo’s “outburst”, I think she may struggle from here on out to win them over. T may get some of the nostalgic vote, but I feel like Simone, Rashad, David, Nick, & Nancy are still going to hold more appeal to the main demographic than he is. So that brings me to who will struggle: comedians almost never do extraordinarily well on DWTS (unless their brand of comedy is right-leaning, like Bill’s), so Chris is probably doomed regardless of his dance skills. Normani & Heather’s fanbases are more routed in younger folks, so they may have a bit of an uphill battle – particularly Heather, as Glee was one of the least popular shows among Republicans in both studies, and the fact that a good chunk of the general viewing audience seems to be purists and think that a professional dancer shouldn’t be there. And while the Real Housewives franchise typically ranks high will Republican audiences, I think Erika’s more risque dance style and constant reminders of how “rich” she is are likely to alienate conservative, rural voters.

But demographics are only part of the puzzle, Court! Dance skills are important, too! Didn’t say they weren’t, but some are quick to forget that you have to have both the judges’ points AND the viewer votes to do well on this show – and the judges can only hand out a finite number of points.  Sometimes it feels like you’d be better off being just an ok dancer with a lot of appeal within the main viewing demographic, than being a great dancer that has a hard time getting the general viewing audience to vote for you. And if 23 seasons of this show have taught us anything, it’s that the general viewing audience doesn’t always vote for the best dancer…if anything, they tend to vote for the most likeable and entertaining dancer, and whether they’re also the best dancer or not is irrelevant.

So all of that being said…”rabid” fanbases, do you still feel so secure in your favorite winning?