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Wow...I do think I have a clue, Derek. I think most of the posters here also have a clue. Is it the rain in Oregon?
I don't think AI has EVER gotten the best group of 24 singers in America. I'm sure there were fat and/or ugly people who were better singers than Amy, Kady, Colton and Garrett, for instance. It's not about vocal chops, really.
It's simply about being an entertainer. That includes a modicum of singing ability, but more importantly, the ability to get people to vote for you. It's as much a charisma factor as anything else - kind of like politics. Fat, ugly politicians aren't generally successful either. That's life.
Do you really think Cher and Madonna are/were great singers? No, but they can generate INTEREST from people.
I do disagree with you that this is Reality TV like Survivor. It's NOTHING like that. This is much more like a fully-scripted game show than reality TV. It certainly has most scenes fully rehearsed.