Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Idol Jury Part IV

As discussed in a previous posting, this season of American Idol saw the introduction of a new element to the standard weekly elimination of contestants: the judges “veto” of the voters’ choice for elimination. Under this system, the judges were given one opportunity during the season to save a contestant who was voted off the show. In order to successfully invoke the veto power, at least a majority of the four judges were required to agree to its use for a particular contestant. As a penalty, however, the week after the veto was used two contestants would be eliminated.

In order to decide whether to use the veto to save an otherwise eliminated contestant, every week the eliminated contestant was required to perform the song he/she had chosen for the week for the judges. After the performance, the judges were theoretically supposed to deliberate and then decide whether to invoke the veto. However, due to airtime constraints, the judges typically deliberated during the performance and announced a decision promptly thereafter. Throughout the season, the question of who would be saved dogged the competition, and the judges’ handling of the veto decision-making process drew criticism from contestants and the public alike.

Several weeks from the end of the competition, Matt was eliminated. After his performance, the judges seemed to engage in a quick yet intense discussion and then announced that they were invoking the veto to save him. However, Simon cautioned him not to celebrate too much, as saving him then did not mean anything other than that he would have the chance to be eliminated the following week. Thus, the meaning of the veto was somewhat tempered by the idea that it was only a provisional success for the contestant, who would then have to return to the stage the following week and make his case for staying in the competition to the viewers.

It might seem that the judges’ veto is an example of something completely outside of a potential juror’s experiences and outside of the standards of the court system. However, there are several parallels and lessons that can be taken from this new system of American Idol governance. Essentially, the judges’ veto is a stylized version of the appellate review system, with the exception that all the Idol judges are able to order is the remand of the contestant for what amounts to a new trial. The judges told the voters that they were wrong in their choice of which contestant to eliminate. Yet the judges are also limited in what they can do to help the contestant other than offering him/her a new trial the following week. If the contestant is unconvincing the following week then that is the end of his/her time on the show.

This system exposes potential jurors to the reality that their decision, regardless of how well considered, might be reversed on appeal. As such, this offers a good lesson in tempering one’s expectations as a juror and also in understanding the place of the juror in the overall legal system. Similarly, for those who might sit on the jury of a remanded case in the future, the judges’ veto system offers an understandable explanation of how the case came before a trial court for the second time. Since the appellate process is frequently far more technical as a matter of law than lay persons and potential jurors can easily understand or relate to, the judges’ veto system on American Idol not only provides a lucky contestant with a second chance at the competition, but also provides lay people and potential jurors with at least a superficial understanding of what the appellate court system can do.

For more information on American Idol, see .

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