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Degeneres, DioGuardio, and J-Lo: How Judge Turnover on American Idol Destroyed Our Number System

August 3, 2010

Last week, seemingly at random, the sky screamed and the earth shook, and parts of far off galaxies collapsed upon themselves into a single point, disappearing into forever.  This was not a sign of the End Times spoken of in religious texts (or maybe it was!).  Rather, it was the sound of our venerable number system, used for thousands of years as an accurate descriptor of most of human phenomena, crumbling like Inception’s moribund dreamscapes.

American Idol does in reality what Inception could do only in dreams...

You see, when Ellen Degeneres announced her departure and TMZ announced the firing of Kara DioGuardi which happened in concert with the expected hiring of Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler as judges which followed the departure of Simon Cowell;  the number of judges, guest judges, and mentors who have appeared or will soon appear on American Idol exceeded the entire human population of the planet.  This may serve as a tipping point in human development, greater even than when AI host Ryan Seacrest tried to high-five a blind guy.

Your initial reaction may be, “What?  That’s ridiculous.  Someone probably just counted wrong or moved a decimal point or something.”  Well, Mr. Occam, that may be true, but it makes for boring blog post.  Instead, we’ll explore very superficially how the judge turnover on American Idol proves Mathematical and Philosophical theorems.

This is not the first time that pop culture and the inner workings of the universe have collided—see the TBTS post on the Gosselin-Suleman Gossip Singularity (GSGS)—and it will certainly not be the last.  Entertainment has often provided the inspiration necessary for advances in the natural sciences and mathematics.  For example, the TV show Lost In Space is thought to have provided starry-eyed young scientists with the courage they needed to discover space in the 1960s.  (Galileo thought he had discovered the cosmos but it turns out that the “heavenly bodies” he saw were simply dirt specks on his telescope lens.  However, the configuration of those specks corresponded exactly to the layout of our solar system.  Weird!)  Also, the general public’s fear of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu led directly to the development of calamari.  And who can forget Bertrand Russell’s drunken rage upon hearing that Sully Prudhomme had edged out Leo Tolstoy for 1901’s Nobel Prize for Literature?  Old Bertie stumbled out of his apartment waving his Paradox in everyone’s face and proceeded to whomp the snot out of set theory.

Not since Einstein got really bored with walking in straight lines and wrote The Murder of Newton has pop culture altered so drastically something that seemed so empirically unassailable.  That’s where American Idol comes in.  Count the number of fingers on your left hand.  Five, right?  (Those of you who have tried to make your own fireworks or who are from Tennessee, we’ll try another exercise.)  See, numbers work!  And they work to count people, or anything that is “countable.”  (Love, for instance, is not countable, unless you are Anna Nicole Smith.)  Now, try to count every person who has been or is rumored to be a judge, guest judge, or mentor on American Idol.  Stop when you get to 7 billion because there aren’t even that many people on Earth.  That’s a problem, isn’t it?   That’s saying that the AI judge’s stable has more people than there are people, or that a number does not equal itself.  While we all know that Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem explains that there are truths about such numbers that can’t be arrived at through the system’s axioms, Godel also went crazy and starved himself.  Best not to think about these things too deeply, so we’ll stop here.

Next week we’ll explore how the career trajectories of American Idol judges exhibit what is essentially Brownian motion, and we’ll describe how to best predict their behaviors with modern stochastic tools.  We’ll even examine the judges’ quantum states, and how some seem to blink in and out of existence in mere femtoseconds.  And you thought American Idol was just shitty renditions of Owl City!

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