Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2011 Emmy coverage. Here’s his scorecard assessing the Outstanding Reality-Competition Program race.

American Idol (Fox)
FremantleMedia North America w/ 19 TV Ltd
Why It Was Nominated: They can’t very well not nominate the show. It’s now been cited nine times in succession — and is still searching for its first win. American Idol has altered the primetime landscape as television’s top-rated show for the past decade. And this year’s edition with new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler — and without Simon Cowell — defied predictions of doom to enjoy a comeback of sorts. It landed 10 noms this time, its most ever.
Why It Has To Win: “We have our best chance ever this year,” believes executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. “If we don’t win it this time, we probably never will.” Quite possible indeed. Idol enjoyed a banner season replete with heavy new injections of publicity thanks to the new judges, who acquitted themselves better than expected. The competition from The Amazing Race and last year’s victor Top Chef isn’t so stiff that it’s likely to keep Idol from finally taking the big prize after eight years of trying in vain.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: The prevailing wisdom this time is that unfortunately Idol has made the same mistake again — that is, submitting the season finale for consideration. The problem is that there’s no “competition” element in there in a category that has competition in the title. Oops. It’s got Beyonce and Lady Gaga, but then, what doesn’t? This is the same formula that’s failed eight straight times with voters, and perhaps it’s destined to remain forever thus.

The Amazing Race (CBS)
World Race Prods
Why It Was Nominated: It’s the ninth time in a row that Amazing Race has grabbed a nomination and has, for the better part of the past decade, been generally acknowledged as the best reality show going. It won a record seven times in succession before being upset last year by Top Chef, just when everyone assumed Race would never lose. Now the question is, can it come back to reclaim the crown?
Why It Has To Win: Of course it can return to the winner’s circle after stumbling in 2010. The Race episode submission was one that found the competing teams running through India, struggling to keep their pride and composure intact, with mixed results. What’s always made the show the one to beat is its pulsating energy and urgency, which make mere dancing and singing (and cooking and fashion) competitions seem staid and tame by comparison. That could be the way voters see things again.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Last year’s shocking defeat in the category wasn’t necessarily an aberration. The area where Amazing Race falls down is in humanity and poignancy. It also doesn’t seem likely that voters will see fit to give another prize to a show they’ve already feted so often. A reality producer noted to me, “You can only honor a show like this so many times and then it’s like, you know, enough already!”

Top Chef (Bravo)
Magical Elves
Why It Was Nominated: Because it combines two of the things we all love most: food and family. Top Chef is a deceptively smart and complex piece of business, and the academy has responded by not only nominating it for the fifth time in succession but voting it the win last year. That surprised as lot of people but shouldn’t have, as the Bravo franchise from Magical Elves Prods. consistently delivers with flair. It landed four noms in all this time.
Why It Has To Win: If there’s one thing the TV academy likes even more than honoring something or someone, it’s honoring them again the following year. Wins often come in pairs, or threes. The 90-minute Chef submission packed an emotional wallop in having the contestants hang with family and probe their ancestry on Ellis Island. Think that might resonate with a few Jewish voters? And here we thought it was just about food prep.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Last year’s triumph was an aberration, a confluence of events that won’t repeat and a backlash against all of those Amazing Race victories. At the end of the day, it’s still about, you know, chefs. “I couldn’t believe it when they called out Top Chef last year,” an Emmy voter admits. “It was like, really? How many more ways is the academy going to think up to screw American Idol?”

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
Dick Clark Prods w/ 19 Entertainment
Why It Was Nominated: It’s rare that a show will earn its first major Emmy nomination in its eighth season, so in that sense the nod for Dance was highly unexpected, if not quite unprecedented. It’s a double hit for exec producer Lythgoe (who also runs Idol). The Fox dance competition has continued to grow in stature as the years have piled up, and it no longer sits as the pale imitation to Dancing With the Stars.
Why It Has To Win: There is one school of thought that the show can capture the trophy because it’s got the dual strengths of being a veteran series and an energetic newcomer with this crowd. “This is a real dance show,” believes one producer, “as opposed to DWTS, which always has been more of a gimmick, in my opinion.” Will that give it a leg up, so to speak, against this competition? Only if voters are swayed by the submitted season finale.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: You get the feeling that Dance cracked the list as a nod to the dance show trend and that it and Dancing With the Stars will offset one another. It lacks the cache’ of the others despite having been around a good while.

Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
BBC Worldwide Prods
Why It Was Nominated: This category doesn’t change much. A Survivor here. An Apprentice there. But in fact, the nominees were exactly the same for four consecutive years until So You Think You Can Dance joined the fray this year with the addition of a sixth slot. No other Emmy category has proven so consistent. This is the sixth category nomination in a row for DWTS, because it’s just the way the reality ball bounces.
Why It Has To Win: Let’s face it, it’s due. Then again, so is Idol (eight winless noms in a row). And so is Project Runway (six winless noms in a row). If you remove Amazing Race from the equation, the nominees for Reality-Competition are a combined 1 win in 22 tries prior to 2011. But Dancing With the Stars may have it over the Fox dancefest in the sweetness it demonstrated in its episode submission, which includes fun times with Kirstie Alley (among others).
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: If it couldn’t win in its five previous attempts, this isn’t likely the time, either. There was nothing overwhelming about either the episode being judged or the season in general.

Project Runway (Lifetime)
Weinstein Co, Miramax Films & Bunim-Murray Prods w/ Full Picture
Why It Was Nominated: No matter what network this model competition series is on — Bravo or Lifetime — it generates Emmy nominations (two this time). It’s the seventh straight category honor for Runway, which never seems to generate the respect it perhaps deserves and which no one ever gives serious consideration to win. Maybe that ought to change this year.
Why It Has To Win: Top Chef pulled off an upset victory in 2010. This could well be Runway’s turn, and not just in the interest of spreading-the-wealth fairness. As one Emmy voter who works in reality TV reasoned to me, “The episode these guys sent out for consideration was just killer. I’m not kidding. We found out one of the contestants was a carrier of the AIDS virus based on a submitted fabric pattern. Oh my God! It was devastating.” Not the kind of stuff we’re used to seeing on Project Runway.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: At the end of the day, it’s still Project Runway, which by the nature of the contest isn’t taken seriously enough. If the academy votes on the episode that’s in front of them, that’s one thing; if they base their choice strictly on preconceived bias, it’s another.