How could both Casey James and Siobhan Magnus be in the bottom two on American Idol this week? Magnus was sent home causing confusion with this year’s lineup that was touted as being a year for the girls. I would have picked either Aaron Kelly or Michael Lynche for elimination based on talent and performance but with a free for all method of American Idol voting there is no reliable method of predicting an outcome.
American Idol is an immensely popular television show with a concept that is engaging. American Idol scours the nation and plucks from obscurity a group of the most talented starry-eyed dreamers hoping for a chance to break into the entertainment industry. Week after week they sing their hearts out and we the audience members are the judges. The show has judges, but they just give opinions, they don’t vote and this year more than any other their comments were unenlightening, odd and irrelevant. The America Idol audience has always taken their job very seriously and in most instances a talented contestant wins.
There have been victories that are obviously unfair. Claymates will tell you correctly that Clay Aiken was by far more popular than Ruben Studdard and other will say that Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson went home too early. Just last year we had the biggest upset in the history of American Idol when Adam Lambert was defeated by one state that produced 38 million votes with the assistance of Matt Jordan a rogue AT&T executive. In Aiken’s case landline phones were jammed beyond capacity and millions of intended votes were lost. Studdard’s win by about 130,000 votes was more a statement on a flawed voting system rather than one about popularity.
Richard Fobes of VoteFair.org describes the flaws in landline traffic by comparing the voting process to rides at an amusement park. If two identical rides hold equal amounts of passengers the same amount of passengers will get on board in any given time frame. It does not matter which ride has a longer line. The passengers are limited to the seating capacity. That is why with Clay and Ruben there was an artificial appearance of closeness in the final result when none existed. It was unfortunate that in Clay’s case Ruben’s voters must have hung up and redialed faster even though Clay had more voters lined up.
Adam lost for a different reason. Landlines equalize the vote and the limited capacity of the system can create a close but sometimes unfair outcome. Texting on the other hand allows a minority of overzealous voters to outvote the majority of voters. Texting has turned American Idol voting into a blood sport. Each year of American Idol texting increased and according to AT&T last year there was an increase of 100 million American Idol related texts during the season. Not all of the texts were votes but AT&T does not give the breakdown for non-voting text activity.
Last year the total was 178 million texts up 100 million from the year before according to AT&T. Unlimited text plans have destroyed any semblance of fairness in the American Idol voting process. Since you can only text with an AT&T cell phone it is a marketing advantage for AT&T to favor unlimited voting. AT&T Go Phones can also be used to game the system by allowing the purchase of a phone with a cross-country area code to defy the time restraints in any area for additional hours of voting. Lambert, who was more popular in 49 states among the most likely American Idol voters was defeated by Kris’s fans who set up shop at the University of Central Arkansas and were given AT&T phones, lent AT&T phones and were power texting thousands of time each.
Two boys in Arkansas were able to produce 250,000 votes on the night of the final according to the Arkansas Democratic Gazette. One phone was set up to text 450 votes at a time and the other to text 100 votes at a time. Is American idol still a singing contest?
What we have seen this year are unexpected early exits. In other words in a fair vote they would not have been eliminated on the week that they were. Fobes from Vote Fair list them as Lilly Scott, Alex Lambert, Katelyn Epperly, Lacey Brown, Didi Benami, Katie Stevens, and Siobhan Magnus. According to Fobes these contestants were more popular than others not eliminated. Mediacurves.com is conducting a one-person one-vote survey this year to determine who would win in a democratic process. Last year they believed Lambert should have won by a landslide. As of the April 27th ranking Crystal, Casey and Siobhan are one, two and three in popularity with Lee, Michael and Aaron in the bottom three. Aaron should have gone home. Vote Fair had Michael and Aaron in the bottom two as well with Michael going home. Instead Siobhan went home.
What is important is that if American Idol is based on the premise requiring viewers to invest their time, emotion and money to participate in finding the next potential star then American Idol needs a voting system that allows that expectation to occur. American Idol should not be a power texting contest or one dependent on an outcome derived from jammed phone lines. It is not just about what happened to Adam, Clay, Jennifer or Chris or any of this years displaced contestants, we the viewers have a stake in this and we should demand that the voting is fixed.
1. Chuang, T. (2009, May 22) “Minority of American Idol Fans Voted by Text” The Orange County Register Online http://gadgetress.freedomblogging.com/2009/05/22/minority-of-american-idol-fans-voted-by-text/14371/
2. Fobes, R. http://www.votefair.org/americanidol.html
3. Kolsch, K. (2010, March) “Adam Lambert, Second to None” Underpants Press, AdamLambertSecondtoNone.com
4. Starr Seibel, D. (2004, May 16) “American Idol Outrage: Your Vote Doesn’t Count” Broadcasting & Cable http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/153439-American_Idol_Outrage_Your_Vote_Doesn_t_Count.php
5. Stevens, L. ( 2009, May 5) “Producers, AT&T Say Idol Voting Fair Verified” Arkansas Online o http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2009/may/28/producers-ampt-say-idol-voting-fair-verif-20090528/