Americans love a good controversy. Seriously, isn’t that why we love Reality TV? Good (reality) TV thrives on controversy, and American Idol is no exception. In fact, it may be the standard in terms of voting controversies.
Controversy abounds on and off the set of Idol, mainly as it applies to voting. The controversies crop up time and again and for different reasons. Some are merely human error, while some are the things that fuel conspiracy theory nuts. The controversies cover acts of God, technology, nefarious behavior and human error, among others. Here are a few:
In Season Three, many Idol fans think Jennifer Hudson was robbed of the Idol title because Mother Nature stepped in and snatched it away from her. Bad weather had downed the phone lines in Chicago, Hudson’s hometown. Her loved ones couldn’t vote, and the votes would not be delayed.
It’s not a case of one man, one vote on Idol. This covers a few categories: System overload, speed dialing, texting, system overload and hackers.
-System overload. If you are calling using your telephone, the law of physics (so to speak) dictates that only so many calls can be handled-the amount the system was set up to handle. So when it’s a hotly-contested event, that system suffers overload.
In the second season’s battle between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, each of the two contestants had his own phone number, per American Idol policy. Host Ryan Seacrest reported that the winner gained less than 1 percent more votes than the other.
The controversy involves the one person, one vote concept. It just doesn’t exist with American Idol. During season two a Pennsylvania voter claimed to have telephoned 500-600 times to vote for Clay Aiken. She said no matter how often she called, she couldn’t place her vote. So she didn’t even get the one call/one vote for all of her 500 plus times dialing. She wasn’t alone. Given the margin of the win, those calls that wouldn’t go through would have made a major difference.
-Speed dialing. This is the precursor to the above.
It’s just common sense that if a person has to manually dial, while another can hit redial or speed dial, the odds are in favor of the person using technology getting through. This also leads to another problem. The people with speed dialing can jam the phone lines in a way that calls won’t make it in. They don’t have to be voting for someone, necessarily; they just have to keep calling to jam the lines so others’ calls can’t get through-and be counted.
-Text Messaging. It seems that while the phone lines get jammed up, and you can only vote as often as you can get through. With texting, it is different. The text will count. Not all of us have come into the text messaging age. This also falls into the demographic glitch.
It’s not just the power outages or the weird technological flukes that can skew the voting. Technology still plays a role, but it’s more in that some know how to use the system while others don’t. There are those of us who choose our favorite Idol and naively go the phone to place our vote along with the million so of others like us. Our vote is as important as anyone else’s. That’s the American way. And that’s true. It’s just not the American Idol way. American Idol way has to contend with technological advances such as re-dialing and speed dialing.
A quick Web search shows programs available (for a fee) that will allow you to make your American Idol votes go into overdrive. On one site, for $14.95, you’ll get a system that allows you to vote, vote and vote again. According to the ad on the site: “It doesn’t quit or get mad.”
-Others. This doesn’t even touch hackers and the concept of entering “bots” into the voting process. If hackers can interject viruses into our computers and worm their way into major banks and the like, is it so implausible that they’ve figured out ways to double and triple their voting power. Ironically, they probably didn’t even give a rip who won the contest. It was all about the ability to control the outcome
On several seasons human error has played into the voting outcome. Basically, a voter called to vote for a favorite only to find out that his/her vote went to another contestant. While the phone numbers matched the contestants, sometimes the letters that correspond to the numbers didn’t. Voters votes counted for the wrong contestant. That wasn’t corrected for West Coast viewers, so it stood.
Even when the correct phone number was called, some claim the system has its problems. Chris Daughtry (Season five) fans started a petition that had upwards of 16,000 signatures addressing just this issue. Voters said their call was rerouted to the wrong person. Fans said when they called to vote for Daughtry, they were greeted by Katharine McPhee’s voice, thanking them for the vote. Often they called back, thinking they must have made a mistake. Ultimately, their vote counted twice for the wrong person. Another group said they were never able to get through to anyone when they tried to place their Daughtry vote.
In this case, it may be a turnabout is fair play, however. Idol voters who called in for Elliott Yamin received a “thank you” message from a fellow contestant, Chris Daughtry. Yamin finished third behind McPhee which is still debatable.
HUMAN INGENUITY RUN AMOK
Most notorious in this category is the Web site Vote for the Worst, which does all in its power to get its readers to cast votes for the most abysmal Idol candidates. Founders were quite proud of the showing Sanjaya Malakar, they say because they promoted the hair-infatuated singer as the person to vote for.
It’s more than just a case of too much time on one’s hands. Odds makers actually make predictions on Idol voting, so there’s more at stake, and not just for the contestants.
Then comes the question of can there ever be a fair voting method here when the demographic of American Idol is skewed towards the young female. Do women actually stand a chance in the competition over a hot, male singer? Again, Sanjaya is a great example. Remember that tween girl sobbing in the audience as he made his way through the crowds, performing a very mediocre act.
Dancing with the Stars has addressed this by combining audience votes along with the opinions of the judges. It’s a sort of balancing at.
But that’s not what Idol is all about, is it? Simon Cowell breeds controversy, as does Paula Abdul. Controversy keeps them coming, and calling, just as much as the talent.