Calls Waiting: 'Idol' Voters Finally Get Through to Fox
"Idol" is so important to Fox, the network plans to wait until the reality series returns in January to launch the largest chunk of its new series next season. At Fox, January is the new September, thanks entirely to "American Idol."
And yet, the network allows questions about the voting system to continue to plague this important franchise. This season the news media have written about it extensively while Fox continued to "smile its Cheshire cat grin," as the Associated Press put it in one of its numerous stories on the subject.
Especially startling was the week in which the most talented contestants, the Three Divas as they were called by Cowell, were the bottom vote-getters. Guest judge Elton John was not the only one to suggest that the voting was racist because all three of the women were African American; one caller to "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" angrily reported she had tried numerous times to vote for the three -- La Toya London, Jennifer Hudson and Barrino -- but all three lines were busy the whole time. Another caller speculated that the reason they'd received the fewest votes was that African Americans "don't text-message," while "little white kids" vote repeatedly with their cell phones.
(Viewers can vote by telephone or by text-messaging. Text-messaging is digital; phone lines are analog. Votes by text-messaging can stack up and be recorded later; phone lines become clogged and would-be voters get a busy signal. Text-messaging costs 10 cents a vote; phone voting is free.)
More recently, some viewers cried foul when London got axed while Jasmine Trias, who'd been uniformly trashed by the judges for her subpar performance that week, got voted through.
The viewers noted that, on the mainland, they have to compete for phone lines with millions of others in their time zone, while Hawaii, Trias's home state, with a population of just 1.2 million, is in its own time zone. That means Trias's many Hawaiian fans enjoyed a far less crowded calling period. Indeed, of the 29 states in Verizon's local territory, Hawaii logged more calls that night than anyplace else except the very populous states of New York and California, the AP reported.
Fox again went into full not-our-problem mode: "The producers and network have gone to great lengths to ensure the integrity of the voting process on 'American Idol,' " the network said in a statement.
"America votes, an independent company calculates the tally and the show reports those results."
Fox then tried to place the blame squarely on the viewers.
Host Ryan Seacrest opened the next Tuesday's broadcast by telling viewers, "Last week there was outrage when your votes [emphasis his] decided that La Toya London would not be" in the final competition.
The studio audience booed; Seacrest went back to his script:
"That's what you wanted! That's what you said! Or, maybe you just thought, 'Aw, she'll be fine,' and did not bother calling in. Well, you've seen what can happen."
Have we mentioned yet that AT&T is one of the show's biggest sponsors?
Seacrest continued: "Millions of people will be trying to get through at the end of the show. So the lines are bound to be busy. But do not give up. You will have at least two full hours to vote and you can vote as many times as you like."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company