We’re still in the audition rounds of American Idol, those heady days when ratings are through the roof and everyone is in love with the show and its parade of deluded wannabes. But it’s just around the corner- the next great American Idol controversy.
It happens every season. One contestant is voted off or banished to the bottom two while the country gasps in shock. In season one Tamyra Gray was ousted while Nikki McKibbon was sent back to safety. In the second season, marine Joshua Gracin was safe after a terrible performance while mini-diva Trenyce received a one way ticket home to Memphis. Jennifer Hudson was the sixth to go in season three while red-headed crooner John Stevens lived to warble another week. In season four, inexplicable heartthrob Constantine Maroulis was booted off before Scott Savol, and in the shocker to end all American Idol shockers, fan favorite Chris Daughtry finished in fourth place when many fans had expected him to win it all.
The American Idol voting process has shown flaws in every season despite Idol’s claims that voting snafus have been fixed. In the second season finale, phone lines were overwhelmed and an estimated 150 million calls were dropped. In season three, phone lines in Chicago were damaged due to severe thunderstorms rolling through the area, robbing Jennifer Hudson of a sizable portion of her fanbase. In season five, fans claimed that votes that were supposed to be cast for Chris Daughtry went to eventual runner-up Katherine McPhee when her voice thanked them for their vote. After each of these incidents, fans of the show have called on the producers of American Idol to make the voting process more transparent. The producers have resisted making sweeping changes to the process or releasing weekly vote totals, claiming that to release numbers would rob the show if its suspense.
In spite of the past voting controversies and sometimes questionable results, American Idol remains as popular as ever, as do the stars that the American Idol machine has created. Kelly Clarkson has picked up a Grammy. Taylor Hicks’s CD debuted at number two. Chris Daughtry’s first CD reached number one. Clay Aiken continues to sell out concert tours, and Carrie Underwood is the newest country sweetheart. With all of the success of American Idol, does the voting system need changing at all? Is it truly flawed or are the votes manipulated for drama as some critics allege?
Certainly the technology to limit the number of votes per phone line is available. USA Network’s Nashville Star limits votes to ten per phone line and ten per email address. Of course, enterprising fans can get around these limits, but it has helped to prevent the interminable busy signals and shocker results that have plagued each of American Idol’s five seasons. Nashville Star is not nearly the hit that American Idol is though, and they have failed to launch any winner as a major star.
Does the system need fixing or is the system part of the reason American Idol and its contestants remain so popular?