Unmasking the Truth
The New York Times is reporting today that AT&T, one of the principal corporate sponsors of “American Idol”, may have unfairly swayed some votes in the final vote between Adam Lambert and eventual winner Kris Allen. Apparently, AT&T is admitting that it was asked to provide free cellphones at two local parties in Arkansas, and it went so far as to instruct the home state residents of Allen on how to send text messages for free.
There was no such giveaway or instruction provided for the Adam Lambert contingent in San Diego. If this is true, then the American Idol organization has some serious explaining to do.
Did AT&T really feel it needed to support the more boy-next-door singer, the kind of MOR blandness that would resonate more with Middle America? Was it in effect cultivating a customer base, or at least not alienating it? On the other hand, how very threatening would the prospect of an Adam Lambert victory have been?
Lest you think that the Times has been keeping this story under wraps, in fact it was the local Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that first reported this last week. The fact that the Times is running it means there may be some teeth to these allegations. Besides the general sleaze of it all, here are some more technical details -all in print for the world to consider. It concerns a special AT&T feature called “power texts”, in which it’s possible to send 10 or more text messages at once at the click of a button. AT&T reps apparently provided instructions on how to activate this function —in effect, allowing a finalist to receive more than one vote at a time. Yet here is the rub: “Idol” rules clearly forbid this exponential-type voting. At the end of each telecast, in fact, there is a warning for all voters who want to vote unfairly. “Blocks of votes”, according to the Times piece, “cast using ‘technical enhancements’ that unfairly influence the outcome of voting can be thrown out.”
For those technologically-challenged folk in Arkansas, here is what the local Democrat-Gazette uncovered:
In Conway after Tuesday’s performances, fans at the Estes Stadium watch party took out wireless phones and started making calls and firing off text messages - some voting on their own devices and others on phones borrowed from AT&T, which supplied about 50 display units and representatives to teach multiple “power texting.” AT&T also made about 30 phones available in a “texting zone” at a watch party at the Peabody Little Rock hotel, where Megan Lynch and friend Rainey Gibson, both 22, watched Allen perform his first song of the night, Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” “I loved it,” Lynch said. “One of my favorite things about Kris is that he plays his own instruments. That just shows how talented he is.” Gibson, who said she would be voting nonstop, said Allen did an excellent job.
We can imagine that 12-year-old girls with braces either called the Kris Allen phone numbers or texted like crazy, voting en masse for their clean-cut Arkansan favorite. These were the same screaming girls we saw in the week before the finale when Fox filmed the visit home, complete with plugs for their own local Fox affiliates.
Evidence of Tampering?
But this is something else entirely. We have evidence of direct tampering with the voting process, brought about by a major corporate sponsor without, apparently, the knowledge of the “American Idol” producers. Officials at Fox do not have any comments at this time, according to the Times. But let’s imagine that Fox knew about this and even colluded with AT&T in their plan to skew the votes. Can you imagine what this would do to the franchise? No one is talking about stripping Kris Allen of the title necessarily.
The mere taint of scandal or collusion is damaging enough to “Idol”, a franchise that most would agree is losing its luster and overall ratings. The finale was one of the lowest rated ever, and overall number of viewers was down a few percent over previous years.
Ryan Seacrest made a point to say that almost 100 million votes were cast for either Adam or Kris on the final telecast. This has been confirmed by other news outlets but nothing has been official. But Ryan did not mention the gap between the two, which he normally would announce on every other broadcast all season long. Thus we don’t know how many votes truly separated Kris and Adam. Was it a million? Was it more? Wouldn’t the tool from the accounting agency that was trotted out on stage with the winner’s envelope know? Why the mystery?
Last year we knew almost immediately that David Cook bested little David Archuleta by 56 to 42 percent -a decisive victory, and one that, like this year seemed to favor Archuleta since he gave a stronger performance on the final show, much like Lambert this year. Lambert was simply a different kind of talent, never faltering, always commanding and supremely skilled all around. Kris seemed bland by comparison, even if his performances were competent at best. In the end, we all figured that Kris was the “safer” choice and that those girls with braces really did call in many times, and that, for that matter, all of the votes for Danny Gokey, the #3 finalist, probably went for the other Bible-boy, Kris. Both were appealing in that aw-shucks way, never edgy, never really inventive, but just decent warblers and great smilers.
It was Lambert who had the black fingernails and “guyliner”, the guy who was decidedly not the “boy next door” with that wail of his. For someone who managed to out-sing and out-class every single one of his competitors, and still appear on stage with both KISS and Queen, he still wasn’t acceptable enough to the masses, which presumably include screaming young girls with skin that breaks out. Fine. Adam will probably go the Daughtry way and still sell millions, either touring in a Broadway production or taking Queen up on their apparent offer to be their lead singer. Nah, Adam: strike out on your own.
In the meantime, we’ll see if “Idol-Gate” has any legs or whether the stuffed shirts at Fox will even deign to respond to this kerfuffle which, according to the morning papers now, is exposing this around the globe where the Idol franchise has spawned a lot of wealth. It’s early to say what will happen with all this or whether people will simply lose confidence with the process altogether. Maybe Simon Cowell needs to get a little upset and threaten to “quit” again, not just to collect a little more cash this time, but instead to have the one credible and uncompromising part of this circus-slash-moneymachine say that this is all just rubbish.
[Via New York Times]