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May 27, 2009

Fox responds to 'Idol' voting controversy

Idol finale Fox, "American Idol" producers and AT&T defended themselves Wednesday against accusations of voting irregularities during the "Idol" finale that saw underdog Kris Allen catapult over judges' favorite Adam Lambert.

As The New York Times reported, "Idol" sponsor AT&T provided Allen fans with free text-messaging and tips on how to "power-text" at two finale viewing parties in Arkansas last week. Local AT&T reps gave fans phones they could use to send 10 text message votes at the touch of a button, a practice the Times said appears to violate the show's rules against using “technical enhancements” to bump voting.

The news has left fans wondering if whether AT&T's blunder was enough to tilt the balance of the finale's outcome.

Fox and "Idol" producers 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia released a statement Wednesday saying Allen is indeed the winner:

“Fox and the producers of 'American Idol' are absolutely certain that the results of this competition are fair, accurate and verified. Kris Allen is, without a doubt, the American Idol. We have an independent third-party monitoring procedure in place to ensure the integrity of the voting process. In no way did any individuals unfairly influence the outcome of the competition.”

Also, AT&T released this statement:

“Last week, countless parties were held in homes, bars, and other public places across America to watch the 'American Idol' finale. In Arkansas, a few local AT&T employees were invited to attend two local watch parties organized by the community. Caught up in the enthusiasm of rooting for their hometown contestant, they brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested. Going forward, we will make sure our employees understand our sponsorship celebrates the competition, not individual contestants. That said, it’s quite a leap to suggest that a few individuals could have impacted the final results.”

Based on the available information, the math supports the network and phone company: The Arkansas Post-Democrat said the phone company provided about 50 units at one event, 30 at another. Other sources put the number of phones as considerably lower.

Let's say there were indeed 80 free power-text phones in play. And suppose each was used to vote once per minute by Allen partygoers while they watched the two-hour "American Idol" telecast (keep in mind this was AT&T staffers demo'ing phones at a party, not an underground Allen voting boiler room). That's 9,600 text messages. And suppose each voter sent 10 votes for Allen each time. That would give Allen 96,000 votes.

And this assumes that the 1,200 votes per phone wasn't flagged -- as the statement notes, "Idol" votes are not blindly collected; there's a monitoring system in place to catch irregularities.

Network sources say more than 100 million votes were cast in the Allen-Lambert contest -- the most votes ever for an "Idol" finale, as host Ryan Seacrest noted on the air last week. Fox reps have previously told reporters that Allen won by a large margin.

All of which suggests a vote gap that no amount of Arkansas viewing party voting could have given Lambert the win. Provided Fox's previous two statements about the voting results are true (at least 100 million votes and a significant margin of victory), even if the rogue phones generated a thumb-breaking 500,000 votes, such a surge would account for only .5% of the vote, which would only matter in the most squeaker of races. 

Sources seem to agree, however, that the local AT&T reps embarrassingly messed up giving Allen supporters free votes, especially with AT&T being a major "Idol" sponsor (an issue that the statement by Fox and "Idol" producers notably avoids).

In other words: this whole free-texting blunder is meaningful ... but only because some fans might think its meaningful. 

Meanwhile in other post "Idol" finale news: Nine songs from Allen and Lambert have entered this week's Billboard Hot 100 -- but they all trail "Don't Stop Believin" by the cast of Fox's "Glee," which is the chart's Hot Shot Debut at No. 4.


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