I have always been a fan of American Idol. Like many Americans, I was hooked by the drama and excitement of what has been for over ten years the most popular reality show on television.
I understand that the show is simply a glossy, dressed up talent show and I don't mind being manipulated by it. Whether it's Simon's nastiness, Clay's crooning, Paula's nonsense, J. Lo's butt, or Ryan's brilliant ability to annoy and delight at the same time, I look forward to every season and enjoy the hell out of it.
However, something has always bothered me. I know that Idol like all gameshows abides by strict rules that make sure the results are, as they say, determined by the votes that are received via phone calls and texts. Yet, every year there is a contestant who makes it much farther than they should (Sanjaya) and others who are voted off much sooner than expected (Jennifer Hudson). There must be a reason that no matter how often you vote, the champion never wins by more than 9%, I considered. Is it possible that somebody is manipulating the results to achieve a specific outcome?
Well, yes and no but mostly yes.
Don't worry, everything American Idol and the folks at Freemantle are doing is 100% legal and doesn't violate any rules or regulations, but think about it. If you were producing a wildly popular TV show that's on twice a week, would you leave the finale up to the people who paid hard earned money to see Jack & Jill?
I have it on good authority that the offices of Freemantle are staffed with tiny cubicles that contain only a chair and a phone. The work area is similar to a run-of-the-mill call center. However, instead of receiving calls asking for advice or technical help, the people sitting at these desks are making calls. Calls to toll free numbers that help certain contestants get the majority of the votes. Half the time, the winners end up being white males (Scotty McReery, Lee DeWyze, Kriss Allen, Taylor Hicks and David Cook). Furthermore, of all the second place finalists, at least two were gay and one was a drug addict. I can't believe that it's a coincidence that the most marketable person usually wins.
I was never under any misconceptions that American Idol was anything more than a singing version of what used to happen in ancient Rome, but I always thought the results came strictly from folks at home, not from people in an office being told what number to call.
Is it against the rules? Not at all.
Is it dishonest? Maybe.
Is it disappointing? Definitely.