Is 'American Idol' Voting Flawed?

Monday, 11 Apr 2011 08:53 AM

By James Hirsen

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Are voting problems plaguing "American Idol"? The voting process of TV’s most successful show is coming under scrutiny after the elimination of Pia Toscano, which got the social networks abuzz with posts from shocked fans, many of whom claimed that sexism had played a part.

Pia, a crowd pleaser and music-critic fave, provided the viewing audience with some of the most consistently professional performances this season. Not only was Pia expected to be one of the finalists, she was thought by many to be the one who would win it all.

When “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest revealed that Pia was the individual who received the lowest number of votes, the audience groaned and yelled, “No!” Jennifer Lopez burst into tears, while the two other judges, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler, expressed bewilderment. Tyler even uncharacteristically scolded the voters, saying that their “lack of passion was unforgivable.”

A host of celebrities, including Tom Hanks, Ashton Kutcher, and Jessica Alba, jumped onto their Twitter accounts to comment on the vote. “Don’t have an IDOL habit, but how could the USA vote Pia off? I may be done for the season!” Hanks wrote.

Kutcher tweeted, “Who are the people that vote on American idol? That’s just crazy!”

Alba asked, “Who’s mad about Pia? I think she’s got a promising career ahead of her. Girl can sing her butt off and she’s stunning.”

The prior week the show had sent away Naima Adedapo and Thia Megia. With the elimination of Pia, it became the fifth consecutive time a female contestant had been unable to receive the votes necessary to continue in the competition.

In addition, no female has won “Idol” since Jordan Sparks four years ago became the last singer standing. And now, only two women remain: Haley Reinhart and Lauren Alaina.

The odds, of course, now favor a male winner. This has led distressed “Idol” viewers to speculate that young female fans, the same demographic that created the Justin Bieber phenom, are swaying the overall vote.

“Idol” producers may have to re-examine the voting rules in order to maintain the show’s credibility. The current version of the rules allows voters to utilize the "Idol" website to cast up to 50 votes. If fans are voting for contestants via their phones or by texting, they can vote as many times as they wish without limitation. This affords contestants with devotees, who are motivated enough to repeatedly vote, the chance to remain in the “Idol” race.

The rules could easily be changed to emulate the tried and true democracy principle of one person/one vote. The technology exists to limit each computer IP address or phone number to a single vote.

Still, there is another issue this year that relates to the judges. When Simon Cowell exited the show, he took his acerbic candor along with him. The current three-judge panel has taken a much more positive approach with contestants. This has lent a sweetness to the show that many find appealing.

For the artists, such an atmosphere is extremely encouraging and is a confidence booster. On the other hand, some critical guidance may be falling to the wayside in an effort to avoid stifling creative juices.

Randy, Jennifer, and Steven certainly favor an upbeat approach. At its heart, it is a difference in philosophy and style of interaction. It suits them well, and the opportunity for viewers to witness their camaraderie is a bonus.

However, this means that criticism, in all of its forms, must come generally to contestants’ ears via the musical mentors, who do not hold as much weight with participants or the voting public.

It turns out that Simon’s honest and sometimes brutal remarks may have served an important function, that of directing voters to performers who most deserved their attention, and ultimately their votes.


James Hirsen, J.D., M.A. in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. He is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and has made several appearances there on landmark decisions. Hirsen is the co-founder and chief legal counsel for InternationalEsq.com. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood: www.youtube.com/user/NMHollywood



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