American Idol

This just in: Phone Snags Thwart 'Idol' Voters!

Ok, Captain Obvious. But here's the interesting part:

In last year's finale between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, a total of 24 million votes were recorded, with Studdard declared the winner by a slim 134,000-vote margin.

But on the same night, Verizon, the nation's largest phone company, saw its daily volume increase by 116 million calls while SBC reported a call-volume increase of 115 million, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

Doing the math, that's 24 million votes recorded out of 230 million+ calls (not including other carriers) which is only 10% of the total votes cast! [As a Floridian, this makes me feel much better about our ability to record votes. <g>]

Now I know that 10 million or even 10 thousand out of any sized population is more than statistically relevant - but it seems like there should be much better ways to capture the vote from a technology standpoint. Of course, Fox loves the higher numbers and busy signals since they try to use them as a proxy for rating, so they'd probably never bite on some of these ideas. But it's worth considering.

1) Use caller ID to determine where votes are coming from and only allow each person to vote once per contestant per week (potential problem here with “private numbers“ that don't support caller ID). Another problem is that there's disparity here w.r.t. the number of phones per household.

2) Assign voter registration codes. People go online to register for these just like they would a real voter registration. This allows you to vote from any phone more than once (everybody in the family is happy) and potentially allows Fox to use registration data as the carrot for getting a code. That could be extremely valuable to advertisers. It eliminates the problem associated with private numbers - the new problem is that it requires Web access, but maybe you have a separate channel for requesting a vote code via telephone or snail mail. Of course, making sure everybody requests 1 and only 1 vote code is your next challenge - you can't use something like a social security number to ensure uniqueness. But this would stem the tide of “power dialers” who simply revive their BBS WarDialer software to cast Idol votes.

3) Web voting. It's obvious why they haven't implemented this yet given the sponsor money they get from AT&T. But they could make MSN or that “other” online service the sponsor. 😉 Obviously Web voting may not scale either, but I think it scales better than the existing telephone voting system would.

4) Stop caring about the outcome. That's right, after all, it's just American Idol. Sure, I'm rooting for Diana DeGarmo as much as the next guy - but if she doesn't win, I'm sure she'll have a perfectly good career (once she finishes high school and all). <g>

Comments (11)
  1. Marty says:

    I am with you I think they could use much better technology or a combination of it to try and get more peoples votes counted.

    Not that I care who wins 🙂

    I wonder how many of those 24 million votes are Text message votes from AT&T subscribers.

  2. Neil says:

    American Idol is a popularity contest. All of this complaining about the voting process seems silly to me. Yes, good singers are getting voted off, but voters pick the POPULAR person, not the BEST person.

    Latoya is a great singer, but completely bland in every other regard. She was too bland to rally a large block of callers around her.

    Fantasia is a great singer, but has enough attitude that it turns a huge swath of voters off. That, in my opinion, is why she was voted off.

    Diana can sing just well enough to be considered halfway decent, but has tons of personality on stage and is cute. Of *course* America votes for her.

    Jasmine can’t sing very well, but she’s young, she’s Hawaiian, and she’s cute too. Of *course* American votes for her.

    Anyway, regardless of what you may say about the voting practice, there’s no denying that this season of American Idol has given us some of the best result shows in the history of reality television.


  3. Brian Keller says:

    Neil –

    I totally agree with everything you are saying. My point really was that it seems like a less-than-optimal system of capturing votes. I’m sure it’s statistically representative of the actual voting population – whether or not the votes got through, the ones that did are still indicative that there were more phone lines jammed with people voting for the remaining candidates than for Latoya. Rather, I’m more interested in the process of capturing the votes. How do you go about recording a vote from "all of America" (if you believe Seacrest’s marketing hype) in a 24-hour period? Our political system uses a very expensive physical polling system, and they even have the advantage of using unique identifiers such as social security numbers.

  4. Neil says:

    Aside from randomly calling people up, forcing them to watch the show, and then asking them to vote, I don’t think there’s really a good way to get an accurate vote from "all of america" that still makes for entertaining TV.

    Perhaps every American Idol results show should come with a disclaimer like on’s quick vote 🙂

    "To begin with, the people who respond choose to do so — they are not randomly selected and asked to participate, but instead make the choice to read a story about a certain topic and then vote on a related question. There is thus no guarantee that the votes would reflect anything close to a statistical sample, even of users: The participants in a Sports Live Vote and a Politics Live Vote may overlap, but each group is likely to be dominated by people with an interest in each particular area. In addition, while’s Live Votes are designed to allow only one vote per user, someone who wants to vote more than once could simply use another computer or another Internet account."


  5. I’m too lazy to vote by phone, but if they added web voting I’d be clicking like mad every Tuesday night.


  6. I’m too lazy to vote by phone, but if they added web voting I’d be clicking like mad every Tuesday night.


  7. annise blackburn says:

    I think that fantasia should win but there going to give it to Daina because there last year winner was ruben and clay was runner up but he got more notices then the winner of last years idol so if that what happens this year then oh well

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