Alibi V.13 No.22 • May 27-June 2, 2004 

Idiot Box

Fallen idol

“American Idol” on FOX

By the time this column hits the streets, the third season of “American Idol” will be over. We'll know whether Diana DeGarmo or Fantasia Barrino will perform at next year's Super Bowl and then vanish from our pop culture radar. This season may be remembered a microsecond longer than the others, however, due to a swirl of timely controversy.

It began in April, when no less than Sir Elton John declared the show “incredibly racist” for voting off his favorite contestant, Jennifer Hudson. Never mind the fact that last year's winner, Ruben Studdard, was black or that Hudson's exit still left three black contestants, one Hawaiian and only two white people. The controversy got worse two weeks ago when La Toya London (who was African-American) was booted off in favor of clearly less talented warbler Jasmine Trias (the Hawaiian gal).

Considering “Idol” winners are chosen by the American public, is this clear evidence that America is a racist nation. Well, I wouldn't go that far. It is clear evidence that Americans (at least the ones who watch “American Idol”) are fickle and stupid. Trias triumphed over London for the sole reason that nasty Simon Cowell gave her a trademark dressing down. Voters, feeling sorry for the crying chanteuse, voted for her in droves. The surprise results even caused host Ryan Seacrest to remind viewers that “American Idol” is a talent contest, not a popularity contest.

Simon's insult (“You'd better hope everyone in Hawaii has five phones.”) proved more than prophetic. Some 5 million calls came in from Hawaii. That's pretty impressive for a state with only a million and a half people. Since then, some regular “American Idol” fans have admitted to voting as many as 500 times in a single night. Overzealous “power-dialers,” who use the Internet to log thousands of votes, have also been blamed for the telephone logjams that prevented many viewers from voicing even one legitimate vote. Last year's season finale was decided by some 24 million people. But cell phone giants Verizon and SBC noted increased call traffic of 230 million calls that night, meaning there may have been 10 times as many votes that did not get counted.

Needless to say, some loyal viewers have demanded a change in the voting procedure. A recent “Access Hollywood” poll found that 91 percent of viewers felt that “American Idol” had lost all of its integrity.

To which I just have to respond: When the hell did this show ever have integrity? We're talking reality television, the genre that inspired “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” and “The Littlest Groom.” This is a show that's going to pick an utterly disposable pop singer from a group of under-equipped, under-trained, under-prepared-to-deal-with-this teenagers. (Do producers honestly think 16-year-olds can handle the rejection or the stardom that results from a show like this?)

Seriously, if people put as much effort into choosing their next president as the do in choosing the next “American Idol,” this country would be much better off than it is.