Is American Idol rigged? I dunno, but I do believe it sometimes ends up being based on fuzzy math.
You know, like when 3 + 2 = 1.
Well, it’s simple, really.
According to the inimitable Ryan Seacrest—who, admittedly, during his AI tenure has had a few probs with numbers (remember him not knowing exactly how many zeroes were on the number of votes separating Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken in AI2?)—the top three finalists, Bo, Carrie and Vonzell, were only 2% apart before the finale.
When I cher-ed on this issue previously, I said:
Look at it this way: if Bo-Carrie-Vonzell were only 2% of the vote apart at the week before the finale, Vonzell had a sizable posse riding herd for her. Once she was eliminated, where were her fans going to go?
If you were attracted to a cute, lovable, perky, fabulous, hottie-girl pop singer—and she got bounced—wouldn’t you then vote for your next favorite cute, lovable, perky, fabulous, hottie-girl pop singer? Or just the other cute, lovable, perky, fabulous, hottie-girl pop singer, even if she wasn’t your next favorite?
I also opined that it was like ice cream. If you had your heart set on ice cream, you got ice cream. Even if the shop suddenly was out of your favoritie flav, you still ordered ice cream. You didn’t bolt crazy out of the store and go next door and up and order, say, teriyaki chicken or liver and onions.
No, you stuck with ice cream.
So it is that, in a tight field, a third place finalist’s votes could be thrown to—or, let’s call it “redirected to”—a second place finalist, thereby causing the second place finalist to end up in first place.
In other words, it’s quite possible that 3 + 2 = 1.
And the problem with 3 + 2 equalling 1 is that it doesn’t. Not really.
What I mean is this: There’s getting votes and there’s winning hearts.
To win American Idol, a singer must get the most votes.
To be successful as the American Idol, a singer must win over the most hearts.
That is, it’s not enough to get enough votes to win. The winner must be able to galvanize and enthral a dedicated and motivated fan base that, in an ideal world, is bigger and more dedicated and more motivated than the other guy’s fan base.
Then, and only then—and regardless of what Randy-Paula-Simon or Clive Davis or the music industry TPTB say—is the American Idol truly successful as far as Idol-dom is concerned.
And that’s where the problem with redirected votes comes in. Of course these votes count just like any other vote. Get enough of ‘em and they can put you into the winner’s circle.
But they are the votes of people who loved someone else more.
Though this occurs to some extent throughout the season, the effect is magnified at the finale because redirected votes are the votes of people who loved someone else more week after week for almost the entire, consuming American Idol season.
These redirected votes are cast by people who had been focused on someone else. Who had become invested in someone else. Who had spent all their enthusiasm on someone else. Who, as their favorite survived week after week, began to hope and imagine and believe that he or she really could become the next American Idol.
Then it ends for these fans. Like a ton of bricks crashing down on them, it rudely ends. And they are left with two choices. Vote for one of the two remaining finalists or don’t vote at all.
Most people vote. But, for those who had been supporting the third place finisher, they vote with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Thus, the singer who wins on the basis of redirected votes is, at least initially, in an inherently precarious position.
When this happens, the singer got the votes to win (3 + 2), but it’s not clear he won the support he needs (the love that should naturally flow to the #1 finisher) to propel him to big success in the music world.
Did Carrie Underwood win because 3 + 2 = 1 in AI4?
I don’t know. I do know she was never in the bottom three, a fact which in and of itself demonstrates she has a large and active fan base and, certainly, she is a worthy winner.
On the other hand, I don’t think it’s safe to assume that, by the end of the show, she was the frontrunner. And, anyway, we know from Ryan’s comment (that Bo-Carrie-Vonzell were only 2% apart), that Carrie and Bo had a very small margin between them going in to the finale.
But never mind. This whole fuzzy math thing is about to be settled once and for all.
What happened on May 25, 2005 was reality tv. What happens on June 14th, when Carrie releases her first single, “Inside Your Heaven/ Independence Day,” and on June 21st, when Bo releases his first single, “Inside Your Heaven/ Vehicle,” that’s reality.
(BTW, Mr. Heather Locklear, Richie Sambora, is going to strum the guitar with Bo on the studio version of “Vehicle.” Sweet!)
When the cash registers start ringing (or not), that’s when we’ll get an idea of not only how wide each finalist’s support is, but, more importantly, how deep.
True, it will only be an inkling of things to come. As Clive Davis often says, a large percentage of an AI alumni’s initial sales is “souvenir” buying. Still, while a big start may not portend all that much for the future, a slow start is more telling.
At least from where I’m sitting, The Buzz continues to be with Mr. Bice. Although pre-orders, for example, aren’t all that predictive of sales, they do say something about how invested a singer’s fanbase is in that artist’s success.
Based solely on pre-orders, Bo has been at or near #1 on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
It’s not quite the breathless frenzy of anticipation—including world-wide cd release parties, endless internet chatter, countdown clocks and midnight lines outside record stores that accompanied Clay Aiken’s bow in 2003—that was truly a cultural phenomenon that must be properly documented (hence my soon-to-be-announced idolhabit Clay Aiken project)—but the Bice Buzz is undeniable.
Then again, at this point there is only one kind of buzz that counts: the buzz that sounds like “ka-ching.”
So let the games begin—and best wishes to Carrie and Bo as they officially start their recording careers!