Saturday, May 30, 2009

The American Idol scandal that won't go away.

A BBC report on the American Idol voting scandal just won't die. And it seems to be bigger than AT&T first admitted. In a nutshell AT&T is the only system on which text votes may be cast. They admitted that some AT&T representatives went to fan parties for Kris Allen during the final showdown between him and Adam Lambert. The AT&T reps brought free special phones which allowed the Allen phones to text in votes ten at a time. No such phones were provided at Lambert parties.
(This video is an interview with Lambert on numerous issues including the pink elephant.)

When this was first reported AT&T issued a statement acknowledging that two reps did this. But they downplayed it as insignificant. They still are, of course. But it turns out that it the two reps brought "more than 80" such phones. Considering that each phone can cast a 10 votes in a few seconds, and that each holder of the phone can send them repeatedly, these 80 phones could produce massive votes for Allen.

Let us assume that it takes 30 to hit speed dial and send the 10 texts. In just an hour's time one fan, using the phone, could send 20 votes per minute. In one hour that one fan can send 1,200 votes. Lambert fans, by the way, were paying for each call they made while the Allen fans with the "power texting" were doing it free of charge, at AT&T's expense. Now I may well be underestimating how many votes could be cast in an hour. According to the BBC "One fan said she voted for Allen 10,840 times on one of the free phones provided...." It is not clear to me if she voted 10,840 times with ten votes each time, or 1084 times with ten votes each. But if this one fan voted 10,840 on one phone then it is clearly possible that the other 79+ could have had similar numbers.

If that were the case that would produce 847,200 votes for Allen. Remember this was only possible with the power texting phones AT&T gave and any other voters, at other parties would have to pay the cost of each call themselves.

What is making me very suspicious that this could be a real scandal is the way that AT&T and Fox Broadcasting (which airs Idols) are issuing weasel statements to "address" the scandal.

Fox said: "Fox and the producers of American Idol are absolutely certain that the results of this competition are fair, accurate and verified." Unpack that for a second. Since everyone was allowed to vote multiple times then there is no one man one vote issue. AT&T could have produced an extra three-quarters of a million votes for one contestant alone. Those extra votes would be accurately counted and verified. Accuracy and verification was not the question so why mention non-issues. Fairness was an issue. And the statement by Fox clearly shows they are morally challenged when it comes to the issue of fairness.

Is it fair to give fans of one singer a free methods to place multiple thousands of votes for their choice while fans of the other singer are paying for each text they send. Depending on the phone plan someone has with AT&T the cost per text could be as high as $0.20. If the girl who sent 10,840 votes on AT&T's bill had done her own voting at this rate it would have cost her $2,168 to cast these votes. More importantly for a Lambert fan to equal the votes this girl cast for free they would have to fork out out up to $2,168 to do so.

AT&T says "the extra votes did not hamper other finalists Adam Lambert's chances of success." Really? AT&T says, "it's quite a leap to suggest that a few individuals could have impacted the final results." Maybe, maybe not. American Idol won't release the voting results so we don't know. And AT&T is avoiding the issue that these "few individuals" each had the power to cost at least 10,840 votes, perhaps more. If this one girl were the faster texter in the bunch then 10,840 is the maximum per person. But that's still coming close to an extra million votes for Allen. And if she were merely average in her texting abilities that means the total votes cast would be close to a million. On the other hand, if she were one of the slower texters among the Allen fans the votes could easily surpass a million. We simply don't know but anyone with a sense of fairness will find this whole set up very questionable indeed.

Some Lambert fans want a revote. Actually they ought not. Lambert got the best of two worlds. He clearly was the better singer and he has a big career without being hampered by an contract with the American Idol's show. All things consider I suspect a second-place finish put him in a stronger position than a win. Kris Allen, on the other hand, probably benefits by the win.

By the way, we may have discovered why Lambert has been so cagey (and clever) about answering the question about, as he put it, "the pink elephant in the room." Lambert's mother was asked if he is gay and she said that she had to sign a contract with the show restricting her from answering any personal questions without their permission. Leila Lambert said: "We signed a contract with Idol and unless it has been set up by them, I'm not allowed to answer." I can assure you that if Lambert's mother wasn't allowed to answer that question with permission from the show, then Adam himself was strictly forbidden from doing so as well.

It appears to me that Fox intentionally fanned the flames. On one hand we had Fox commentators like O'Riley running off about Lambert's allegedly being gay and how he wasn't talking. On the other hand, Lambert appears to have be contractually silenced on the issue, thus allowing the speculation to go on for months. It is rumored that Lambert will answer the question in the affirmative shortly in Rolling Stone magazine. I don't know if the article will discuss Lambert's beau, Drake LaBry. LaBry was introduced to Lambert several months ago and sat with Lambert's parents in the audience during the competition. I wonder if Idol made him sign a contract to refuse to say who he was?

I did read an interview with Kris Allen and have to give him some credit. He was quite clear that he was disgusted that some people refused to vote for Lambert on the assumption that he was gay. Allen said he knows a lot of Christians like that, especially in the South, who would be that way and he doesn't agree with it. Allen also said he thought the vote should have been on talent alone and that Lambert is a good person whom he likes a lot. Interestingly, Allen managed to do all of this without ever using the word "gay." Perhaps he too has been forbidden from mentioning the word by the show. Odd stuff.

All this isn't hurting Lambert. I do feel sorry for Allen. He is seen by many as a pretender to the throne who was brought in my manipulating votes for him. If that isn't bad enough he has to wonder if he won simply because of bigotry against Lambert for possibly being gay. If you think that fact upset the fundamentalist imagine what they would do if they discovered he's also Jewish. (He is, but thankfully Bill O'Riley didn't do shows on whether or not a "open Jew" could win Idol.)