The final Season 2016
It is amazing how much mobile technology and social media has impacted American Idol over the past 15 years. When American Idol first began, contestants were required to close down any social media sites they had and were cautioned about any outside correspondences with fans except through Fox’s official messaging boards.
No cell phones of any kind, smart or basic, were allowed in the theater during performances by either contestants or the audience back in the day. What a change it is from today and at least the last three seasons, when “texting” even during the live telecasts is not only common, but encouraged. Even the current judges, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. Have their smartphones with them at the judging table. Host Ryan Seacrest has brought his mobile phone out on stage many times with different photos or tweets he wants to share during an American Idol show.
One of the most improved portions of the reality show is “the voting system”. During the early seasons of unlimited phone dialing, controversies ensued, mistakes were made and the numbers probably were inaccurate from the unreliable method. American Idol was one of the last reality shows to finally adopt online and text voting and limited the number allowed per person, and finally today, one can cast a specified amount of votes only by either mobile phone, online or calling in.
It is ironic, that now in the last year of the popular Fox show that had the highest ratings for any reality show for eight straight years, and gave young people all over America a shot at breaking into the music industry, is now running smoothly. Their technology is finally working efficiently and probably the most accurately than ever before and engages the audience with an easy voting system. It is quite possible that the most popular contestant in each past year was not the announced winner due to many different problems.
Just as favorite cable shows like Game of Thrones and Walking Dead are popular targets for hackers who get their hands on episodes to download on the internet illegally, and popular with viewers wanting to view them without legal subscriptions, American Idol was not without a type of hacking also. “Phone Phreaking” is the term applied to voting fraud and goes hand in hand with hacking. In fact, some have linked the two names together as in Hacking / Phreaking culture.
In seasons one and two of American Idol in the 1990s, there were many episodes of phone-phreaking or power dialing that ran amuck. It was not unusual for over millions of votes to be cast in a single night, resulting in phone system overloads, dropped calls and phone number mix-ups.
There was even a phone scam originating out of Salt Lake City one season. Scammers tricked American Idol viewers into thinking their 800 numbers were the official numbers to call to vote instead of the 866 numbers that were actually being used. Once a caller used the 800 number (usually multiple times) they were being charged anywhere from 99 cents to 1.99 per call.
In season four during the top 11 elimination voting, 3 phone numbers were inadvertently (they claim) confused. Millions of votes had to be voided, and the show delayed one night and another day added on to re-vote.
During those early voting years, after one placed a call to vote a recorded message came on from the contestant who they were voting for, thanking them. In season five there were many complaints that the contestant whose voice they heard thanking them was NOT the one they were voting for. Was the vote going to the wrong contestant or was it just a simple message mix-up? It was never resolved fully, and the voting numbers stood as correct.
Season eight was a big year for voting problems. Contestant Alexis Grace’s number that was assigned by Fox was actually a number owned by a “sex line” called Intimate Encounters. The number was quickly changed, but one wonders how such an error could have happened.
The final 2 voting results between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen that same season, was one of the biggest upsets in American Idol history when Allen won, and it was later revealed that Allen’s home state had a Texgate possible scam going. Texting was now included in the voting process by season eight, but AT&T had provided free mobile phones for Allen’s fans at voting parties, and even had company representatives giving lessons on how to “power text” with 10 texts per one touch. One guest at such a party admitted later to the media that she, personally, had gotten off 10,840 votes to Kris Allen. Fox powers-that-ruled did nothing about the supposed irregularity.
Adam Lambert fans (known as Glamberts) were livid and protested wide and far, but Fox insisted they used an independent monitor and that everything was legal and valid. It is widely known that Lambert would have beaten Allen easily with today’s voting method. Even dialing for hours and hours until fingers were sore as many Glamberts did could not compete with blazingly fast AT&T technology.
Dialidol computer software was the cutting edge back in season five. Not only could the software measure and count dialed votes with an surprisingly amount of accuracy, it could “predict” the top vote getters by measuring the “busy signals.” American Idol fans were continually checking their website statistics for spoilers, which were consistently accurate with the old way of voting.
Howard Stern and “Vote for the Worst” of a show called Survivor Sucks messed with American Idol results also. Picking a contestant who obviously was NOT the best, the site and the Shock Jock encouraged fans to vote for that person in order to possibly mess with the final results and bump off someone with exceptional talent. The most memorable year of this type of voting was when Sanjaya Malakar made it to the top 7 in season six, even with judge Simon Cowell openly critical of his singing. He beat out contestants Haley Scarnato and Gina Glocksen, probably because of Stern’s campaign to “corrupt the number one show on TV”, but eventually he was eliminated and normalcy resumed. Did it make a difference? Probably not, as all 3 of those former contestants are still unsigned and have not advanced in the industry. Scarnato hasn’t recorded anything since 2012 and Malakar and Glocksen since 2011.
Slavetracts and Career Control
The winners of American Idol were not only given tons of publicity, a new car and a recording contract, they also became tightly controlled by 19 Entertainment, American Idol’s company. Everything that happened to the newly crowned winner (and sometimes the runner-up as well) for the next year was tightly managed: recording song choices, merchandise, touring, sponsorships and any movie or TV appearances. The winners also had to sign confidentiality clauses that could cost them up to $5 million in fines if broken.
In 2009, Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo’s Reality Rocks website reported that Ju’Not Joyner, a top 20 contestant that year, claimed that American Idol was a scripted show, not reality, and he was not even allowed to read the documents that he was asked to sign. His questioning of certain issues and resistance to what he called a “slavetract” to contestants probably speeded up his demise. He had been told to “shut up and sign!” Joyner came out as guessing that could have been the reason why Adam Lambert lost to Kris Allen the year before also, as Lambert was savvy in the music industry and may have asked too many questions.
Another contestant, Ayla Brown in season five reported she was in rehearsals when Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgow, the show’s executive producers came in to listen. They told her:
“You know, we knew you were pretty, but we really didn’t know you could sing this well.”
Brown felt they were more interested in ratings than talent at that point.
Adam Lambert was the first openly gay contestant, however he did not “come out” until the show was over. By his season eight, things were improved from season one when Jim Verraros was told to remove all gay comments from anything he had online. Anti-gay comments also proved to be reasons for dismissal as in season five Mandisa was voted off following rumors of being anti-gay.
There were also allegations of manipulating winners for a certain “type” of winner that American Idol was looking for. All winners from season seven through eleven were white guys that played guitar. It even got its own initial identification: WGWG (white guy with guitar).
Fox’s Rating Wars
It is probably safe to say that American Idol paved the way for reality shows. There had only been around 4 such shows 15 years ago when American Idol was created, but as of 2013, there was 320. Idol also rocketed Fox TV to the top. Before American Idol, Fox had exactly 1 show in the top 30 and that was Temptation Island. AI was the number one top rated reality show for 8 straight seasons and opened Fox’s doors for new shows with their enhanced reputation. Shows like House, Fringe, Prison Break and X-files quickly followed.
There had also been only 3 or 4 major broadcast networks 15 years ago, and today there are thousands of shows and programs and hundreds of television stations. American Idol was probably one of the very last programs to unify an audience for watching, discussing and enjoying.
American Idol helped the music industry also. From over $40 billion in sales in the recording sales in 1998, sales started declining badly during the next few years. Fifteen years of American Idol and spawning the careers of many newcomers has stablized the industry to around $15 billion in 2015. The top money makers from American Idol, according to Forbes for 2015 were:
- Adam Lambert $10m
- Carrie Underwood $8m
- Daughtry $6m
- Philip Philips $5m
- Scotty McCreary $4m
- Kelly Clarkson $4m
Adam Lambert took over top spot in 2015 due to his amazing collaboration with the iconic band Queen and world touring, and the first American Idol ever, Kelly Clarkson, slipped a little since she is putting motherhood as top priority right now and only had 3 concerts in 2015. However, the successes of these performers, some who did not actually win first place, are testament to the show’s worth. Many newcomers in the next few years will miss out on the opportunity AI provided due to 2016 being its Farewell Season.
Other Controversies and Blunders
Many blunders, errors and mistakes happened during the 15 years of American Idol; some were funny, some were serious and some had eyebrows raising. According to wikipedia, Caleb Johnson, winner of the thirteenth season 2 years ago, was one of the most prominent former contestants to speak out. He also made one of the biggest blunders with an offensive remark about fans on twitter:
“[Twitter] gives access to a bunch of retards to talk to me,”
“I don’t really enjoy having to see somebody telling me what song I have to sing. I think at this point of the competition, I can pick and choose my own songs and represent me. I don’t need 10,000 people saying, ‘You should sing this, you should sing that. Listen to me!’ Fortunately, guys, I’m going to listen to myself, whether you like it or not.”
Other complaints over the seasons have included: Season three’s elimination of Jennifer Hudson too early may have been caused by voting violations beyond the 2 hour limit; Chris Daughtry’s early elimination on season five may have been attributed to a voting mix-up that gave his votes to Katherine McPhee; and a general criticism that the show was geared more toward ratings than talent.
In 2010, host Ryan Seacrest tweeted an outcome of the show before the delayed telecast had been aired on the west coast of the US. The result of this mishap caused Fox to have the smallest audience share of viewers in the age category of 18 to 49 in American Idol history.
Paula Abdul, one of the first judges was also known for appearing muddled and confused at times. In season seven they had a show where the contestants sang 2 songs before being critiqued. Paula inadvertently critiqued a second song before it had been sung. This led to outrage and cries that the show was rigged. The truth was that Paula had attended rehearsals and had already taken some notes that was allowed.
Love the show, hate the show or have no opinion of it at all, American Idol will have left an indelible mark on both reality TV and the music industry. This season’s farewell finale will air on Thursday, April 7 at 8-10 pm ET/PT and will most certainly include as many prior winners as possible.