“Idol” Nontroversy Makes Front Page Of “The New York Times”

noah | May 27, 2009 9:00 am

Last night, the front page of The New York Times had a headline that has thrown casual American Idol watchers into a tizzy: “AT&T May Have Swayed ‘Idol’ Results,” it read, with the story inside detailing how “representatives of AT & T” appeared at two parties in Arkansas last week, free phones for the purpose of texting in votes for Arkansan Kris Allen at zero cost to attendees in tow. It’s a controversy! It’s a corporation swaying the outcome of this country’s most important opportunity to stuff a ballot box in favor of one singer hoping to get the fairly degraded prize of a record deal! Except, well, not so much. As Idol blogger extraordinare MJ notes, AT & T-hosted listening parties are really nothing new. Those “representatives of AT & T” are actually people who work at the cell phone company’s stores in the area.

If the Times writer had any sense of Idol history, he’d know that AT&T rep-attended Idol parties have been going on for years. I remember hearing about reps helping Elliot Yamin and Taylor Hicks fans text back in Season 5. The Times goes on to note that “there appears to have been no similar efforts to provide free texting services to supporters of Adam Lambert, who finished as the runner-up to Mr. Allen.” Appears to have been? Did the Times reporter even attempt to check it out? And even if there were no AT&T reps present at any Adam Lambert viewing parties, I don’t think we’ve got a story here unless it’s proven that AT&T willfully avoided helping out the fans of other Idol contestants. It’s business as usual for Idol sponsors, AT&T, who attend these Idol viewing parties hoping to sell more phone services. No big conspiracy theories here. And anyway, I highly doubt a couple of phone salespeople showing some Kris Allen fans how to text vote made a difference in last week’s results. But, now that the Times has covered it, watch as this non-story explodes on the news cycle in the next couple of days…

And explode it has, with 272 comments and counting on MJ’s site, front-page placement on the Huffington Post, and my sister calling me at 8:25 this morning to ask me if I’d heard “the big news.” Sigh. I am getting so tired of the Internet and its ability to blow the winds of controversy around something that doesn’t really deserve it, because as everyone who actually watched the call-in results come in via sites like Dial Idol on Tuesday night, Allen was ahead of fellow finalist Adam Lambert on phone-in votes for pretty much the entire voting period! Dial Idol is a computer program that measures busy signals for the voting lines for each contestant, and while it does get tripped up in the earlier rounds with multiple contestants, it’s proven to be fairly accurate when predicting the finale’s outcome. Meanwhile, text voting can be pretty massive, especially among the younger kids who watch the show–after all, texting, for those who are signed up for unlimited-text plans, is quicker, and the only busy signals one has to contend with are those that result from local cell towers being overloaded. Then again, the reporter who wrote this up also called this year’s Top Five “arguably the most talented” in a business analysis of the show that ran over the weekend, so perhaps his perspective on the show’s history is a bit wanting? At the very least, it would seem that he’s been swayed in part by a power-e-mailing campaign put on by Adam Lambert fans who spend their free time at idolforums.com–where semi-literate conspiracy theories about why posters’ favorite candidates didn’t get far are the norm, and where a concerted effort to get this story out to the media is being made:

WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!! The squeaky wheel gets the grease!!!!!! wink.gif I am so proud of Adam’s fans for standing up and making themselves heard and I am so proud of the NY Times for being brave enough to do its job and seek the truth!!!!!! This is what reporting should be about!!!! I’m so happy right now I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!!!!!

I know what I’m going to do, especially since you guys posted the e-mail addresses of about 20 other reporters underneath that outburst. Sheesh. (Ann Powers, watch your inbox!) Look. Adam Lambert is a talented singer, and he would have been a great Idol winner; yes, he put up a good fight, and yes, either singer could have won last week, but that was why Wednesday’s finale was actually kind of exciting. The practice of people who work at AT & T stores to help out Adam with votes is nothing new, and something tells me that most of the people posting on that thread would have attended a party in honor of their chosen contestant. Please, Adam fans, stop with the Internet hue and cry and focus your energies on actually buying the Adam Lambert album when it comes out, if only to make the man you love not have the problem of Crazy Fans Who Annoy The Crap Out Of The Casual Observers Who Like One Song But Don’t Want To Deal With Others’ Insanity. AT & T May Have Swayed “Idol” Results [NYT]