Tampa schoolteacher gets one step closer to a show on Oprah Winfrey's new cable TV network
Tampa middle school teacher Dr. Phyllis Tucker-Wicks moved one step closer to earning a show on media mogul Oprah Winfrey's new cable channel, placing second in online auditions for the unscripted series Your OWN Show: Oprah's Search for the Next Reality Star.
But her victory has not come without controversy. About two weeks ago, allegations surfaced that the online voting process may have been unfairly skewed in Tucker-Wicks' favor, hampering the then-top-vote getter, 25-year-old Texas resident Zach Anner.
The dispute took on an ugly racial dimension when some online posters suggested Winfrey was favoring Tucker-Wicks, who is black, over Anner, who is white and has cerebral palsy. Even Anner disavowed the notion of Winfrey rigging the process, telling ABC News "This is Oprah...she helps people for a living."
Tucker-Wicks, 50, who teaches English at Young Middle Magnet School, declined to comment, saying OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, asked her not to speak with the press. Similarly, a publicist for the channel refused to speak on the record about the contest -- though a press release announcing the top winners said a third party vetted the online votes before the final results were announced, eliminating votes which could not be authenticated, and the Top 8 winners did not change.
In the final tally, Tucker-Wicks placed second with 8.4-million votes, while Anner landed in 7th place with 3.4-million votes. The top vote-getter was Jacqueline Wattimo of Waterton, Mass., with 9.3-million votes. the contest drew more than 143-million votes overall, according to OWN's press release.
But the vote totals contained in the release are different than those shown on the contest's website, where Anner is still in first place with 9.1-million votes, Tucker-Wicks has 8.2-million votes and Wattimo has 7-million votes. Click here to see ABC News' story on Anner when he was the vote leader.
During the competition, hopefuls uploaded audition videos to the contest's website, where the public could vote on the contestants they liked best. Anner's video, where he talks about "having the sexiest of the palsies", was a viral hit, linked on the personal website of pop star John Mayer, who offered to write him a theme song.
Calling herself "Dr. Phillis," Tucker-Wicks pitched the idea of a reality show about teachers dubbed "All my Teachers: the Reenactment," noting that teaching is the "mother to all professions". Click here to see Tucker-Wicks' audition video.
Executive produced by Mark Burnett, who also produces CBS' Survivor and NBC's The Apprentice, Your OWN Show will fly the top eight online vote-getters to Los Angeles, along with at least 32 people selected from in-person auditions across the country. In all, more than 15,000 people auditioned in person and online.
Producers will whittle that group down to a Top 10, which will compete in the show's "host boot camp" -- a series of challenges aimed at finding one winner to give a six-episode commitment for a show on OWN..
At least one person from the Top Five online vote getters is guaranteed a slot in the show's Top 10, making the question of whether the third-party vetting changed the order of the Top 8 a more important question for Anner.
A publicist for the show could not say when the show's Top 10 would be revealed, noting that top vote getters have been notified and the in-person audition process is in progress. Your OWN Show is scheduled to air on Winfrey's channel next year; OWN itself has a Jan. 1 start date.Click below to read OWN's press release:
'Your OWN Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star' Announces Top Online Finalists Coming to Hollywood
Over 15,000 People Auditioned Over 143 Million Votes Were Cast in the 7 Week Online Contest
LOS ANGELES, July 9 /PRNewswire/ -- The online votes for the "Your OWN Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star" competition have been verified, and the top five finalists have been chosen.
And because of the overwhelming response to the online auditions (over 143 million votes), OWN has decided to select the next three vote getters to join the other finalists at the final auditions in Los Angeles.
The online finalists, in order of verified vote count, are:
1. Jacqueline Wattimo of Waterton, MA with 9,360,096 votes.
2. Dr. Phyllis Tucker-Wicks of Tampa, FL with 8,453,803 votes.
3. Stacia Pierce of East Lansing, MI with 7,604,501 votes.
4. Kornelius Bascombe of Raleigh, NC with 5,856,075 votes.
5. Dr. Tony Roach of Abilene, TX with 3,842,648 votes.
6. Maria Holloway of Miami, FL with 3,796,219 votes.
7. Zach Anner of Austin, TX with 3,484,018 votes.
8. Jasbina Ahluwalia of Oak Brook, IL with 2,728,232 votes.
From the total pool of hopeful superstars coming to Hollywood, 10 will be selected to participate in the reality series, "Your OWN Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star." At least one of the top five from the online popular vote is guaranteed a spot among the 10 on the series.
When auditions closed June 26, 2010, there were more than 9,500 online videos and more than 6,100 contestants who came to open casting calls in New Jersey, Texas, California and Georgia. Over 143 million votes were cast online and the results were carefully verified by a third party before the winners of the online competition were announced.
During the verification process, the final vote counts fluctuated, as votes that could not be authenticated were eliminated from the competition. The verification process did not change the top 8 applicants with the most votes online.
"The response was amazing with over 15,000 people having auditioned," said Executive Producer Mark Burnett. "Oprah Winfrey is such an inspiration and motivates people to seek their dreams. This response shows the enormity of those who wish to communicate their ideas on television."
"Your OWN Show," presented by Kohl's and premiering on OWN in January 2011, will be a reality series in which contestants compete in a "host boot camp." Challenges will range from booking interviews and researching story ideas, to successfully completing an actual screen test.
The person selected to be the winner will receive a 6-episode commitment for his or her own show, executive produced by Mark Burnett, and scheduled to premiere on OWN in 2011.
About OWN: THE OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK A joint venture between Harpo, Inc. and Discovery Communications, LLC, OWN: THE OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK is a multi-platform media company designed to entertain, inform, and inspire people to live their best lives. OWN will debut on January 1, 2011 in approximately 80 million homes, on what is currently the Discovery Health Channel. The venture also will include the award-winning digital platform, Oprah.com. For more information, please visit www.oprah.com/own.