Eager AT&T employees in Arkansas gave cranky Adam Lambert fans another reason to complain about American Idol's results, helping supporters of rival Kris Allen place "power texting" votes for him just before Allen won the popular singing contest's finale.
But even though AT&T and the Fox network issued statements Wednesday saying the incident could not have affected the final vote, I do think it makes an argument for something Fox should do every year:
Release the show's vote totals to the public for review, once the season is done.
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette and the New York Times reported that AT&T employees provided phones and lessons on casting multiple votes at once during two parties in Arkansas last week. "In no way did any individuals unfairly influence the outcome of the competition," Fox said in a statement Wednesday.
AT&T's statement acknowledged that "caught up in the enthusiasm of rooting for their hometown contestant, (staffers) brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested."
The Hollywood Reporter did the math, noting that if the 80 or so cell phones reportedly distributed by AT&T staffers voted for Allen throughout the May 19 performance show, he would have earned a maximum 96,000 votes — hardly enough to sway a competition Fox said attracted 100-million votes.
But since vote totals are not made public, we have only Fox's word on the tally, the screening process to filter out bulk voting and the margin between the finalists.
I understand why votes totals aren't released during the show; they would skew the competition by telegraphing contestants' popularity. But once the competition is done, there seems to be little problem in releasing vote totals for the 13 finalists each week, so the public could see how the competition progressed.
I'm not holding my breath on this one. But given the intense public interest — and laws against manipulating TV game shows — there seems a potent argument for pushing Fox to disclose how its voting totals played out.