Theories flew fast and furious this week after the American Idol viewer vote went against favorite Jennifer Hudson, ranging from racism to fateful weather to teenage puppy love.
Or maybe America just has a tin ear.
Though Hudson and two other singers lavishly praised by the show's judges ended up at the bottom of the heap Wednesday night, contestants who gave marginal performances were top vote-getters.
Hudson, Fantasia Barrino and La Toya London _ "The Three Divas," as they've become known _ seemed to have the best shot at taking the Fox TV contest. But they were less popular than their competition, including red-headed crooner John Stevens, a 16-year-old whose highest compliment from the judges was that he was a nice guy.
With the lowest vote tally, Hudson was bumped from the show. Even series host Ryan Seacrest chastised viewers.
"America, don't forget you have to vote for the talent. You have to keep your favorites in the competition. You cannot let talent like this slip through the cracks," he said after results were announced Wednesday.
Series judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul play an advisory role after helping winnow down the field of 70,000 applicants to 32 semifinalists and then, with viewers, to 12 finalists. The audience takes charge from there until the winner is picked.
A storm that caused a power outage in the Midwest may have been a factor in the ouster of Hudson, who's from Chicago, TV entertainment newsmagazine Extra said Thursday.
Jackson, who said losing Hudson was "nuts," told Extra he thought the outage could have been a problem but it wasn't enough to alter the outcome. Fox didn't release the viewer vote count this week, but about 24-million votes were recorded last week.
Others offered more cynical assessments.
"It simply seems inconceivable that the Idol results would turn out this way," Sam Rubin, an entertainment reporter with KTLA in Los Angeles, said on the air. "You would almost expect (boxing promoter) Don King to replace Ryan, it looked so fixed."
The New York Post reported it was deluged with calls complaining that the voting was racially motivated: Hudson, Barrino and London are black. (The Post is owned by News Corp., which also owns Fox TV.)
George Huff, still in the competition, is black, as was last year's winner, Ruben Studdard. American Idol, unlike other reality shows featuring competition, is more popular in black homes than white homes.
For the current season, the show was watched in 19 percent of all black households, compared with 15 percent of white households, according to Nielsen Media Research.
As the Wednesday installment ended, Seacrest and Jackson urged viewers to keep voting for their favorites.
"This is the greatest talent show ever in American history," Jackson said. "As a proud American, I hope that America's out there looking and watching. Listen, we want to be proud of whoever wins this."
The show continually is in the Top 10 of the weekly ratings, but Idol viewers watch for personalities as much as the format itself. Last year, Aiken and Studdard were always bound for the finals, but that impending showdown caused viewership to increase each week.
This season, though, the Idol audience started huge, but the audience has dipped as complaints have increased that that this group of Idol finalists is a step down from last year's pack. This week's Tuesday episode drew 22.75-million viewers, a gradual decline from the 25.9-million who watched on March 30. The Wednesday episodes have experienced a similar decline.
_ Information from zap2it.com was used in this report