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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

If you thought politics were controversial enough, try American Idol:

LOS ANGELES — AT&T, one of the biggest corporate sponsors of “American Idol,” might have influenced the outcome of this year’s competition by providing phones for free text-messaging services and lessons in casting blocks of votes at parties organized by fans of Kris Allen, the Arkansas singer who was the winner of the show last week.

Representatives of AT&T, whose mobile phone network is the only one that can be used to cast “American Idol” votes via text message, provided the free text-messaging services at two parties in Arkansas after the final performance episode of “American Idol” last week, according to the company and people at the events.

There appear 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.

This seems like a pretty crappy thing for AT&T to have done. Still, I’m not sure that it changed the outcome of the elect… er… vote. According to the website DialIdol.com, which projects winners of the contest based on busy signal patterns, Kris Allen, the eventual winner, had a slight lead on runner-up Adam Lambert based on their algorithm, which gave him a DialIdol Score of 61.14 to Lambert’s 60.04. The 1.1-point edge for Allen is within the algorithm’s purported margin of error of 1.6 points, but if the algorithm is as accurate as it claims to be, that would make Allen something along the lines of a 4:1 favorite.

The interesting thing is that DialIdol projections are based on phone calls only — they specifically do not include text messaging results, the subject of the controversy involving AT&T. Thus, if Allen received additional votes from AT&T’s malfeasance, odds are that they merely increased his margin of victory rather than handing him the win.

Of course, all of this is a bit speculative since FOX and the other sponsors of American Idol release very little detail about the voting tallies. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the show, but one of the great things about it is that it’s authentically democratic — fans take their responsibilities as voters seriously, and moreover, they have a pretty good track record of judging the outcome based on actual talent rather than identity politics. Unless it wants to wind up with a bunch of jaded pre-teens who are as jaded as Pat Buchanan voters in Palm Beach County, or to eventually get caught in a Quiz Show type of scandal, FOX would seem to have little to lose by releasing the voting tallies.

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