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Durb Watch: Skullduggery

james-durbin_freakHard to believe it's only been one week since the shock and awe of James Durbin's elimination from American Idol. Since then, the web has been all abuzz with how the voting might have been—let's put this politely—compromised.
On the GT Facebook wall, as well as AI discussion boards all over the internet (especially this lengthy thread at the site Autism Key, at http://www.autismkey.com/james-durbin-in-american-idol-voting-controversy/ ) Durbin fans are reporting problems with the voting system. Many California call-in voters claim they were never able to get past the all-circuits-are-busy signals. (Although one fan reports that when she tried dialing in one vote for Scotty McCreery instead, to test the system, it went right through.)

Other voters cite technical malfunction. When one online voter clicked in a vote for James, a picture of Haley Reinhart appeared onscreen. Others claimed when they voted for James, the received a confirmation for Lauren Alaina. A third problem cited (and this one more insidious, since it involves a degree of human calculation) is the misleading voting number assigned to James last week. In previous weeks, each AI contestant was assigned a voting number that corresponded to the order in which they performed. But on that last, fateful night, although James performed in the Number 1 and Number 8 slots, he was assigned voting numbers 1 and 5. Who was assigned voting number 8? Lauren Alaina. Since James had never, ever, been in the bottom three right up to the night he got eliminated, whereas Lauren had been in the bottom three just the week before, well, it's enough to turn us all into conspiracy theorists.
There's a very interesting discussion of all this on the Vote Fair website (http://www.votefair.org/americanidol.html), a site dedicated to tracking degrees of  fairness in the voting process in general (with a special page devoted to AI). Among other things, it conducts its own weekly poll among its visitors—one visitor, one vote—on the popularity of AI contestants. James was the most popular performer in the Vote Fair poll the same week he was eliminated from the show.

This groundswell of disgruntled voters has come to the attention of AI. A couple of days ago, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe responded to questions about malfeasance or misdirection in the voting process by calling those who suggest such a thing "morons" and "megalomaniacs." In an MTV News interview, he goes on to  explain at great length why they had James perform first and last on his final show, but says nothing at all about why they failed to assign him corresponding voting numbers.
I still don't necessarily believe that AI purposefully rigged the show. James is good TV, after all; if AI didn't think so, they wouldn't have bothered to show two minutes of "Durbin Day" at the Boardwalk at the top of Wednesday night's show, even though James is no longer in the running. (Although I cringed at host Ryan Seacrest's snide, "Don't feel sorry for James..." intro of the clip. Ew.)

But I certainly wouldn't put it past AI to engineer James' elimination, one way or another. After all, the show airs on the Fox Network, purveyors of God, Granny, and Apple Pie, all those sunny virtues upheld by the corn-fed remaining contestants, Scotty and Lauren. As my friend Robyn McIntyre points out, nobody "alternative" ever makes it to the finish line on AI. Contestants who are (openly) gay, for instance, or sport dreads or tattoos, or have a child out of wedlock, don't fit into the program.
For my money, a far more sinister and plausible theory is what I call the Sheep Effect. As suggested the Vote Fair site, country music fans (whether or not they actually watch the show) effectively network to vote in a bloc, alerted by friends via email, phone tree, or local country radio stations when to start voting and what numbers to push. Hmmm, isn't this how George W. Bush got elected?

Now that Scotty and Lauren are the Final Two, who really cares who wins? It would be like voting for one or the other of the Doublemint Twins. The thought of sitting through next Tuesday's show—where each of them gets to sing three songs—is so grueling, I think I'll pass, thanks. But you bet I'll be tuning in for the season finale, next Wednesday, for the chance to see James sing again when they trot out this season's alumni.
Considering who's left, it looks like James Durbin got out just in time. AI's loss is our gain. Now his real career begins!

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