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'American Idol' voting overtaxed U.S. phone systems


By Wade Paulsen, 05/27/2003 

The parallels with Florida 2000 continue to pile up regarding the American Idol finale vote. Now it's disenfranchisement.

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USA Today reports that the heavy voting

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in the Idol finale between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken overtaxed the nation's phone systems and potentially blocked hundreds of millions of votes from being recorded. The two largest phone carriers in the U.S., Verizon and SBC, reported that call volume on Tuesday, May 20, was over 230 million calls above normal levels ... and the only reason for the extra volume that day was the Idol finale. Since only 24 million votes were recorded, that means that over 200 million calls may have ended up in the vast wasteland of busy signals and jammed circuits that made up Idol's "vote counting" system.

Apparently, the only people who were guaranteed to get through were the people willing to pay to send text messages to Idol. AT&T, the provider of text messaging services for the finale (for 10 cents a pop) said that over 2.5 million text votes were cast, making up over 10% of the vote total, although the distribution of those votes is unknown.

Fox continues with its head-in-the-sand approach, however, despite the evidence that the final result was as reflective of public sentiment as a coin flip would have been. A Fox spokesman said, "The system worked like it was supposed to." We're a little surprised by this announcement, since, if true, it means that the system was supposed to melt down and create a continuing national controversy. Perhaps Fox has different expectations for a phone system than normal users do.

...OK, OK, we admit that the outcome of the vote didn't really matter much. After all, Ruben and Clay signed with related record labels, they still do TV appearances together, and they actually seems to like each other. Nevertheless, the continuing series of mistakes, changed stories, and out-and-out untruths coming to light in the wake of the final vote indicates that ... dare we say it? ... Idol's level of success came as a shock to even Fox.

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