The first source of controversy came from the fact that the week's "bottom three" were the three black female singers who had been dubbed the "Three Divas": Jennifer, 19-year-old Fantasia Barrino and 24-year-old LaToya London, who has been considered the favorite to win American Idol 3. Thus, 16-year-olds John Stevens and Diana DeGarmo, who have been criticized frequently for their vocal deficiencies, were in the "safe" group. Also, the vote differential between Jennifer and Fantasia was categorized as the closest in the show's history, even closer than the difference between Clay Aiken and winner Ruben Studdard in the finale of American Idol 2
As a result, a number of theories have been advanced to explain this seemingly anomalous result. One theory, coming from TV newsmagine Extra!, was that a thunderstorm that knocked out power to about 15,000 homes in Chicago, Jennifer's hometown, on Tuesday night disrupted voting so significantly that Jennifer was booted. However, while this theory has been repeated frequently, it seems difficult to believe that a measly 15,000 homes would have cast so many votes in American Idol that the outcome was changed ... or that the outcry would have been any less had Fantasia been booted instead of Jennifer.
Another theory is that the voting was racially motivated. In this theory, the "white votes" are split between John and Diana, 17-year-old Hawaiian Jasmine Trias (an ethnic Filapina) gets the Asian vote, and the four remaining black contestants (the "Three Divas" and 23-year-old George Huff) only get the black vote. However, since blacks only make up 19% of the viewing households for this show, it seems unlikely that four of the final seven contestants would have been black were there one shred of truth to this theory -- or that Ruben could have defeated Clay in the final vote of Idol 2, regardless of the role of misdials and phone system meltdowns, if such a black-white voting split existed.
Others have advocated changes in the fan voting for the show, either by limiting the number of times that someone could call or by adding a "judged" component to the voting. However, such a change would remove a critical element of Idol's success: the ability of fans to actually make a difference in the fortunes of their favorites.
One thing is certain: the controversy this week means that many more of the show's fans will be reaching for their phones after Tuesday night's performance show this week. We expect enough additional response that neither LaToya nor Fantasia will have to worry about seeing themselves in the bottom group this week.
In fact, Idol has a history of voting off top contenders early. While the three singers considered to be the best in Idol 2 -- Clay, Ruben and Kimberley Locke -- actually made up the final 3, such was not the case in Idol 1, where overwhelming favorite Kelly Clarkson was opposed in the finale by weak-voiced Justin Guarini, while second choice Tamyra Gray ended up finishing fourth, behind both Justin and Nikki McKibbin.
Considering that LaToya and George have been considered the most likely finalists in Idol 3, Jennifer's ouster isn't even in the same league as Tamyra's boot. Instead, it appears to us as if Jennifer was simply the second choice of many Idol viewers but not the first choice of enough. However, if one of the favorites leave before the finale, the way Tamyra did, we may change our view of Idol voting....