Is 'American Idol' voting all phoney?

Major scandal breaks out at Simon Cowell's US talent show as sponsor hands out free mobile phones and texts to supporters of the eventual winner. Guy Adams reports

They're calling it "textgate", and it's the biggest voting scandal to hit America since hanging chads and a protracted legal battle turned George W Bush into the nation's 43rd President.

Kris Allen, the latest winner of American Idol, was this week exposed as the unwitting beneficiary of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of illegal block votes cast at the behest of one of the talent show's high-spending corporate sponsors. AT&T, Idol's official "communications partner", admitted providing free mobile phones and texting services to fans of Allen, a singer, guitar player and pianist, at parties organised in his home town of Jacksonville, Arkansas, on the night of the programme's final episode.

The firm made no similar efforts to support his co-finalist, the eventual runner-up Adam Lambert. Scandalously, its representatives also provided Allen's supporters with lessons in how to send so-called "power texts" – which send 10 or more votes at the touch of a single button. Bobby Kierna, one of the 2,000 guests who attended one of the events, told reporters that she had voted for Allen – a university chum of her daughter – 10,840 times in the AT&T "texting zone" that had been set up there.

Her comments were first published by The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday, and rapidly went viral, prompting talk of irregularities in the voting procedure and allegations that AT&T had attempted to "fix" the contest. The phone company issued a swift apology, saying that employees had been "caught up in their enthusiasm", and promising that it wouldn't happen again. But it did little to quell popular outrage or conspiracy theories speculating that Idol's broadcaster, Fox, may have been motivated to influence the show's outcome.

Allen, a clean-cut Christian with a wife and a traditional family background, is a world away from Lambert, a sexually ambiguous singer from Los Angeles who performed the Queen song "Bohemian Rhapsody" in his first audition. In the run-up to the final, their rivalry was widely billed as a political clash between left and right.

In eight years, American Idol, a US version of the British TV show which stars Simon Cowell, has grown into a national institution. It is by some margin the most popular programme on television, at one point boasting 40 million viewers. It has launched the careers of such household names as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. But this year, like many network TV shows, it has suffered from falling audiences. The 20 May final attracted just 28.8 million, its lowest rating since 2004. Allen was seen as the most attractive winner in terms of the show's future ability to tap into the lucrative family market.

Talk of an organised effort to rig the final is being fuelled by the refusal of Fox to reveal any details of how scores are counted, or how many votes each finalist polled. All it will say is that roughly 100 million votes were cast in total. In a statement, Fox said it was "absolutely certain that the results of this competition are fair, accurate and verified", claiming an independent monitor was employed to preserve the integrity of the voting process. "In no way did any individuals unfairly influence the outcome of the competition," the statement said.

However ,"power texting", together with AT&T's decision to hand out phones at the events, appear to contravene directly Idol's on-screen statement broadcast at the end of each episode warning that votes cast using "technical enhancements" that unfairly influence the outcome of voting can be thrown out.

Even Allen has described the practice as "cheating, apparently", and appeared concerned that the scandal had overshadowed his victory when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night chat show this week. "I've no idea what's going on with textgate," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect