Geography, Performance Order Influence Voting on American Idol

Posted on April 21, 2010. Filed under: Music, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


Geography, Performance Order Influence Voting on American Idol Newswise — Capturing the title of American Idol takes more than vocal chops and Simon Cowell’s approval.

Geography and order of performance count, too, says Jason Gershman, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He has presented research, “America’s Idol: How the Contestant Most Voted For Doesn’t Always Win,” at the 35th Annual Conference of the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges in Las Vegas, Nev. in November 2009.

“Geography is one element of unfairness in American Idol,” he says. “The audience has two hours to vote at the conclusion of the show when it has aired in their time zone. Seventy-eight percent of the country – the Eastern and Central Time Zones – can vote immediately after the show from 10-11 p.m. EST. A fan in Florida is competing with everyone on the East Coast; she may call for a contestant 1,000 times, but the phone line is at a 50 percent busy signal. Only 500 votes get counted for her favorite.”

But a fan in Salt Lake City who calls 1,000 times for a contestant may only experience a five percent busy signal. That means 950 votes get recorded for that contestant.

“Contestants who are originally from or are popular in the Mountain and Hawaiian Time Zones have an advantage,” says Gershman.

Jasmine Trias, a contestant in season three, is an example. “Despite mediocre performances, the Hawaiian singer finished third that season, ahead of future Grammy and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. The Hawaiian vote was enormous, and unlike the rest of the country, where less than half the votes may go through, Hawaii rarely has any busy signals. Thus, a vote in Hawaii could be worth two to five times each mainland vote.”

The order in which contestants sing is also very important, Gershman says. “The phone lines don’t open until the end of the show. If you sing late in the show, you are fresh in the mind of the voters. If you sing early, your fans may forget or go to sleep or turn the channel before voting begins. You’re a distant memory.”

Performance order is selected by the producers until the final week, when it is determined by a public coin flip. Though the producers claim contestants are assigned based on trying to alternate genders, or by commonalities in set design (two contestants using a piano, for example, would play back-to-back for ease in set changes), critics may argue there’s favoritism.

Last year’s second place finisher Adam Lambert had prime position in performance order in the 10 weeks leading up to the finals. “He sang last, closing the show, three out of nine times; sang in the final one-third of contestants eight out of 10 times; and never sang in the opening third,” says Gershman. “He sang in the final half more often than he would have by chance.”

There are several ways producers could make the contest more fair – by making performance order random, by opening phone lines at the beginning of the show, or by limiting votes or weighting them by Time Zone – but “as long as the ratings are high, producers couldn’t care less about fairness.”

However, dedicated voters can still get the last word. “Despite the producers’ best efforts, Adam Lambert was beaten by Kris Allen last season,” reminds Gershman.

Released: 2/24/2010 10:30 AM EST
Source: Dick Jones Communications
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