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Pia Toscano Eliminated: Time for American Idol to Fix its Broken Voting System

Season 10 of American Idol has had its share of surprises but none even come close to the shock of seeing Pia Toscano eliminated so early on in the competition.  Since the show’s inception, there have been times where the judges were disappointed and surprised by how America voted, but never has there been such a look of shock and anger on their faces when the results were announced.

All season long, the judges have been encouraging Toscano to show that she is more than just a great ballad singer.  This week, she took their advice and performed an up-tempo song and ended up in the bottom three for the first time ever.  What appeared to be a scare for Toscano turned into a nightmare for the producers of American Idol when it was announced that she received the lowest amount of votes.

With the one save of the season already used a few weeks ago to give Casey Abrams a second chance, the dumbfounded judges were powerless to do anything to keep Toscano in the competition.  This turn of events should have Idol producers rethinking their methodology for determining who goes home each week.  But will their ego allow it?

It is totally irrelevant to the viewing audience, but Ryan Seacrest announces how many votes were cast each week during the results show.  The only logical reason to mention the total amount of votes is to impress current and future advertisers, even though advertisers base their decisions on ratings, not votes.  The total number of votes only indicates how many times the voting base hit redial in support of their favorite contestant.  And therein lies the problem.

The voting audience does not accurately depict of the opinion of the entire viewing audience.  It has become painfully obvious that young girls are controlling the results of the show.  And while they may be the ones who are most likely to buy the music of the winner and attend the annual American Idol tour, they are not the only ones watching.  Unless American Idol wants to become the television version of Seventeen Magazine, the time has come to make a change.

With a total overhaul of the judging panel (except for Randy Jackson), there was a real possibility that Idol ratings would start to drastically decline, but it didn’t happen.  However, if viewer favorites continue to get sent home because of an ill-conceived voting system, the ratings may very well take a massive hit.  And with Simon Cowell’s new show “X-Factor” about to debut, viewers will have an appealing Idol alternative.

So, how does American Idol fix this broken voting system?

[1]          They don’t have to look very hard for the easiest solution.  Nigel Lythgoe produces American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, but the shows don’t use the same system to eliminate contestants.

Both shows announce the bottom three contestants, but on American Idol, the die has already been cast, and there is nothing that can be done to prevent the contestant receiving the lowest amount of votes from being eliminated (once the judges have used their one “save” of the season).

When the bottom three contestants are announced on So You Think You Can Dance, each is given the opportunity to “dance for their lives” and then the judges determine which of the three will be eliminated.  American Idol should do away with their wildcard save rule and switch to this system.  While it is no guarantee that the right contestant will be sent home, it does prevent the absolute wrong contestant from being eliminated.

[2]          American Idol won’t do this because of its sponsorship with AT&T, but if they really wanted to even out the voting, they could eliminate the phone vote all together by putting all of the voting online.  Each voter would have to have an American Idol account which allows them to vote once per week.  This would not be foolproof as people could easily sign up for multiple accounts using different e-mail addresses, but it would take a lot more time to cast votes on multiple accounts than it does to just keep hitting redial over and over again.

[3]          If American Idol really wanted to fix this problem, they could take the online voting one step further by forcing voters to rank every contestant in order each week.  Each first place vote would have the highest point value assigned to it, and each last place vote would have the lowest point value assigned to it.  All votes in between first place and last place would have a descending point value.

This system would help in the following ways:

  • Prevents robo-dialing and continuous redialing
  • Makes it more difficult to vote with different accounts because it takes longer to complete
  • Evens out the voting process so that a larger percentage of viewer opinions are represented

If American Idol decides to make a change, it will most likely be to adopt the So You Think You Can Dance methodology.  Aside from the obvious Nigel Lythgoe connection, it would allow the current voting system to remain intact and it would be a seamless change to voters.  It would allow American Idol to continue their relationship with AT&T, while also allowing the show to give themselves a weekly pat on the back by sharing the meaningless voter numbers with viewers.

If Pia Toscano’s elimination doesn’t inspire American Idol to make a change, they should not be surprised to see their ratings drop in the future.

Since American Idol cannot fix their broken voting system until next season, they better hope that the teenage girls vote James Durbin into the finale.  If he should suffer the same unjust fate as Pia Toscano, Idol’s season of hope will turn into a disaster as viewers would surely start to tune out long before this season’s winner is anointed.