I'm furious.... I'm frustrated.... I'm fed up....
Nope, not with the fact that American Idol once again lost its best singer way too early in the competition (Pia was the best, that much is not up for debate), no, I'm outraged with the outrage itself. How many times does American Idol get to pull this stunt before we realize as an audience that we are the ones being played? Jennifer and Randy can huff and puff, but are we really supposed to be surprised when this happens now? The voting system is broken, it always has been broken, and here's the kicker, I'm pretty sure they want it that way.
If Idol's true goal was to find the singer that America loved the best they could solve this problem in a heartbeat, but that's not their goal. Their goal is to continue to be a water cooler show, which creates relevance from controversy, and results in more eyeballs on their product and more dollars for drinking out of Coke glasses. To be honest I don't hold it against them, they are, after all, crafting entertainment. I just wish they would drop the pretense of being angered and befuddled when the best singers go home when even I can whip up a trio of simple solutions that would guarantee it never happens again.
Don't believe me? Here are three easy ways to fix the American Idol voting, any of which, alone or in combination, would go a long way towards turning Idol into an actual talent contest.
1) Reveal the Votes - Why the secrecy? What's with keeping us in the dark? Wouldn't it be much more interesting to see week to week who was gaining and who was falling in votes? The answer? Maybe more interesting intellectually, but revealing the votes on a week by week basis would allow you to see that your favorite isn't as safe as you thought. You can see the result of this in what I call the "Bottom 3 Bounce". If an Idol can survive a bottom three scare they will generate votes like crazy the week after, because their fans are more passionately aware of their situation. Idol's system rewards motivated voting, not general popularity, and revealing the votes would even that score.
2) Open Voting - 2 hours, directly following the show, only by phone or text. What is this, 2007? By the time much of the audience sees the show, voting is over and they couldn't vote even if they wanted to go through the hassle of dialing a phone. You really want people to vote? Open it up! Let people vote for the entire day, maybe up until about an hour before the show. Find new ways that people can get their vote in, at the very least online. How about this? Design a killer American Idol App for my smartphone that lets me follow along with the show, rate the performances, post comments live, and then vote for my weekly favorite. Hey, you could even sell some adds for it! Oh wait, if people had an easier way to vote, the casual viewer might vote more and they would lose so much of the motivated voting that creates those shocking water cooler moments. (sigh)
3) Vote Against Not For - The most dramatic change to format, but also the most guaranteed way to get the right person to go home each week. It's not as if they aren't willing to make big changes if they really want to (age limits, judges saves, Ellen). Imagine a world where instead of voting for your favorite, you voted against the person you felt least deserved to be there (until the finale). It completely takes the guesswork out. No more Sanjayas hanging on week after week, no more surprise bottom threes, and no more shocking eliminations. Pia would still be with us and we would all be happy.
Except for one thing, it might make the show worse than unfair, it might make it.... boring.
Never mind, American Idol... go about your business... nothing to see here...