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Vote shakes up 'Idol' hero's fans

Saturday, May 03, 2003

By L.A. Johnson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Ruben in the bottom two?

More from shock than awe, "American Idol" fans have been frothing this week on Internet message boards, national morning news shows, syndicated sports talk shows and around office water coolers.

"American Idol's "final four are, clockwise from left, Joshua Gracin, Clay Aiken, Kimberley Locke and Ruben Studdard. (Ray Mickshaw/FOX)

R&B crooner Ruben Studdard was almost bumped from the talent competition Wednesday while country singer Joshua Gracin -- an all-around good guy, husband, father and U.S. Marine -- easily lived to sing another week.

"Josh should have at least been in the [bottom] 2, but what a shock that Ruben was," says Anne Lakely, 67, of McKees Rocks, on the Post-Gazette.com "American Idol" TV Forum bulletin board. "[Josh] even felt bad that Ruben was picked. I think [Josh] is getting embarrassed now that he is still there."

"American Idol" judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson looked dumbfounded upon learning America's telephone votes placed usual crowd favorite Studdard as one of the bottom two vote-getters, along with Whitney Houston-wannabe, Trenyce.

"I don't know what's going on in America, but this is not good, dude. This is not happening," a visibly disgusted Jackson said on Wednesday's show. "We're trying to find the best people in America to win this competition. It is about the best, America. That kid [Ruben] is brilliant up there. I don't what y'all been hearing."

So, why did Gracin, a 22-year-old from Oceanside, Calif., whose performances have been uneven during the competition, get the votes, when according to Internet polls many believe that not only Studdard but Trenyce outperformed him this week?

"I thought the Marines probably flooded the phone lines to keep their boy in there," says a viewer on the TV Forum bulletin board.

Some wonder whether the fact that Studdard is black and Gracin white has anything to do with the vote.

"As a white male from the South who hates racism as many Americans, it is clear to me that racism is rampant in this year's competition," says a 41-year-old man in one of the milder comments on an "American Idol" message board linked to www.idolonfox.com. "Josh should not be on stage in a church, much less 'American Idol.' "

"American Idol," a consistent top-10 show in the Nielsen ratings, drew more than 20 million viewers Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Was the vote patriotism, racism or something else?

"These elections are hardly controlled as well as elections for president of the United States in Florida," said Robert J. Thompson, director of The Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "The number of votes that any 'American Idol' person gets does not necessarily reflect the desire of the population at large."

Viewers can vote as many times as they like via land-line telephones, on cellular phones and via text-messaging on AT&T cellular phones. Some even use technology that enables them to quickly and repeatedly dial the same number, allowing them to swiftly cast dozens of votes for a single contestant.

Votes cast through text-messaging automatically are accepted and tabulated, unlike votes made via land-line telephone calls, in which callers sometimes get busy signals and can't have their vote counted until they get through.

Viewers cast about 18 to 20 million votes each week. More than 2 million viewers, mostly 18- to 49-year-olds living in metropolitan areas nationwide, vote via text-messaging each week, says Brian Levin, president of Mobliss, the media marketing company that enables AT&T subscribers to vote using text-messaging.

The overall vote tallies never are released, but in the end, Trenyce was the one voted off the show, leaving Studdard, Gracin, Kimberley Locke and Clay Aiken.

Studdard, 25, of Birmingham, Ala., never before had been a bottom vote-getter. Dubbed "The Velvet Teddy Bear" by celebrity judge Gladys Knight, he is still favored in many online polls to win or at least be one of the final two along with Aiken.

In an America Online poll conducted Thursday, Studdard received 45 percent or 54,248 of the 120,000 votes cast, Aiken received 32 percent or 38,681 votes, Locke received 12 percent or 14,531 votes and Gracin received 10 percent or 12,541 votes.

"I cannot believe they got rid of Trenyce and kept the country crooner," says a viewer on the TV Forum bulletin board. "OK, he's a heck of a nice guy and a soldier as well, but, hello, how far will he go? He's just not it."

Studdard -- known for the "205" T-shirts he has worn on the show proudly proclaiming his city's area code -- has been the most consistent performer in the competition, according to "American Idol" judges.

Thompson, of Syracuse University, says it may just be fan apathy that put Studdard in the bottom two of five this week.

"It's been such a given that Ruben was going to take this all the way that maybe it makes sense that the people who have been voting for him might have done it with less enthusiasm and aggressiveness because they didn't think he needed it," he says.

An AOL fan agrees.

"Hey all!!! All of the Ruben fans need to VOTE and not just take it for granted that he's going to win," the fan wrote on an AOL message board. "... People just didn't make those calls for him!!!!! Let's VOTE FOR RUBE!!!!!!"

L.A. Johnson can be reached at ljohnson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3903.

For more information about "American Idol" visit www.idolonfox.com.

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