Earlier this week, the normally unflappable American Idol kingdom was shaken by a nasty rumor of power texting. AT&T employees were accused of giving free cell phones to Idol underdog and ultimate winner Kris Allen fans and teaching them how to send multiple text messages at once.
The uproar that followed from fans of the show and those hopelessly devoted to runner-up, Adam Lambert, set the blogosphere on fire. They knew from the night the winner was announced that the competition was fixed and that Adam had actually won. They vowed to never use AT&T again and that the wireless provider had single-handedly ruined their lives.
AT&T’s response was less dramatic:
“In Arkansas, a few local AT&T employees were invited to attend two local watch parties organized by the community. Caught up in the enthusiasm of rooting for their hometown contestant, they brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested.
“Going forward, we will make sure our employees understand our sponsorship celebrates the competition, not individual contestants. That said, it’s quite a leap to suggest that a few individuals could have impacted the final results.”
The reality of the situation for AT&T is that they’ll lose very little – the teenaged fans who lost their minds over the “injustice” are likely members of family plans and have very little control over what carrier they have. The bigger problem is for American Idol. The reality show, like all reality shows, is living on borrowed time and struggling to keep an audience (viewership for the final results show was lower than last year). Its already skeptical audience might just get fed up by the perceived fraud and find another show of the moment. Either way, Idol needs to be more careful about who they pick as sponsors than who America picks as the winner.