'Idol' Producer Defends Show's Integrity

It's "rubbish" to suggest there was a deliberate effort to tinker with "American Idol" by putting wrong voting information on-screen, according to a series producer.

It's "rubbish" to suggest there was a deliberate effort to tinker with "American Idol" by putting wrong voting information on-screen, according to a series producer. As previously reported, the Fox's talent contest, which viewers decide by casting phone or text-messaging votes, showed incorrect call-in numbers Tuesday, forcing the network to air a new show last night (March 23) and redo the public vote.

The posting of the wrong call-in numbers for Mikalah Gordon, Anwar Robinson and Jessica Sierra was the second unsettling incident for "American Idol" in two weeks. On March 22, finalist Mario Vazquez quit abruptly and without explanation.

"Why would we contaminate the honesty of one of the top-rated shows in America by fiddling with it?" executive producer Ken Warwick asked yesterday in a telephone news conference.

"It's regrettable. This was a human error and we had to address it as best we could," Warwick said. An independent contractor was responsible for the on-air display, he said, declining to identify the company.

All the results were tossed out and a new vote was to be conducted after the filmed performances were re-aired yesterday in an expanded hour-long show. The outcome -- one contestant is voted off each week -- will be announced in a half-hour special at 9 p.m. ET/PT tonight.

Various remedies were considered but the producers decided the fairest outcome would be based on the performances the singers had given, not new ones, Warwick said. The 11 finalists took the error in stride, he said.

Judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul "were as flabbergasted about it as we were," Warwick said.

Conceding that the program has been dogged by accusations of everything from racism to an anti-overweight bias skewing the outcome, Warwick said the contest's honesty has been proven.

He dismissed any possibility of conspiracy in the latest incident. "It's rubbish. We wouldn't contaminate the success of the show in fiddling with it, and that's the truth," he said.

Thursday's additional half-hour (paired with the debut of the new Fox comedy "Life on a Stick") will displace the low-rated "Point Pleasant," which is drawing about 4 million viewers versus as many as 30 million for "American Idol." Warwick said there had been no discussion of whether "American Idol" would perform better in the ratings than the drama and said it was inappropriate to discuss it.

The telephone voting system has been at issue before. Viewers have repeatedly complained that clogged phone lines in the two-hour voting window after Tuesday performance shows are unfair.

On Tuesday, the last two digits of the call-in numbers for Gordon, Robinson and Sierra should have reflected their order in the lineup. Instead, their votes would have gone to the first three singers: Anthony Fedorov, Carrie Underwood and Scott Savol.

The mistake became known Tuesday when viewers alerted Fox. The producers may have been distracted by efforts to fix glitches with high-definition and sound improvements, both introduced this season, Warwick said.

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