Was La Toya London knocked off “American Idol” by a Hawaiian punch or something more sinister?
Although “American Idol” contestant Jasmine Trias of Oahu, Hawaii, flubbed her performance this week, it was favorite London whom viewers sent packing.
An anguished “Why?” rose from the ranks of her fans and bewildered “American Idol” judges, as it did when another standout contestant, Jennifer Hudson, was booted off last month.
If Wednesday’s results are an indication of the unpredictability of U.S. voters, Ralph Nader might consider measuring the Oval Office for new curtains.
Maybe it was simply the result of overwhelming Hawaii support for a native daughter. Others, however, raised the bleak possibility of racism or a misguided system that allows multiple votes.
“American Idol” producers and Fox issued a statement Thursday defending the show.
“The producers and network have gone to great lengths to insure the integrity of the voting process on ‘American Idol.’ America votes, an independent company calculates the tally, and the show reports those results,” the statement said.
Left standing in the Fox talent contest are Trias, Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo. The finale is May 25-26, when one singer wins the “Idol” crown and a record contract.
Acerbic judge Simon Cowell, who had called Tuesday’s disco-song performance by Trias “really average karaoke,” had suggested there was one chance for her survival.
“You better hope that every household in Hawaii has at least five telephones, because you’re going to need all the support you can get,” Cowell told a tearful Trias.
One phone company’s records might hold clues to why her weeping proved unwarranted.
Of the 29 states in Verizon’s local territory, only New York and California logged more calls on its network than Hawaii after the show, a Verizon spokesman said Thursday. California and New York are among the most populous states in the nation; Hawaii is among the least.
It’s possible there was a regional factor beyond state pride. Because of the time difference — Hawaii is six hours behind the East Coast — viewers might enjoy a later, less-crowded calling period to cast votes.
When London ended up the loser, she exited with a poised, powerhouse rendition of the Barbra Streisand standard “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”
“I will see you again,” she told the audience.
Could it be racism? Could it be rigged?
The most unsettling speculation centered on the possibility of racism, which was also raised when Hudson lost viewer support. Both London and Hudson are black.
Even pop star Elton John, who has participated in the show, said recently that he suspected racial bias was a factor in the voting.
In Internet chatter and conversation Thursday, fans of the show speculated that race may have been a factor in the first year’s early elimination of Tamyra Gray — and with the recent votes. Some said their opinions were unaltered by last season’s victory by Ruben Studdard, who’s black.
In contrast to the show’s vote, an AOL online poll that attracted 300,000 votes this week had London the likely winner. Before Wednesday’s show, 47 percent of the votes picked London as the next “American Idol,” followed by Barrino with 26 percent, DeGarmo with 21 percent and Trias with 6 percent.
It’s unusual for the ongoing survey to be so out of whack with the show’s results, said an AOL spokeswoman. In the week that Hudson was voted off, for example, she was ranked low in the online poll.
Fox, which releases scant voting data, declined Thursday to provide a geographical breakdown on the count. That reticence, which once seemed merely coy, now looks obstinate and isn’t helping to satisfy unhappy fans.
“It is rigged,” one disgruntled person proclaimed in an online posting, dismissing Trias as untalented and lauding the so-called “three divas,” Barrino, London and Hudson. The writer didn’t expand on who might be interfering with the vote, or why.
Others expressed concern about the voting system, which allows viewers to repeatedly call in for their favorite. The audience determines the contest’s outcome, with the three-judge panel only providing commentary after having narrowed the field early in the contest.
“On voting, my cousins and I tried to vote for La Toya ... None of us were able to get through,” one viewer said in an online posting.
Wrote another: “I’ve been saying this for sometime and now I am sure everyone will agree. The voting system is wrong. It should be one vote per phone or computer.”
Others said they’re intending to abandon the show because of the voting difficulty.
More theories abounded, including speculation that London’s personality (one online posting chided her for a “cold demeanor”) hurt, or that the talented Barrino and London somehow split the vote.
An “Idol” and La Toya fan from across the border, 34-year-old Rick Broadhead of Toronto worried Thursday that the show’s credibility could be hurt if a lesser performer ultimately wins the title.
“I could see (judge) Randy Jackson walking away, saying, ‘I don’t want to be associated with this,” Broadhead said.