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Unanswered ‘American Idol’ questions

Explaining time-zone voting, order of singers
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"American Idol" has been over for more than a month now, but readers still have questions about the über-popular talent show. We take on two "Idol" questions this week, plus one about "Bridezillas." Have another question about a reality TV show? Check to see if it's already been answered, and if not, send it in.

Q: Re “American Idol”: How do people vote in California? If the show is “live” at 8pm EST, that makes it 5 pm in California — who would be watching at 5pm? So how does voting end after 2 hours or 4 hours on the East Coast if CA hasn’t seen the show yet? And how would the show know where the phone call (especially a cell phone) originated if the show wanted to end calls on the East Coast? This is very confusing.    —Anonymous

A: Voting for “American Idol” is restricted by area code and geographic location, so viewers across the country have different voting windows during which they may vote.

As with most “live” programming, those in the western half of the United States see a recorded version of what those in the east watched live. After the episode airs, voting opens for those who just watched the show, but not for those who have yet to see it.

The company that handles voting restricts calls based upon area codes. The official “American Idol” FAQ refers to this, noting that voting is “subject to time zone restrictions.” There is an exception, and that has to do with cell phones: Viewers who vote via cell phone can only call during the window reserved for their area code associated with their phone number. Thus, if you’re in Seattle and have a Boston area code on your cell phone, you may (only) vote during the east coast window, even if you haven’t yet seen the show. Of course, you can pick up a regular phone and call during the West Coast window.

This restriction of calls is complicated by something FOX identifies on its web site as “a test window” that’s used “to ensure that the American Idol voting system is accurate and ready for the public to call and vote.” Thus, if you call from California at 9 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, you may think you’ve voted successfully. But FOX assures its viewers that those “votes will not count, even if you hear the ‘thanks for voting’ message.”    —A.D.

Q: On “American Idol,” how do they determine the order of singers?    —Garth, California

The producers choose the order based upon the type of songs the “Idol” performers have selected and the order in which they’ve previously performed. Essentially, they try to create the most interesting show possible while being fair to the contestants.

The producers won’t let the same person begin or end the show constantly, because that wouldn’t be fair. They also try to begin and end each performance show with songs that aren’t quiet, sad, or depressing.

Producer Ken Warwick told MTV earlier this year that he “would never start with someone doing a really slowed-down ballad; I’d start the show with something up, if it existed. And I finish with something up, if I can.”    —A.D.

Q: The narrator on “Bridezillas” sounds familiar. Where have I heard her before?    —Anonymous

A: The perky woman who cheerfully offers sparse commentary on the brides' tantrums and diva freakouts is Mindy Burbano-Stearns. She's an entertainment reporter at KTLA in Los Angeles and also has notched some appearances on "7th Heaven," "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" and in "Dickie Roberts, Former Child Star." (Full .)

But you may know her best as one of the two Millionaire Wives on 2004's "The Real Gilligan's Island." When she and millionaire husband Glenn appeared on the show, their contrast to the other millionaire and his wife was mind-boggling. Glenn and Mindy's net worth was , while the other couple, , clocked in at a paltry $3 million. Glenn eventually was named the first season's winner.

The couple now has a daughter, Brooke, born in October 2005. Read more about Glenn and Mindy at their .  —G.F.C.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is's Television Editor. is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.