Year after year, ‘Idol’ has a Southern accent

Updated: 2010-01-05 15:06
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“People in the Southeast just seem to be big fans of the show,” said Brian Hughes, vice president and manager of audience analysis at Magna. “But I also think there’s a home-team element to this. If you look at season two, season three and season five, you have all Southeastern winners. There’s an element of ‘They’re from our region, so let’s vote for them.’ ”

A few former “Idol” contestants note that the show’s producers acknowledged its Southern bent. But they also say they didn’t hear anything about voter campaigns — where groups rally around a specific contestant — or Southerners voting more than anyone else.

Fox doesn’t receive voting results by region, according to a network spokesperson.

Southerners may be more inclined to vote for “Idol” contestants but, in general, they’re no more inclined to vote in elections or participate in polls than anyone else. In fact, Southerners are 6 percent less likely than the average adult to vote in political elections, according to a 2009 survey by Mediamark Research & Intelligence.

Meanwhile, Eric Nielsen, senior director of media strategies at polling firm Gallup, said that Southerners do not participate in polls more than people from other regions. But he also noted that “Idol” doesn’t conduct scientific polls. It may be serious stuff to contestants but ultimately, “Idol” is just about having fun.

“When we do our polling, every adult has an equal chance of being contacted because we randomly select thousands of people,” he said. “What ‘American Idol’ does is not a random poll. Their voters are made up of people who are watching ‘American Idol’ and who take the time to call in to vote.”

Still, when it comes to guessing why “Idol” has a Southern bent, conspiracy theorists have a field day.

One theory is that organizations such as the Nashville-based Gospel Music Association encourage their members to vote for specific contestants. These voter campaigns aren’t likely to have much impact on who wins, however, not when nearly 100 million votes come in, as they did for last season’s finale.

And last season, AT&T, an “Idol” sponsor, reportedly showed people at Allen fan parties how to “power text” — essentially, voting super fast with text messages. Controversy erupted since fans at parties for Adam Lambert apparently weren’t given the same lesson. But any votes Allen gained from power texting almost definitely represented were too tiny a number to make any difference.

This coming season, “Idol” will see some big changes, most notably Ellen DeGeneres replacing Paula Abdul at the judges’ table. But one thing that isn’t likely to change is “Idol’s” Southern leanings.

“The producers said that ‘Idol’ was really big in the South,” Hicks said. “That hit me when I went home to do my (‘Idol’ biography video) and there were 15,000 people in the mall I went to. There are a lot of people there who love that show.”

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