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Racism on American Idol?

Nah, I don't really think so, but I'm predicting the question will be posed. Last night, for the second time in recent weeks, the bottom two contestants were both African-American girls. To make matters worse, La Toya London and Fantasia Barrino are arguably the best singers in the competition. La Toya was voted off, unfairly in my opinion.

Before the charges of racism fly however, we should consider a few things. Four of this season's final twelve were black, and most of them made it quite far into the competition. Last year, of course, Ruben Studdard won the title. Still, injustices like last night's have happened before. The most egregious still being in season one, when Tamyra Gray met her untimely demise.

The explanation, I think, lies not with racial bigotry, but with a flaw in the voting system. The television audience phones in each week to vote for their favorite contestant, and the one with the fewest votes gets booted off the show. That sounds okay as far as it goes, but one of the side effects is that it encourages "strategic" voting. A viewer often decides to vote for a sentimental favorite, someone viewed as needing some extra help, instead of actually voting for the best performer. Last night, for example, I think Jasmine Trias got a strong sympathy vote, since

  • she was widely expected to be kicked off this week, and
  • she cried.

Many voters likely assumed that La Toya and Fantasia were "safe", and therefore didn't need any extra votes. A good way to end this kind of unintended travesty would be to change the voting system. Instead of voting for their favorites each week, viewers should vote for the person they want kicked off. That way, there's no ambiguity in the results. When a person gets kicked off, it's because America voted that way. Crueler, perhaps, but certainly fairer in the long run.

For the record, I'm pulling for Fantasia, not only because she's a fellow North Carolinian, but I think she's got the voice and the personality to be the next Idol.