The urban myth about Arkansas' plucky 3 million residents lodging nearly 40 million votes for "American Idol" winner Kris Allen was quickly debunked last week. But now another controversy has erupted over some votes from Allen's home state that may have tipped the contest in his favor.
According to The New York Times, AT&T, one of the show's biggest corporate sponsors, might have influenced the outcome of the Allen/ Adam Lambert showdown by providing phones for free text messaging and lessons on how to cast large blocks of votes at parties organized by Allen fans in Arkansas.
AT&T's mobile network is the only one that can be used to cast "Idol" votes via text message and, according to the paper, representatives from the company offered free texting at two parties in Arkansas after last Tuesday's performance finale. While an unnamed AT&T spokesperson and party attendees confirmed the free texting, the paper said there appears to have been no similar efforts to offer free texting to Lambert's fans, who have reportedly been flooding online chat forums with complaints about alleged voting irregularities. (These kinds of complaints have become an annual rite of passage for the show's most passionate fans.)
"In Arkansas, we were invited to attend the local watch parties organized by the community," said a statement from AT&T issued on Tuesday. "A few local employees brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested."
Officials at Fox Broadcasting would not discuss the situation with the Times, and a spokesperson for "Idol" had no comment for MTV News at press time.
Among the tutorials were lessons on how to send 10 or more texts (or power texts) with the press of one button, which have much greater impact than single texts or toll-free phone line votes. The Times said the efforts appear go against "Idol" voting rules in two ways: An on-screen warning at the end of each episode says that blocks of votes cast using "technical enhancements" that unfairly influence the outcome of voting can be thrown out, and the show regularly reminds viewers that text voting is open only to AT&T subscribers and is subject to normal rates.
In the weeks before the show's finale, however, the message boards and fan sites for both Allen and Lambert frequently offered advice on how to power text, and fans of the respective singers were encouraged to do so to give their favorite an advantage.
Are you an "American Idol" expert? Take our ultimate "Idol" quiz to find out! Plus, get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.