Jessica Bongiorno has watched every episode of "American Idol" since the show launched in 2002, but never before has she been so moved to action, so incensed at an elimination as she was when sweet-natured, stage-fright-gripped singer Alex Lambert was unceremoniously dumped Thursday night.
"There's no contestant I've seen in all my years of watching this show that has gotten as much backlash for being kicked off before making the top 12 as Alex," said Bongiorno, 29, a graphic designer and photographer from Baltimore who was so angry about Lambert's surprise ouster that she has started an online petition asking that he be brought back.
Since posting the petition just moments after Lambert's elimination, Bongiorno said she's gotten 13,147 signatures of support on the way to her goal of 15,000. "The reaction has been insane!" she said. "It's an understatement to say that I'm surprised. I had no idea it would ever be this big. I knew it would get momentum, but I don't know anyone else besides my mother who signed it. It's 3,000 to 4,000 people a day coming out of the woodwork."
The petition, addressed to the show's producers, judges and the Fox network, reads: "Avid viewers of 'American Idol' were in complete shock to see Alex Lambert voted off tonight. His voice is most importantly, different, and his simple raw talent was something that many chosen idol contestants ... lack. America ABSOLUTELY voted wrong in this, and many, many loyal viewers have no desire to continue watching 'American Idol' without seeing how far Alex Lambert could have, and should have gone. The signatures on this petition are not expected to be taken lightly, but instead, as a serious cause of action in bringing Alex Lambert back onto American Idol before the season ends."
So far, it has gotten signatures from fans who stretch from Costa Rica and Colorado to the Philippines and Florida. "He deserves another chance, because I don't think America has seen what he can do," wrote petitioner Stacy Hopkins of Selkirk, Georgia.
Asked the obvious — where were all these fans when Lambert needed them? — Bongiorno sighed. "I know!" she said in resignation and, like a number of those who signed the petition, she believes that flaws in the "Idol" voting system might have played a part . (That charge, which has come up at some point almost every season when a beloved contestant goes home, has been repeatedly denied by "Idol" brass.)
As for what she wants the petition to do, Bongiorno said she and her fellow petitioners are hoping for the kind of wild card that made Anoop Desai the 13th finalist last year. "It happened once before when we never expected it, and something else could happen again," she said.
Last year also saw the first-ever use of the judges' "save," which helped eventual fifth-place finisher Matt Giraud come back to the competition.
A spokesperson for "Idol" declined to comment on the petition drive and said the show has not made any announcement about the judges' save this year, but noted that in season eight, it applied only to the top 12 finishers.
"There's no contestant I've seen in all my years of watching this show that has gotten this much backlash for the show for being voted off before making the top 12," Bongiorno said of Lambert. "He's real. He's a 19-year-old kid from Texas from a big family, and he's just shy onstage, like, 'I don't know what I'm doing here,' and that touches people," she said. " 'American Idol' is about finding people who you'd never see otherwise, people who are singing in front of their mirrors at home and now you're putting them onstage in front of millions of people. That's 'American Idol.' "
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