By: Scott Yager
Every protagonist must have a worthy antagonist. There is no question that in the world of television, or more specifically the world of reality television, that American Idol is BIG BROTHER. Not literally because in no way, shape or form is Idol similar to the popular CBS program in which contestants live in a house together and vote each other off. Idol is Big Brother in the 1984 sense of the term. Idol has become bigger than any television show of the last ten years. It’s gotten impossible to avoid and unbearable to its protestors. Along with the success comes millions of fans, record breaking ratings, tons and tons of media coverage and viewer commentary (what your reading would fall under this category) and like every great Goliath it also has it’s David – doing all he can to take the monster down with that small but useful stone of his.
In this case Idol’s worthy adversary is a little website called VoteForTheWorst.com. You may have heard of the site during season six when Howard Stern mentioned the it on his program, urging listeners to follow the campaign, specifically in an effort to keep the notorious Sanjaya along for way longer than he deserved to be. With all the attention on the intentions of the movement, the site proved that it had more power than your average evil blog when Sanjaya did in fact stick around well past his exit cue, outlasting contestants that were WAY more deserving. Recently I spoke with VoteForTheWorst creator Dave Della Terza about how the site got started, what he thinks of the current season, and what their plans are going forward.
“I was watching American Idol and thinking about how many people on the show are so bad and so funny and thought, wouldn’t it be cool if those people actually stuck around longer?” said Dave, who admits he was not initially a FAN of the show back when he started watching during season two, but more so appreciated it the same way some people enjoy a good car crash.
“I watched season two just to see what it was cause everyone was talking about it” said Dave, who began to sound more and more like me as the interview went on.
I too have taught myself how to enjoy Idol, but I must admit I first began to force myself to watch it because the amount of people I knew who watched the show was just to overwhelming. If you can’t beat ‘em…join ‘em right?
The first season VFTW was fully functional was season three, however the site really started to have an impact in season four when their campaign seemed to be the only plausible reason that the terrible Scott Savol stuck around longer than the fan favorite Constantine Maroulis. “People were really, really angry and started blaming our website and that’s when I started doing a ton of interviews every week” claimed Della Terza, who during our own interview went on to say that when Howard Stern started publicizing the site during season six that it took VFTW to another level entirely.
“Our website is literally the most visited American Idol website besides the initial one” says Dave, who seems to have grown to have a much more lighthearted take on the situation after playing such a huge part in the shows ongoing narrative for the past several seasons.
“We would love it if our picks stick around but if they don’t we’re not going to go and cry. I used to be like “look at all the traffic on the website” but now I’m like “…whatever”.
American Idol has tried to sue Vote For The Worst three times according to Della Terza. This is evidence that not only was the show aware of the little site that could, but they felt intimidated enough by the site to not only attempt to sue the site directly but also take other measures to try to shut down the site like contacting the company that they bought the domain from and trying to scare them as well. Obviously since the site is still up and running and stronger than ever, all attempts have failed. Dave has a sense of humor about it, saying “oddly enough, during season six with the Sanjaya thing, Howard Stern and all the press they didn’t try a thing”. That wasn’t the end of it however, as Dave adds “then again in 2007 they sent us a letter saying that we were doing illegal things which…well…we weren’t”
Vote For the Worst is credited with keeping losers like Sanjaya on the show for a few extra weeks but most people don’t know that their influence has gone way deeper than that. Taylor Hicks was actually also the VFTW candidate for several weeks during the season that he took home the title. “Taylor Hicks was one of our picks and he WON the show. During season five Taylor Hicks was the favorite, people loved him. But we definitely helped. Now I think the fact that he’s not successful everyone assumes that his win came from VoteForTheWorst.”
Dave is fully aware that their site is not the sole thing keeping these inferior singers around with the heavy hitters. In fact, if that were the case then it would all just seem like some cruel joke. Instead, it’s the VFTW campaign PLUS the fact that a lot of America actually does like these people and feel they should stick around. The marriage of both those components is what keeps these bottom feeders around and sometimes even leads to one of them taking home the crown.
Now, because they do pick SOMEBODY every week, sometimes inevitably they are going to be urging their audience to vote for someone who IS actually good. Last year for instance they were telling people to vote for Danny Gokey, who would have been embarrassing as the winner of season eight. When he went home, leaving Kris Allen and Adam Lambert as the remaining contestants, they HAD to pick one of the two. They chose to press for an Allen victory, more or less because Lambert had been unofficially coined the winner of that season WAY too early on and the backlash had been building all year. Did Kris Allen suck? No, he got better every week and by the end of it he even seemed deserving of the win. However, for that week he was the Vote For The Worst selection and if you look at it that way, they helped decide the winner of American Idol once again.
“Clearly our website is not going to single-handedly keep someone around. If everyone hates one person we’re not going to stand a chance. But we are the extra push that helps. As you’ve seen Tim Urban has been in the bottom three every week and maybe if he didn’t have our extra votes maybe he wouldn’t have hung around, who knows?”
VFTW doesn’t just pick a contestant every week and say VOTE FOR THEM! An entire campaign is in full effect with pictures, dirt, rumors or anything useful coming into play to not only urge the willing participants to pick the worst contestant but also to brainwash the naive and oblivious to vote for them for other reasons.
“We know that we can’t do it by ourselves. Like with Tim Urban we found shirtless pictures of him and we are making sure every girl under sixteen sees them. We definitely play all that stuff up to get people to help us out”. In my personal opinion this strategy couldn’t be more brilliant and worthwhile.
Dave and I share similar thoughts on this season and why whether favorite Crystal Bowersox does end up winning or not, there doesn’t seem to be the same “heir to the throne” feel like most seasons at least develop at some point.
“This year no one is any good. This year is probably the least talented cast they’ve ever had so it’s not as fun for us. If we were voting for Tim Urban any other year people would be pissed off, but this year there is no anchor. If Paige goes home or Lacey goes home, no one is going to be mad.”
Dave speaks these words as a man who realizes the show he has built a legacy off of might be coming to an end.
VFTW is definitely one of the more fun sites to follow in the ongoing storyline that is American Idol. Checking the site and seeing who they WANT to stick around is typically the best way to get a grasp on who really deserves TO go home. Seeing whether they succeed from week to week, which they have thus far this year, is also a fun game to play. There is a drastic flaw in the Idol voting system and that is that instead of voting for someone to get eliminated you can only vote for who you want to stick around. VoteForTheWorst.com exploits this flaw by urging those fans of the site to help THE WORST stick around.
THE BEST don’t really need help sticking around because they are so good they will get votes from everyone. People don’t typically vote for more than one person however. They tend to spend one or however many votes they submit on the same contestant. Then if you have thousands of people voting for THE WORST contestants hoping that in an ironic turn of events they manage to survive elimination even after delivering a performance that would get even a Bar Mitzvah DJ fired, it leaves the contestants in the middle who weren’t bad enough to warrant viewers to make sure they stick around and weren’t memorable enough to get unconditional support either. THOSE are the casualties of this process and VFTW brings that to light.
A few weeks back when Alex Lambert, Katelyn Epperly and Lilly Scott all went home, it wasn’t cause they all sucked. Were they great? No. But did they deserve to go home? Certainly not. Where they failed was being mediocre, something that thanks to VFTW, is even more damaging to Idol contestants than literally being…THE WORST.
PLEASE go check out www.votefortheworst.com and support those guys. If you do like Idol it’s a great site to follow the show with AND if you HATE American Idol than by definition you should love this site because it lives and breathes to hit Goliath in the head with that rock and knock him straight to the ground! See you next week! VOTE FOR TIM URBAN!
PS: Dave tells me that he plans to take their act on the road when Simon jumps ship to start up X-Factor next year, great news for all of us who plan on hopping on that ship as well. Even if Idol dies a sad death after the blunt Brit exits the show, it’s good to know that VFTW will not. Stay tuned for updates on that as well!