Is American Idol voting fair?

Well, I'm glad that's settled. We can all relax now, because American Idol's producers assure us that the voting last week was fair. This despite yesterday's news that AT&T (T) employees provided power-voting lessons and free phones to a party in Arkansas last week for home-state favorite Kris Allen -- while neglecting to do so for Allen's rival, Adam Lambert. If the program's producers wanted to settle the matter, they could release the total number of votes from those Kris party power-voters, and the total number of votes counted.

But Idol did not do that. Instead, Fox and the two production companies, FremantleMedia North America and 19 Entertainment, issued a statement: "Kris Allen is, without a doubt, the American Idol." But not only did Idol's triumvirate decline to release the vote count, it also did not detail whether such power-voting lessons were provided at Idol-viewing parties in previous seasons.

But just in case there was any concern about corrupt elections, Idol wants the world to know that is has independent election monitors -- sort of like former President Jimmy Carter monitoring an election in the Dominican Republic. "We have an independent third-party monitoring procedure in place to ensure the integrity of the voting process," an Idol statement said. "In no way did any individuals unfairly influence the outcome of the competition."

Meanwhile, AT&T promises not to favor one contestant over another in the future.

I don't know whether Idol voting is fair or not. I do know that the lines are often busy, which can mean that an intended vote might not actually be cast or counted. But is it fair for Idol judges to announce their preferences for one candidate over another? Who counts the votes each week, and how do they know the count is accurate? Why does Idol allow individuals to cast multiple votes? Why doesn't it simply release the actual vote totals each week?

Perhaps the most important question of all is this: Why does it matter?

Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College. His eighth book isYou Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing. He has no financial interest in AT&T securities.

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