An Even Bigger Story, I Guess

05/27/2005 03:14 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Finally, a project big enough for my horizons. While still gaining purchase on several tracks in the comparative triviality of my crusade to kindle the Big Detective Story of 2004, I'm alerted by the helpful voice of Sandy Frank to a far more salient heist. Idolatry, or the experience of being the titular object of it, has been commandeered. Or so it appears from the exit polls, and you know I never met an exit poll I didn't believe. Exit signs? Reliable, but not as much so, I think, as exit polls. Sometimes you might be going in the out door.

Dateline Hollywood, Wednesday night. Carrie Underwood, a 21-year-old country singer from Choctaw, Oklahoma, bested long-haired Helena, Alabama rocker Bo Bice to become this Republic's fourth American Idol. Capitals required. This was the dramatic climax to a tumultuous season that included public allegations of conjugal involvement between a judge and a persistent contestant, revelations of past rap sheets for two more aspiring idols, and what many judged to be a slippage in the, how you say, artistry of the performances. Fox rode the headlines to a season-long ratings victory in the coveted 18 to 49 age demographic. By the way, if that is your age demographic, I hope you appreciate the feeling of being coveted, even if you are 48 or 49. Or 47.

Here's the trouble: the online vote at USA had Bo Bice getting 62% of 57,000 ballots cast. Sixty-two percent. Looked so good that the newspaper all but declared Bo the winner in its morning edition the day of the show. USA Today, you know, they're like the national franchise for newspapers. This means a lot of people who flew on airplanes Wednesday thought for sure Bo Bice ws going to win, especially the ones in First Class who get the paper for free. This makes Carrie's victory look very shaky.

Turns out that among the 500 million votes the program's (Diebold?) computers counted during the season, more than 450 million came from rural Florida and rural Ohio. In Ohio all phone and computer access was limited at critical voting moments in rock and roll-crazed Cleveland and Cincinnati, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame experienced persistent blackouts. In Miami, Orlando and even Tampa (!), middle-aged men in tee shirts and wife beaters had their cellphones confiscated and given to cleancut guys with collared shirts and cowboy boots, while busloads of rock concert fans were systematically diverted to rockpits during the course of the TV season.

These results, like others we've seen, were rigged. But in entertainment, just as in politics, sometimes victory is something of a mirage. Wasn't that the experience of Ruben and Clay? A word to the wise, Carrie: once you claim the prize, however it came to you, it's better if you've got game. Otherwise you're looking at a 43% approval rating.