My blog has been innundated with people who've come via searches such as "american idol conspiracy" and "american idol rigged." And as Prof. Althouse and Adam Bonin have debated, there is a question of whether the voting has an ugly racial component to it, with the three lowest vote getters being (in my opinion) the best singers, but also the three African-American women. To be fair, I've used the deliberately provocative term "racist," but even Adam, who advanced the racial component argument, didn't suggest that the viewers were racists.
I think Adam is right that the notion that Fantasia, Jennifer, and LaToya are all "divas" starts to inject some element of race into the perception of the contest.
However, in the end, I agree with Prof. Althouse that it really isn't race that's at issue: it's the voting system. Because viewers vote for who they want to keep, and they can vote as many times as they want, weaker singers like John S. can stick around for as long as he has enough fans who will obsessively redial to keep his phone lines jammed. After all, Fox can only have so many lines for the calls to roll over to; once all the lines for a contestant are plugged (for that moment), additional votes at the moment are wasted.
Thus, suppose that the line for John S. rolls over to 100 different lines. At 8:01 pm Central Time, the lines are open. John S. only has 200 fans in this time zone (plus Eastern, since the show is on at the same real time), but they will vote and vote and vote for 2 straight hours. Meanwhile, Jennifer has 10,000 fans in the time zone. The fact that Jennifer has 50 times more fans won't be reflected in the vote total, since John S. is already maxing out the number of votes that could be tallied.
But wait, it gets worse. Since we are voting for who want to keep, not who we want to boot, people who think that Jennifer, Fantasia, and LaToya are the three best are in a bit of a quandary. Who do you vote for? You could spend two hours splitting up your votes among all three, but that makes you less effective than the obsessive John-boy fan who spends two hours voting for him.
In short, the system is broken and needs to be fixed. If they are technogically unable to limit the voting to one per phone number, then the vote should be for who you want to see kicked off.
UPDATE (4/23): Prof. Althouse points out some drawbacks to voting for who to kick off:
But the show has a successful formula based on voting for who you like, not ganging up on someone to convey the message that you are against them. The spirit is positive. The voters who are happy with three contestants and dislike one should not be able to kick off the guy that is the only one some other people love. If three "divas" made a great show, why didn't more people watch the all-diva VH-1 contest a year ago? (And why don't more people buy the unbelievably great gospel recordings that already exist?) It's not an objective talent contest. People like the music they like (and much of it is by black artists). The producers want to keep everyone watching to the end, want the winner to sell records (not just be the least disliked, but to have rabid fans, as Clay does), and are not adverse to the drama produced by the constant risk that the "wrong" person will go. That's the successful formula. Don't change it. Just keep reminding people to vote--a lot--for the one they love most. That split vote effect works to keep at least one person of the type that a segment of the audience likes. That's how John Stevens survived after JPL was gone. And Nikki McKibben outlasted Tamyra Gray because people who loved Tamyra also loved Kelly Clarkson and people who liked "rockers" had only Nikki to vote for after Ryan Starr was gone. It's the nature of the game.