Viewers alone to bestow 'Idol' title

— Barring a catastrophic failure of Fox's phone-in voting system, American TV viewers � not show producers � will still decide the winner of "American Idol," the network said Tuesday.

Fox was responding to published reports that contestants on the talent show had to sign a contract agreeing that producers could ultimately decide the winner or change the rules in midstream.

The contract's standard legal language protects producers of the hit summer reality series if something unforeseen happens, said network spokesman Joe Earley.

"There is no nefarious intent," he said.

Indeed, Earley said, public participation is key to the show's success.

"If you mess with the vote, you destroy the franchise," he said. "And who would ever do that?"

"American Idol" has grown in popularity as it approaches its climax. The editions last Tuesday and Wednesday were among the four most-watched prime-time shows of the week, according to Nielsen Media Research. It was easily the most popular show among viewers age 12 to 17.

A record 14.5 million phone calls were made last week to decide which contestant would be voted off the game. There are four players left � Justin, Tamyra, Kelly and Nikki � and voters will decide the winner on Sept. 3. Fox will announce the victor on Sept. 4.

Contestants agreed, as part of their contracts for participation, to essentially give producers the right to change the rules whenever they wanted, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

Rules were bent during an earlier edition in Britain to allow a singer who had became sick extra time to get his voice back, Earley said.

There were reports last week that about 100 "power dialers" were using Internet connections and autodialing software to make as many as 10,000 votes a night from a single phone line.

Producers said the fanatical dialers haven't influenced the outcome of the game, primarily because they are voting for different contestants and cancelling each other out.


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