During Season 18 of American Idol, viewers are encouraged to vote for their favorite singer, for who they believe gave the best vocal performance of the week. The reality talent competition show gives a lot of power to the voters at home, and while Idol has rules as to how many times a person can vote, there’s still room for voter manipulation.
What would happen to American Idol if everyone calling in voted for who they believed was the worst performer? It’s a question Mr. Dave Della Terza, who was an IT worker and part-time community college teacher based in Illinois at the time, pondered while watching the singing competition.
During Idol‘s fourth season on FOX, Terza turned his idea into a website entitled, Vote for the Worst, where he encouraged viewers to vote for the worst singer on the show, which forced lesser talented performers to proceed into the next round of the competition.
By 2007, according to The New York Times, Terza’s website, which he initially started as a hobby, was earning him an estimated $40,000. “It didn’t start out as a moneymaking venture; it wasn’t an attempt to leech off the American Idol brand,” Terza said. “It started as a joke. But people really enjoyed it.”
Vote for the Worst was also highly influential. During Season 6, after the website received a shout out from radio host Howard Stern, an 18-year-old contestant named Sanjaya Malakar made it all the way to the Top 7.
With his big mop of curly hair which he eventually turned into signature faux-hawk, and a cult-like fan group dubbed “Fanjayas,” Malakar became a viral sensation. He was the most talked-about contestant of the season even after Jordin Sparks was named the winner.
Fremantle Media, which produced American Idol tried numerous times to get Terza’s website shut down. They sent three cease-and-desist letters claiming that he was unlawfully using Idol’s copyrighted content. While Terza removed Idol’s official logo from the site pages, the website continued to grow in popularity.
Other contestants that earned notoriety due to Vote for the Worst included Season 7’s Kristy Lee Cook, Season 8’s Megan Joy Corkrey, and Season 9’s Tim Urban, who earned the nickname of Teflon Tim because he continued to get ripped by the show’s judges.
Simon Cowell, who was famous for being the tough, acerbic judge during his tenure on Idol, eventually gave up giving him critiques “because it doesn’t make any difference what we say. But sadly people will keep voting for you, you’ll be here next week.”
Terza Shut Down His Vote for the Worst Website in 2013
Even though Terza’s website was wildly successful, peaking at 7.7 million hits a day, and earned him invitations to appear on Late Night with David Letterman and CNN, Terza announced that he was shutting down VFTW following Season 12 of Idol. He explained his decision in a lengthy letter.
Terza wrote, “They say when your critics stop talking about you, you’re finished. We’ve been American Idol’s biggest critic, but we’re leaving before we get completely bored with a show that really should’ve bowed out gracefully a few years ago.”
“American Idol is really no longer relevant, so VFTW has accomplished our one true goal: making sure that America stops taking American Idol and other singing reality shows seriously. American Idol has become a shell of its former self… We helped kill American Idol, but even more so, American Idol helped kill itself by refusing to stay relevant. The show will be lucky to last a few more unmemorable seasons.”
“Let’s enjoy it for all it’s worth, and make sure to get the contestants America hates one step closer to winning a meaningless prize. And when our fun contestants go home, let’s make sure we crown White Guy With Guitar #6.
While Idol is now in its 18th season, Terza, according to his LinkedIn profile, Terza now works as the Executive Director of the Naperville Public Library.