Is ‘American Idol’ Rigged? New TV Show Unearths Voting Fraud Claims

Music's Greatest Mysteries

AXS TV Music's Greatest Mysteries on AXS TV

A new TV show digs into conspiracy theories from the early years of “American Idol,” aiming to answer the question of whether the show is — or ever was — rigged.

On August 31, 2022, AXS TV aired the season 2 premiere of “Music’s Greatest Mysteries,” featuring a panel of music journalists who weighed in on conspiracy theories and claims of fraud that have long plagued one of television’s longest-running talent competitions.

‘American Idol’ Tiptoed Around Game Show Rules

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard

GettyClay Aiken and Ruben Studdard during “American Idol” finale in 2003

Whenever a new “American Idol” winner is crowned, there are typically fans of other contestants who loudly claim the votes were rigged, but the accusations usually die down within weeks. However, “Music’s Greatest Mysteries” looked into two controversies that are still debated more than a decade later.

“Some of the outcomes have been questionable,” music journalist Steven Ivory told producers.

Despite the Communications Act of the 1960s that banned cheating on TV game shows, thanks to the scandal involving contestants on “Twenty-One,” the government declined to create any new rules for “American Idol,” which experts on the AXS TV series said was just different enough from TV game shows to not have any specific boundaries drawn when it came to setting up voting.

In 2002, no one was truly shocked that Kelly Clarkson won the inaugural title over Justin Guarini. But in the second season, Yahoo Entertainment music columnist Lyndsey Parker said “conspiracy theories went into overdrive.”

Clay Aiken was considered the favorite to win the competition in 2003, so many fans were stunned when Ruben Studdard won instead. Making matters worse, the “Music Mysteries” show revealed, was that host Ryan Seacrest gave viewers the wrong numbers when trying to reveal the margin by which Studdard had won.

At one point, the young host said it was by a margin of just 1,300 votes, then he said it was 13,000 votes. And days later, Fox claimed the correct number was actually 130,000 votes that separated Studdard and Aiken.

Though nothing concrete about voting fraud was ever uncovered that year, there are still fans who think it was rigged. In the end, Aiken wound up being more successful than Studdard right after the show. According to the Greensboro News & Record, Aiken’s first single sold more copies, his debut album hit stores first and it sold more copies than Ruben’s.

Show Reveals How Phone Company May Have Swayed the Vote

Adam Lambert and Kris Allen

GettySingers Kris Allen and Adam Lambert appear outside NBC’s “Today” Show in 2009

In “Music’s Greatest Mysteries,” music journalist Ivory called “the Adam Lambert versus Kris Allen situation” during season 8 the worst case of possible fraud in the show’s history.

“Every week Adam Lambert was knocking ’em dead but Kris Allen ends up winning,” he said.

After the grand finale in 2009, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette revealed that “American Idol” sponsor AT&T may have swayed the vote toward Allen, who was from Conway, Arkansas. Most viewers had to cast their votes by calling a number on their TV screen, but AT&T customers were allowed to text their votes.

In “Music’s Greatest Mysteries,” the expert panel talked about how AT&T customers could “power vote” by voting for the same contestant up to 10 times per text. In addition, viewing parties were held in Arkansas — but not in Adam Lambert’s home state of California — where AT&T reps handed out sample phones and showed people how to text in their votes for free.

Fox and AT&T denied any wrongdoing and insisted all voting tabulations were fair. But New York Z100 radio host Maxwell still can’t believe what went down that year.

“AT&T salesmen literally went to Kris Allen viewing parties and taught fans how to power vote,” he said. “There was, in fact, one person who had said that he had voted nearly 11,000 times.”

Parker added, “I don’t know if it makes ‘American Idol’ criminal, but it definitely makes it shady.”

The potential fraud was a huge controversy at the time, and Lambert’s fans were incredibly upset. But Lambert and Allen had become close friends on the show, and both have enjoyed success.

Allen’s first single, “Live Like We’re Dying” sold more than a million copies in 2009, and despite some setbacks along the way, he continues to release new music, often tours with fellow “Idol” winner David Cook, and is also a dad. Lambert, meanwhile, became the frontman for the iconic band Queen two years after “Idol,” just wrapped up their latest tour, and has had a very successful career as a solo artist, too.

No other “Idol” controversies were explored in the new episode of “Music’s Greatest Mysteries.” The season premiere also explores whether legendary performer Sam Cooke was murdered, and delves into the love life of 1980s rocker Pat Benatar.