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Last Sunday, I received ‘congratulatory’ messages through SMS and email from friendsĀ  and casual acquaintances telling me that ABC-5 took one of my suggestions to ‘save Philippine Idol,’ and implemented a two-hour voting period similar to American Idol, starting with this week’s episode. I don’t think I deserve any congratulations, although I did leap for joy when Ryan Agoncillo made the announcement that the two-hour window would work. I’m just glad the producers decided to follow the format similar to American Idol, because this particular format is proven to work to most people’s satisfaction. And like the adage goes, you can’t please everybody, as last night’s results showed.

Last night, in a relative shocker, Zamboanga favorite Arms Cruz was eliminated, along with lounge singer Jeli Mateo. Fans are – pun intended – up in arms.
Joking aside, one should expect backlash from at least two camps. The first camp would be those of Reymond Sajor, Drae Ybanez, and Stef Lazaro, who were eliminated under the previous voting system. They declare – rightly so – it is unfair. The second camp would be those of Mateo and Cruz, who were eliminated under the amalgam system (i.e., half-and-half, the votes from this week added to votes from last week).
Admittedly, ABC-5 will be unable to pacify the camps of these five contestants. Can it be helped? When one changes the rules of the game in the middle of the game, naturally, we can expect players to raise an uproar. However, the name of the game is still Philippine Idol, and if fans of the show – like me – are interested in seeing this franchise last beyond its maiden season, we need to support the show and the quirks that come with its birth pains. I am positive this new system will result in better, more accurate voting patterns than shown in the previous weeks.

Notice, for instance, how Gian Magdangal and Mau Marcelo, two perennial bottom contenders, avoided the bottom two this week. Notice how Jeli Mateo, a constant subject of criticism for her subpar performances (she made up what some Idol fans have since come to know as the KenJelJanMig foursome, along with Ken Dingle, Jan Nieto, and Miguel Mendoza, who all aren’t seen in the same calibre as the other contestants), who was never in the bottom until this week, was eliminated. We cry for Arms, but come on, she was also never a strong votes receiver, and both she and Jeli delivered the two most boring performances last night, and while I sent several votes Arms’ way, I was not optimistic for her chances last night (because votes coming in from last night were added to the previous week’s votes).

The next few weeks will be key. In theory, you can only send so many votes in two hours, so contestants with large fan bases tend to be favored by this new system (which is what we want). However, let us also note that ABC-5 did also let slip through two caveats – the infamous phone card way of voting and the lack of avenues for free votes. Subpar candidates with smaller but richer fan bases can still send a significant amount of votes their way by purchasing these cards in bulk and sending their votes during the two-week window. However, as the field narrows down and votes become more concentrated, hopefully, even this unfair method will not be enough to save the inferior candidates.

In a perfect Philippine Idol world, a two-hour window combined with free phone calls would herald a winner who is truly the voice of the masses. Meanwhile, this is the bone we’ve been thrown, and I and countless other fans are grateful. Witness the slow but steady return of Philippine Idol.

Wanna play a little ‘Six Degrees’ game that links Celine Dion to the Pokemon soundtrack?

Meatloaf‘s new album, Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose, drops this Halloween, naturally. On that album is a revival of Celine Dion’s #2 hit, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, penned by Meatloaf’s favorite songwriter, Jim Steinman. The track is now a duet, Meatloaf singing with Marion Raven. (You can listen to the track in full on Meatloaf’s MySpace page.)

Marion Raven? That name sounds familiar to Filipinos, whose may remember her as half of the Norwegian duo M2M (the other being Marit Larsen), who contributed Don’t Say You Love Me to the soundtrack of the Pokemon movie.

Celine Dion sang It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, which was revived by Meatloaf with Marion Raven, who sang Don’t Say You Love Me for the OST of Pokemon. Three degrees. Hahaha!

Wanna link Celine Dion to Marilyn Manson or Rob Zombie? Link her to Meatloaf again, who, on his new album, works with John5, producer of Manson and Zombie. Oi vey.

I’m not a big fan of Gwen Stefani. I liked No Doubt before Return of Saturn, and I must admit that Gwen’s amazing ability to stay relevant despite the daily entry of new tarts into the American musical scene is something truly worth praising.

With the upcoming release of The Sweet Escape, which drops on December 5, 2006, I have gained newfound respect for Ms Stefani. How?

Listen to Wind It Up on Gwen’s official website. It samples – are you ready for this? – The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Music! As in, the song starts with Julie Andrew’s crystalline voice singing, “High on the hill is a lonely goatherd,” complete with yodel!

I love how today’s artists like going back to some of the real old-school music I grew up listening to. At 29 going on 30, I already feel ancient listening to some of the music today, so getting a good sample from some of the old-school music gives me some kind of cheap thrill, thinking maybe I’m not completely irrelevant. Akon’s Lonely (samples Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely) and Jay-Z’s Hard-Knock Life (samples It’s a Hard-Knock Life from the OST of Annie) among them, I think Wind It Up is absolutely brilliant.

This, of course, adds to Gwen Stefani’s genius. The woman takes whatever she wants to and makes it cool. Haven’t seen Janet, Madonna, even Mariah, do that lately. It’s really inspiring to see someone marching to her own drum, and having America appreciate it. I hope Wind It Up does spectacularly.

My hits went through the roof yesterday after I posted my thoughts about free phone calls for voting for Philippine Idol. It was a pleasant surprise, and I received both positive and negative comments, on-blog and through email, about my thoughts on saving Philippine Idol. Well, such is a democracy, and I’m just pleased that we can get people to at least thinking about ways of saving the show, because it is a darn good show, and it deserves to be saved.

Philippine Idol deserves a Season Two.

I am no marketing genius, nor am I some word-of-mouth guru, but I believe I speak for a significant number of people who watch the show locally and are aghast with how it’s been performing so far. In this day and age, especially with the Internet playing a significant role, to not consider working with the fans is virtual suicide. ABS-CBN and GMA7 all know, to an extent, what kind of power the fans wield, and what kind of power word-of-mouth can do for an artist’s career.

Given that we know of certain legal entanglements that prohibit Philippine Idol candidates from singing anywhere else save for the show – even if eliminated, I imagine – until after the show’s winner is crowned, if you will, here are some other low-budget, high-profile suggestions that can raise WOM for Philippine Idol:

  • Join the media circus – and not just on ABC-5. Sam Milby was the big winner of the first edition of Pinoy Big Brother, not Nene Whateverherfamilynamewas. Why so? He looked good and he was allowed to run the gamut of media mileage, doing endorsements and TV shows even before the winner was announced. In the USA, eliminated contestants figured in talk show appearances throughout the week after their elimination, and not even on Fox. Constantine Maroulis performed on SIX talk shows after his ejection from American Idol. A contestant doing the rounds of TV and print (and not just the Philippine Daily Inquirer) boosts a person’s image – and that of the show.
  • Tie in with the fansites. Why shun the Internet? IfABC-5 were really serious about creating buzz for the show, especially amongst the AB and upper C markets (who have the mighty peso to spend for their candidates, since right now, there is no other way to vote), they should channel their candidates towards Philippine Idol fansites. Philippine Idol Updates, for instance, did an interview with Jhonalene Sison – the Voltes V Anime Girl – that got the girl with the strange green hair a lot more mileage than, say, Christian Masaga. Do the Google search. So tie in with the fans. Allow email interviews. Visit PinoyExchange.com and other forums to get an idea of what the fans think.
  • Make official profile pages for the candidates on MySpace and Friendster. You want to create fans? Create MySpace and Friendster pages for the candidates! In a world where musicians are dying to acquire fans, MySpace and Friendster allow free opportunities for the avid fan to get closer to the artist. Imagine how many fans feel closer to Drae Ybanez and Jan Nieto, whose Friendster profiles are pretty easy to find? I’ll tell you – A LOT. Maybe not enough to save Drae, but we’ll see whose career lasts longer between Drae and other singers – either on Idol or on other reality shows – who have more money to send votes in but less fans.
  • Stick with a time slot, and don’t mix sports and music! American Idol and the Philippine Basketball Association don’t mix. The fans are different, the social classes are different, they’re completely different programs with completely different programming needs. Separate the two because they don’t work. So enough with the shifting (and oftentimes unpredictable) time slots, and give people a set schedule they can work with. In the US, it’s Wednesday for performance night and Thursday for results; here, that may just work (because more people are home on weekdays). If you want to go with a weekend, I think a Saturday 7-9 (already an hour too long – American Idol is tightly edited to fit an hour) performance night is good, with a results night at 930PM the next day. Yes, it’s late, but I think people would rather stay up and be ready for the show, rather than tune in at 830PM and sit through interminable hours of basketball. It’s nothing against the PBA, but again, they’re two different programs with little in common.
  • Finally, something really radical, but a real possibility, if ABC-5 refuses to allow free phone calls: Two-hour windows for voting. If you won’t allow free phone calls, consider the possibility of two-hour voting, just like in American Idol. That way, time becomes the great equalizer. Those with money (and those without) will all scramble to get their votes in during the two-hour window, and increases the chances of those with more fans to get their votes in, versus those with less fans who have the luxury of texting the whole 24 hours.

Last night, Ryan Agoncillo announced on Philippine Idol that no Idol contestant would be voted off for the week, owing to technical issues on the part of Sun Cellular and Smart Telecommunications, resulting in votes unsent to Sun and confirmation messages not received by voters on Smart. Ideally, that results in two expulsions next week.

This is not the first time Philippine Idol has allowed this to happen; just three weeks ago, Typhoon Milenyo spared Drae Ybanez and Stef Lazaro from being voted off that particular week. Technical problems aside, Philippine Idol is hobbling on wounded legs, and, I’m sure, rapidly losing followers week after week.

Among the many issues undoubtedly facing the local incarnation of the famous Fremantle franchise are:

  • Dwindling ratings. After decent first-week ratings, Philippine Idol’s ratings are arguably questionable. With word-of-mouth on Internet forums and visits to fansites decreasing, as evidenced by lower unique visitors, Philippine Idol is certainly losing whatever first-mover advantage it had. Shifting time slots (performance nights from Saturdays to Sundays, and result nights from Sundays to Mondays, placing the show at the mercy of the Philippine Basketball Association’s unpredictable time slot) do not help the show. Indicators of the show’s struggle are the advertisements – most are ads of ABC-5, San Miguel products, and Smart Telecommunications.
  • Credibility issues. The recent voting off of Reymond Sajor and Drae Ybanez, two of the strongest male competitors, the almost inexplicable longevity of at least three Idol contestants of questionable talent, and the bottom finishes of Pow Chavez, Gian Magdangal, and Mau Marcelo, three of the judges’ preferred choices and arguably among the best of the 12, are denting the show’s credibility as a breeding ground for true, lasting talent.
  • Unfair voting channels. While the Philippines is a democracy, all channels for voting are paid channels, unlike in the United States, where phone calls are toll-free. Allegations of massive vote-buying by family and friends of the more affluent candidates are rampant. While this is certainly not illegal, it may call into question the fairness and true democratic nature of the competition (i.e., a contestant with legions of fans who cannot afford to vote will lose out to a contestant whose few family and friends can afford to send the text messages and buy the phone cards).

So what avenues are available to ABC-5 and Philippine Idol? This fan humbly suggests that the organizers of the show take into account the full extent of the Fremantle franchise. This may still be a business, as far as ABC-5 honchos are concerned, but the American Idol franchise allows one aspect of the democratic process that ABC-5 should consider: FREE PHONE CALLS.

Forgive me for making it sound so ridiculously simple, but allowing free phone calls can democratize the process in favor of the candidate with the most fans, which is what you want. You want the fans who will buy the albums, attend the concerts, and support the career of the winning candidate. More than anything, you’re fighting for the credibility of the franchise, and unfortunately, the moneyed candidates are not of the same caliber as the ones who have neither the money nor the bloc with the necessarily financial capacity to carry them to victory.

If a moneyed candidate of inferior quality wins (and allegations are rampant for at least three of the candidates), you can expect that candidate’s career to expectedly flounder. A candidate who wins on the sheer basis of money and not popularity can expect a short and embarrassing career.

Allowing free phone calls bridges the gap and can increase ratings. People will vote. People will watch, because now, they have a better chance to participate and directly influence the vote. As it is, people are wondering why the inferior candidates are not being voted out. Might it be not because the Filipino people are not making the choice, but they are trying to, and cannot, because their sheer numbers cannot defeat the almighty peso power of those whose financial resources are deep?

How can Gian Magdangal, for instance, a candidate touted as a frontrunner since the beginning, and with an obvious fan base, if one scours the Internet forums, online discussions, and search engine results, continue to languish at the bottom? How can Mau Marcelo, an obvious top choice, place in the bottom three with Gian and Reymond Sajor; for the same reason, how can Pow Chavez, a woman supported by, among others, Kris Aquino, land in the bottom four?

For the sake of the argument, can we not say the number of people voting are not the issue here, but the number of votes that these people can manage to send?

Above all, Philippine Idol is a popularity contest, and popularity should not be gauged by sheer voting ability alone. Admittedly, the other reality singing competitions also have no free voting implements, but Philippine Idol should be different because it aims to reach to a different target market altogether. We’re looking for a star who will reach across social barriers and classes. If the masses are not given the opportunity to participate in the selection of such, would it really be accurate and fair to call the winner of this competition the Philippine Idol?

Update: In the interest of not rocking the boat, I’ve deleted the section that augustman found offensive. It’s not that I do not doubt my sources; it’s just that it takes away from the essence of this post, which is to encourage ABC-5 to think about free phone calls for voting purposes.

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