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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