OpEd Columns

And The Winner of Presidential Idol Is... (Indianapolis Star 05/20/06)

Fifty million votes in two hours. The youth of America frantically speed dialing in support of their favorite candidate.
Is this the first Tuesday in November? No, it's American Idol.

Wouldn't it be great if Americans voted for their elected officials with the fervor they vote for Taylor Hicks?

With two years until the next presidential election, it's time to start taking cues from the most popular popularity contest on the planet. It's time to overhaul the election process, and begin using the Idol Model.

After the last two presidential elections, it's painfully evident that the Electoral College is an archaic way of determining the winner of an election. It's a national election. Everyone's vote should count equally. No matter how many times they vote. Just ask Ryan Seacrest.

Imagine the mutiny if American Idol played by the rules of the Electoral College.

After four commercial breaks, Ryan takes the stage. “America, you voted, and Elliot Yamin received the lowest number of votes.” Boos shower down. Cardboard signs pelt the stage. Tears pool in Paula's eyes.

“However, Elliot won the key swing states of New York and Ohio, giving him more electoral votes than Taylor Hicks who carried the South but couldn't overcome Katharine McPhee's cache of California's 55 electoral votes. So Taylor, your journey ends tonight.”

Taylor sports a fake smile. More homemade signs plunk Simon in the back of the head. “Don't blame me! You're the ones who voted,” he shouts.

Taylor's highlight video caps the show. “You had a bad day. You're taking one down. You got enough votes. But in all the wrong towns.”

See. The Electoral College doesn't work.

Let's go back to the 2004 election and apply the Idol model to the Democratic race for the nomination.
Start with the primaries. Half of them are meaningless. Lose them. Can you imagine the state of Iowa determining the top three Idol contestants just because they voted first? Ridiculous.

Take the ten declared candidates and have them perform on stage in a weekly Idol debate.

“OK America, tonight's theme is national defense. Your first contestant is Vermont Governor Howard Dean who has chosen to speak about the war in Iraq.”

Dean gets 90 seconds to wow the judges. Randy chimes in first.

“Yo' Dean Dog. I don't think that was your best effort. It was like OK. But the Iraq thing just doesn't show off your range.”

Paula disagrees. “Howard, every time you take a topic, you make it your own. And you look great. I love your energy.”

The camera pans to Simon.

“Hideous. What else can I say? Governor Dean, that was like listening to a bad junior high debate team.”
Ryan steps over and puts his arm around Governor Dean. “Ouch. The good news Howard is that Simon's vote doesn't count.” (He points to the camera.) “But your vote does. It's up to you America. If you want to see Howard again, vote 1-866- Demos-3.”

Howard holds up three fingers and mouths, “Vote for me.”

The next night, a 30-minute results show eliminates one of the candidates.
“Senator Dick Gephardt from Missouri. Senator Bob Graham of Florida. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. You are in the bottom three. One of you will be going home tonight. Which one will it be? We'll tell you next…after the break.”
After nine weeks (the same amount of time it took for John Kerry to establish himself as the clear frontrunner in the 2004 primaries), America crowns its Democratic nominee in a special drawn out two-hour show featuring guest speeches by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The event looks strangely like the final night of the Democratic National Convention. The show gets huge ratings, capping a May sweeps period bonanza for Fox.
Politics is popular again with the American electorate, which now includes thirteen-year old girls proficient at text messaging.

In October, John Kerry and George W. Bush star on Presidential Idol. Four weeks of shows. Each week a different topic and a different washed up politician to help out our candidates.

“Tonight we feature the domestic policy speeches of Gary Hart.”
Randy chimes in. “Yo Dubya Dog. That was amazing man. You took a speech totally out of your comfort zone and made it work.”

Paula concurs. “George, every time you take a topic, you make it your own. And you look great. I love your energy.”

The camera pans to Simon.
“You aren't the most talented person in the competition. But clearly that's not what this show is all about. I predict you'll be the next Presidential Idol.”

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.

Copyright 2006 Ted Mandell

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