If there’s one thing that everyone — both fans and haters alike — knows about this year’s American Idol, it’s that crazy-haired pretty-boy Sanjaya is succeeding despite an obviously inferior singing voice. Conspiracy theories abound, from beliefs that voters in Hawaii have banded together to support the one-time resident, to borderline-racist claims that workers at call centers in India are voting in huge numbers — but the one theory that has risen above all the others is that Dave Della Terza’s website, votefortheworst.com, has finally garnered enough users to have a true impact on the show.
The site has been around since season 3, when it made Jennifer Hudson its first pick for the semifinals. But this year, bolstered by Della Terza’s appearance on VFTW fan Howard Stern’s radio show, the site has become a household name. Has it really had an impact? Nobody, including Della Terza, claims for certain that it has. Is it mean-spirited and hateful, as Idol producers have said? Probably a little bit. Has it created a new level of enjoyment (and possibly a new bloc of viewers) for the already enormously popular show? A resounding yes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It seems that Sanjaya is the most popular Vote for the Worst candidate ever. How much of an impact do you think your site has on that?
I think we’ve been more successful this year, even if you just look at the Web stats. We get way more people visiting the site this year, and I get way more e-mail from people saying ”I’m helping you out, I’m voting for Sanjaya this week.” Then there’s all the press attention we’re getting, so I definitely think this year, it’s a lot bigger.
Do you think you have a measurable impact, though?
I think so. They tell everyone at home, ”Every vote counts,” but then the producers say, ”Oh, that website doesn’t count. They have lots and lots of votes, but they don’t count.” That doesn’t make any sense. They’re contradicting themselves. So I think if any one of us voted it’d have some impact, but if you have thousands and thousands of people voting, it does something.
The latest available stats show that you get about 2 million page views, and that number is growing. Are you just generally deducing that the increase in interest equals more votes and more of an impact on the show’s results, or do you have actual numbers that prove it?
Yeah, we don’t take it all that seriously. Some people take American Idol so seriously, but for us this is just something fun to do. If Sanjaya goes home, Sanjaya goes home. Ya know, some people write me death threats, but this is just a cheesy TV show. I’d love for Sanjaya to stick around, but if he goes home, we’ll move on with our lives. It’s not that big of a deal. I don’t think we try that hard to say we’re having a measurable impact…. I just want entertaining people to stick around the show, so it doesn’t matter to me if they win. The more bad performances we get the better. The longer Sanjaya stays around, the more fun it’ll be. If Sanjaya goes home, the show is gonna suck.
So is your site meant to wreak havoc on Idol, or is it just another fan site that has found a different entertaining aspect of the show by supporting these unorthodox performers?
I think it’s definitely more entertaining than it is trying to mess up the show. People say we’re trying to kill the show. We’ve been doing this for a few seasons now — we don’t want the show to die. If the show is gone, we don’t have anything to make fun of. We want the show to stick around. It’s a guilty pleasure. It’s such a terrible, terrible show to us, that it’s fun to watch.
But there are those who would say that, if you have an impact, then you are throwing off what a lot of people enjoy as viewers: seeing who they perceive as the best singer move on to the next round.
But our favorite is Sanjaya. We’re voting for one person. If you didn’t vote for Stephanie Edwards or Chris Sligh, that’s your fault because you didn’t vote for them enough. If Sanjaya goes home, that’s our fault because we didn’t vote for him enough.
Maybe the purpose has changed since you first created the site, but I think the title, ”Vote for the Worst,” sort of implies from the beginning that you are purposely trying to get the worst person to win.
They put people in there like Sanjaya who obviously aren’t very good. So you look at the finalists and you think, ”If these are the 24 best singers they could find in the entire country, then they did a terrible job.” It’s obvious that they put some bad singers in there so we can all talk about it the next day. We think, ”Well, if you’re going to put those people in there, we’re going to vote for them, because those are the people that we like to watch.”
I still think that the title of the site gives people the impression that you’re trying to be a spoiler. You’re called ”Vote for the Worst,” but now it seems you’re saying it’s more like an organized campaign to vote for the candidate you like best.
”Worst” sounds negative, but it’s not the worst to us. We love those people. We love Sanjaya. People think we hate him and that we’re mocking him — we actually love him and think he’s hysterical, which is why he’s our favorite at this point. There’s tons of people who don’t get that we actually love him.
So you don’t just support the one who you think sucks the most?
We say they have to be entertaining. Haley Scarnato is probably a worse singer than Sanjaya, but she’s boring, so she’d never be Vote for the Worst, because she doesn’t entertain us at all. I guess if they were an excellent singer they couldn’t be our pick. Melinda Doolittle would never be our pick because she sings too well. There has to be some level of their not being able to sing as well as the others, but I think it’s also the entertaining factor, the producers-and-judges-don’t-like-them factor. A lot of things go into it.