Friday, April 27, 2007

Beating the Phone Game for American Idol

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2007 at 4:24 PM

It might have been a shock to most of the country when Sanjaya, the American Idol contestant everyone loved to hate, was kicked off the show last week. But Jim Hellriegel wasn’t surprised. The IT tech from Mentor had predicted Sanjaya’s outing the night before. Hellriegel is the creator of dialidol.com, a free, downloadable program, that allows users to continuously dial their favorite American Idol contestant’s phone number via computer modem. It allows constant dialing until it gets through, helping viewers avoid busy signals. Dialidol is the closest thing to a crystal ball watchers have to see who’ll get kicked off each week. Hellriegel uses data retrieved by his program determine which contestant’s lines are the hardest to get through. His logic: Contestants with the least amount of busy signals get the least votes. In two years of operating, Hellriegel has more than an 80 percent accuracy rate in predicting the week’s loser. As a result, Hellriegel is no longer a supporter of American Idol conspiracy theories. “I’d have loved to be the one to find out that American Idol had lied to the public [about the voting numbers], but instead I’ve found they’ve been nothing but truthful,” he says. Every time Hellriegel’s predictions didn’t match with the week’s results, he’d find a problem with his program – not American Idol’s. Hellriegel created the program two years ago after spending a frustrating night trying to cast a vote for Bo Brice. The next weekend, he arrived at a solution. After Hellriegel’s site exploded last year, Fox sent him a cease-and-desist letter. Hellriegel and his lawyer fought the order, and he hasn’t heard from the network since. He says his program can’t predict the eventual winner, since each week there’s a different tally. But he does have his own personal forecasts. “I kind of feel like Jordan and Blake may shock everyone,” he says. “Though they’re also my two favorites, so maybe that’s biased.” – Rebecca Meiser

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