LOS ANGELES -- Theories flew fast and furious Thursday after the "American Idol" viewer vote went against favorite Jennifer Hudson, ranging from racism to fateful weather to teenage puppy love.
Or maybe America just has a tin ear.
While Hudson and two other singers lavishly praised by the show's judges ended up at the bottom of the heap Wednesday night, contestants who gave marginal performances were top vote-getters.
Hudson, Fantasia Barrino and La Toya London - "The Three Divas," as they've become known - seemed to have the best shot at taking the Fox TV contest. But they were less popular than their competition, including redheaded crooner John Stevens, a 16-year-old whose highest compliment from the judges was that he was a nice guy.
With the lowest vote tally, Hudson was bumped from the show. Even series host Ryan Seacrest chastised viewers.
"America, don't forget you have to vote for the talent. You have to keep your favorites in the competition. You cannot let talent like this slip through the cracks," he said after results were announced Wednesday.
Series judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul play an advisory role after helping winnow down the field of 70,000 applicants to 32 semi-finalists and then, with viewers, to 12 finalists. The audience takes charge from there until the winner is picked.
Hudson, appearing Thursday on Seacrest's talk show - Fox's "On-Air With Ryan Seacrest" - said it was the public outcry, more than the vote, that shocked her. "I didn't realize the impact that I had," she said.
A storm that caused a power outage in the Midwest may have been a factor in Hudson's ouster, TV entertainment newsmagazine "Extra" said Thursday.
More than 15,000 people in Hudson's hometown of Chicago were unable to watch the show or dial in Tuesday night, when the vote turned out to be the closest in the show's three-year history, "Extra" said.
Jackson, who said losing Hudson was "nuts," told "Extra" he thought the outage could have been a problem but it wasn't enough to alter the outcome. Fox didn't release the viewer vote count this week, but about 24 million votes were recorded last week.
Others offered more cynical assessments.
"It simply seems inconceivable that the 'Idol' results would turn out this way," Sam Rubin, an entertainment reporter with local station KTLA, said on the air. "You would almost expect (boxing promoter) Don King to replace Ryan, it looked so fixed."
"'American Idol' is telling the world that John actually got more votes than Jennifer," one outraged fan wrote in a Web site posting. "The bottom 3 is really the top 3. It was rigged!!"
The New York Post reported it was deluged with calls complaining that the voting was racially motivated: Hudson, Barrino and London are black. (The Post is owned by News Corp., which also owns Fox TV.)
George Huff, still in the competition, is black, as was last year's winner, Ruben Studdard. "American Idol," unlike other reality shows featuring competition, is more popular in black homes than white homes.
For the current season, the show was watched in 19 percent of all black households, compared to 15 percent of white households, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Questions of racism also came up in the first season, after talented Tamyra Gray was voted off.
A call to Fox for comment on this week's vote was not immediately returned.
One online posting compared the contest results to Academy Award voting.
"It is the same in years when someone wins an Oscar because three better films split the votes. The three ladies more than likely have people voting along the same demographic and that splits their vote," the message said.
Other remaining contestants are Diana DeGarmo and Jasmine Trias.
Internet chatter included speculation that the female teen audience the show attracts in big numbers was skewing the vote toward the male contestants, Huff and Stevens.
For London "to be put in the bottom three proved what Simon has been saying all along ... 'That's what you get when America votes,"' another online message proclaimed.
"As proven with last night's results, you can never assume that any contestant is safe," said "American Idol" executive producer Ken Warwick. "You can never assume that they have enough votes. It's imperative that viewers vote for their favorite idol every week."
For the contestants, a recording contract and instant career are at stake. But the show has produced winners among those who didn't finish first: Last season's runner-up, Clay Aiken, has outsold Studdard, while third-place finisher Kimberley Locke has an upcoming album. Gray has been visible as an actress and singer.
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