It began on Saturday, when Jim Hellriegel, the owner of DialIdol.com, was testing the numbers for the opening round of the "American Idol" top 13. It quickly spread to various "Idol" fan sites, gathered steam when Ryan Seacrest Twittered about it on Tuesday morning, then came to a head on Tuesday night's "Idol" broadcast.
It's the great Alexis Grace phone controversy. And it could be very bad.
If you're not quite sure what we're talking about, here's a quick breakdown: On Saturday, Hellriegel — who makes it a point of checking the phone numbers of each "Idol" contestant weekly — noticed that one number, (866) IDOLS-13, wasn't giving him the usual busy signal (as is the case if the numbers are dialed when the show's voting window is closed). Rather, it was very much live ... and owned by a company called Intimate Encounters, which offered callers decidedly un-"Idol" entertainment. At $3.99 per minute.
Obviously, this would pose a problem for whichever contestant drew the unlucky 13th spot on Tuesday night's show, as producers would have to find a suitable replacement phone number for him or her. As it turns out, that honor fell to Grace, the pint-sized powerhouse who wowed judges with her performance of Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" a few weeks back.
And though Seacrest made ample mentions of Grace's new number — (866) IDOLS-36 — throughout the telecast, the snafu has brought to light two very real issues. First, Grace could be bounced from the competition due to confused fans dialing the incorrect number. And second, why didn't "Idol" producers realize they didn't own IDOLS-13 until the day of the show?
"I thought they should've ordered a whole new set of numbers to even the playing field," said MJ, who runs noted "Idol" fan site MJsBigBlog.com. "There's no doubt that people dialed the wrong number last night ... and it seems to me that ['Idol' producers] should've known that they didn't own the number. But if you look at this whole season — the wild-card round, the rule changes — it sort of seems like everyone is flying by the seat of their pants."
So when exactly did "Idol" producers realize there was a problem with the IDOLS-13 phone number, and what — if any — plans do they have in place if Grace is eliminated and chooses to make a case out of the phone-number change?
Well, when MTV News reached out to 19 Entertainment, the company that produces "Idol," for clarification, a spokesperson would only say that "we have no comments on the phone-number issue." And luckily, it doesn't appear that it will have much impact on Wednesday night's (March 11) results show, either. As of this afternoon, Grace is currently sitting in fourth place, based on Dial Idol's predictions, meaning she'll avoid elimination this week.
"It looks like she's going to be safe this week, but this could've been a huge problem, and Alexis would totally have had a reason to be upset," MJ said. "Especially given that she had the 'pimp spot' [the nickname given to the final performance of the night], if she would've gotten voted off, there probably wouldn't have been any other reason besides the phone number. It would've been very out of the ordinary."