Why Some Are Calling Jessica Sanchez the “World Idol” And Other Twitter Mysteries

A social media meme of sorts has popped up in the Philippine online space since yesterday’s American Idol results. The meme goes: “Jessica Sanchez may have lost American Idol but she is the World Idol” or something to that effect.

It sounds like consolation (or shall we say “consuelo de bobo“) for the hopelessly diehard fans still reeling from the results – shocking to some, but predictable to me, as I had an inside track that the Philip Philips – the archetypical “white guy with the guitar” – was going to win. After all, the most recent winners were all white guys with guitars! But I also knew that the twitterverse had revealed a more scientific explanation, as detailed in my last post “Did Twitter Correctly Predict the Winner of American Idol?”

That post detailed the findings of the paper “Beating the news using Social Media: the case study of American Idol“ written by a group of reputable social scientists (read the PDF here) and essentially pointed out that despite mentions of Jessica Sanchez consistently beating her out her opponents in global social media updates (specifically Twitter) over the course of the last few episodes, if you narrowed down the tweets to just those coming from the USA – Philip Philips was going to win. And he did.

Because at the end of the day, the show is called “American Idol” and the votes are cast in the good old USA.

While the American Idol live broadcast on Star World was underway Thursday morning, I had an interesting exchange with Maria Ressa of the blog Rappler.com over Twitter. Two hours before the show results, Rappler had just posted an provocative analysis called “Social Media Indicates Jessica is Next Idol” which in a nutshell laid out a case, supported by all sorts of twitter analysis tools, infographics and such – that explained why Jessica Sanchez was the most likely winner.

I had just read the previously mentioned paper, so I replied to Ressa’s tweet by pointing out that Geolocation (the geographic origin of the tweets – embedded into the twitter stream via mobile apps and web browsers) is relevant. And I pointed out a link to the paper, which Maria Ressa had not apparently seen before.

Ressa defended the initial analysis: “(We) Looked at total activity: follower growth, socialmention, sentiment140 & Zaba research (which uses predictive engine model)”…

But I reiterated the relevance of geolocation in doing this type of armchair analysis – American Idol may have a worldwide audience, but the voting mechanics are still locked in to the USA.

The paper’s methodology went one step further than the Rappler analysis because it examined the geolocation information in the tweets to determine where the data was coming from. And in the final analysis, Philip Philips had the most mentions in the USA – hence was more popular than Jessica where the votes counted. And thus he was most likely to win, as he did.

Quoting from the paper:

In the US, Phillip appears to have the largest fanbase of the two contestants (see also the cartogram of Figure 6). If the possibility of votes coming from abroad is discarded, using the available data, we could then claim that Phillip is going to be the winner of the 11th edition of American Idol.

About an hour after the Idol results, Rappler reversed its previous findings with a series of articles explaining Why Philip Philips actually beat Jessica Sanchez – this time citing the findings of the Social Media paper.

Ironically, a cursory glance at the Twitter and Facebook stats showed that the follow up piece garnered thousands more social media mentions than the original article which predicted Jessica Sanchez would win. So in page view terms, it was all good.

While Rappler may have erred in its original analysis, both studies show that if you just went by the total amount of tweets that whizzed by the twitterverse, Jessica Sanchez really did have the most amount of global support.

That is, if you consider “global support” to equate non-USA support. Further analysis will need to be done about a geographic country distribution of the tweet origins, but the paper did cite the Philippines as a source of the majority of the Idol tweets. So in yet another case, pinoys have shown their mastery of online medium.

As the paper pointed out, in the course of the American Idol tweet-a-thon, “The Philippines are distinctly more active than any other foreign country.”

Interestingly enough, the paper also expounded on the type of cheat techniques used by Filipinos (widely publicized in Philippine social media circles) to cheat the voting system.

The voting rules of American Idol are quite clear, as cited in the paper:

On Wednesday the participants perform on stage and the public is invited to vote for two hours after the show ends. Voting can take one of three forms: toll-free phone calls, texting and online voting. The rules of the competition only allow for votes casted by the residents of the U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

These rules clearly exclude the Philippines, but crafty pinoys devised “voting tunnels” that allowed to vote from the Philippines.

Officialy, Sanchez’s popularity abroad should not have any impact on voting, since, as mentioned above, only the U.S. based audience is allowed to take part into the election procedure. However, it is interesting to note that the Filipino-restricted Twitter activity concerning Jessica is strongly peaked in the two voting sessions of American Idol for the East and West timezones, and that numerous websites explicitly address the issue of ”voting tunnels”: “

Here’s an example of one of the many blog posts detailing “How to Vote for Jessica Sanchez from the Philippines and Other Non-US Countries” .

It’s unclear if these attempts to vote from outside the US actually worked. But even the paper mentioned this phenomenon as a possible wild card:

Officially, Sanchez’s popularity abroad should not have any impact on voting, since, as mentioned above, only the U.S. based audience is allowed to take part into the election procedure….  Although we have no proof of any irregular voting activity, tweets analysis clearly points out to a possible anomaly that may be a concern.

In the end though – all these nefarious methods failed to crack the American heartland. The Americans voted, and got their American Idol.

Jessica Sanchez might still be qualified as a “World Idol” – in a world predominantly Filipino 🙂

But don’t weep too bad for the gifted 16-year old, whose considerable vocal chops will get her a career span’s worth of notable gigs. The first bit of news came out on the Twitterverse before the American Idol results were announced, , attributed to Mexican singer/actress Thalia:

@thalia: WOWgreat news! #TommyMottola just call me from #AmericanIdol & he is confirm to work in the first #JessicaSanchez CD

Tommy Mottola (Thalia’s husband) was the ex Sony chief who essentially created Mariah Carey back in the day (and subsequently married her). That does smell “hit record” (or “hit download” as they might say today). So even if “the white dude with the guitar” got the plum prize, Jessica Sanchez has landed on her feet and then some.

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