April 3, 2007 2:15 PM PDT

VoteForTheWorst.com has American Idol's number

It started as a joke on a reality television message board.

Now VoteForTheWorst.com draws upward of 6 million hits a day, gets plugs from shock jock Howard Stern and inspires legal threats from preteen American Idol fans who can't even spell the word "lawsuit."

Dave Della Terza started the site in 2004 to encourage the public to vote for contestants whom producers would hate to see win the popular Fox talent show. This year, thanks in part to a 17-year-old singer with a small voice and big hair, Internet rankings have placed VFTW as the second most popular American Idol Web site next to the official Web page.

"Part of it is Sanjaya, part of it is Howard Stern," the 24-year-old Della Terza told CNET News.com. "He has really embraced it and talks about it all the time."

Sanjaya Malakar, for anyone who has managed to avoid the relentless hype of America's most watched television show, is that ponyhawk-wearing Seattle-area teenager with the sweet smile who manages--possibly due to the efforts of VFTW--to advance week after week despite the wide perception that he's among the more talent-challenged of the remaining nine contestants. He's also VFTW's current pick.

Dave Della Terza poses with
former AI contestant Brenna Gethers.

"No one is as good as him right now," said Della Terza, who teaches media theory at a community college near Chicago when he's not running VFTW. "Good" that is, in a "Vote for the Worst" kind of way. Which means, he's willing to get up in front of millions and shake his unpredictably coiffed tresses in the face of the judges' consistently less-than-stellar feedback.

"Sanjaya is not a bad singer," stressed Della Terza. "It's the fact that he's so corny, over the top, silly, awkward...He's embracing his 'Vote-for-the-Worst-ness.' He understood that this is a cheesy karaoke talent show"--and one that some believe rejects true talent in favor of contestants who make for good TV.

Some of the more serious Idol devotees, of course, would clearly bristle at that assessment.

Among the many hostile e-mails Della Terza receives are letters threatening him with physical harm and, in essence, accusing him of messing with America's democracy.

"I hate youall![sic]" a site visitor named James wrote in this message published in its original unedited form. "I will personly call or write the presedent Gerorge w. bush about your site if you dont take it down right away. I also have a relitive who is a lawyer who i will call and tell him to sue you, as what you are doing is unamerican and illegal.... you are makin a joke of the show and the voting by americans."

"The hate mail is probably my favorite part of the entire site," Della Terza said, noting the preponderance of humorous misspellings in the average angry missive. But "we get a lot of appreciative mail, too. In recent weeks, we've been getting a lot more mail with people saying they love the site."

Idol honchos, not surprisingly, do not fall into that latter category. In a curious metaphor, producer Nigel Lythgoe has likened the site to "a fly buzzing around a cow" and Della Terza has received letters from the Idol juggernaut demanding the removal of all copyrighted material (Della Terza said he complied) and saying he'd be hearing from the show's lawyers.

"It's crazy," he said. "If American Idol had been around in the 1990s, this never could have happened. There are so many different things you can do on (the Internet) that were never possible before."

When Della Terza first posted the "wouldn't it be funny if?" message board comment that led to the birth of VFTW, he didn't even know HTML. Now, with the help of a "Web guy," he spends hours a day updating the site from his home. The site, which costs about $700 a month to run, Della Terza said, is adding an additional server, and regularly piles on bandwidth.

"It's a lot of work," Della Terza said. "I say it's like another full-time job for me. It's seven days a week...but it's fun, for now."

See more CNET content tagged:
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Let's define "idol"...
Here's the thing. In America, people think that an "idol" should be heavily talented in one or more ways. This really isn't so. I'm not that much into American pop culture, as I favor Asian pop culture a lot more.

Speaking which, Japanese idols are much different. Back in the 1970s and through the 1990s, idols in Japan were basically teenage girls who were basically cute, wore dresses and bathing suits, had a girl-next-door look to her, and would simply be the girl everyone would want as a sister/girlfriend/daughter. And most of them in the earlier days had Dorothy Hamill hair-do's. Girls like Yamaguchi Momoe, Mori Masako, Minamino Yoko, and all the way up to Matsuda Seiko and Sakai Noriko - they ALL were HUGE idols in Japan and throughout Eastern Asia. Fans just idolized them because they liked these girls - not because they sang well or had killer stage presence. For me, likeability is all that is needed for a person to become an idol.

This VFTW movement, to me, brings the idol back to the Japanese definition of idol - and that is the likeability component. Bring the idol back to the fans - and not how FOX defines idol.
Posted by groink_hi (380 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I DO think the American Idol should be heavily talented...
Especially if they are going to be handed a recording contract, the
big prize Fox promises. It goes back to American Idol being a
SINGING competition.
If you're really into Asian pop culture, more power to you.
Posted by rockstarstatus (70 comments )
Link Flag
That's not the slightest bit shallow...
Posted by advs89 (68 comments )
Link Flag
Rock Star gets the talent
Idol can't get the really talented singers - at least in the past two
years. The worst singer on Rockstar (INXS and Supernova last year)
was better than the best on Idol. The difference is, Idol is simply
entertainment at the expense of the singers, Rockstar actually was
looking for real talent.
Posted by ewelch (767 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Howard Stern
Howard Stern.... Howard Stern?! You've got to be kidding me. Nobody knows what the hell he's talking about anymore because NOBODY'S LISTENING TO HIM. He's an irrelevant old sot. The only person who thinks he has that much influence anymore is, well, Howard Stern.
Posted by verucabong (44 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Howard alive and well
Millions of people have Sirius and the show is better than ever. Get a clue.
Posted by jg867 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Ooooh, I wish I could vote for that Sat-watsit guy!
I tried. I'm from the Philippines and unfortunately I can't. Can't text, can't call (I don't want to pay the long distance charges). On the other hand, if it means messing with American Idol, it might be WORTH the long distance charges...
Posted by quentintarantado (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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