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An "Idol" Impostor (American Idol that is)

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An "Idol" Impostor (American Idol that is)

Old 02-18-03, 12:59 PM
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An "Idol" Impostor (American Idol that is)

An "Idol" Impostor
Thursday February 13 3:00 PM ET

By Lia Haberman

American Idol creators are ready to pull the plug on a phony operator.

The star-makers are suing a sneaky telemarketing firm they accuse of setting up a 900 number that snags callers who misdial Idol's toll-free number.

According to the suit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles by show producers Fremantle North America and 19 TV Ltd., a Utah firm called Telemarketing Inc. has set up an 800 number that shares the same final digits as the talent show's toll-free 866 number.

Producers of the Fox hit accuse the firm of swindling fans who mistakenly dial the bogus 800 number instead of the show's bona fide 866 number. Callers are then directed to call another 900 number where they can cast their vote for their favorite contestant--at a cost of $1.99.

The Idol creators seek unspecified damages, demand the fraudulent phone line be dismantled and want to block the firm from setting up any more similar numbers.

Attempts to find out how many voters misdialed were unsuccessful. News of the scam first surfaced during Tuesday's sing-off, when host Ryan Seacrest warned fans to be careful when dialing in their votes and be aware when asked to call a 900 number.

It's not the first time a telephone-based scheme has reached out and touched the show.

Phone-happy hackers may have affected the outcome of last season's star search. Producers admitted they were the victims of dozens of "power dialers" who combined high-tech know-how with powerful autodialing software (similar to what those pesky telemarketers employ) and fast Internet connections to make upwards of 10,000 calls from a single phone line.

Despite the concern, producers claimed the rapid-fire calls were "statistically insignificant" in swaying the outcome of the votes. (Right, then how does one explain Justin's second-place finish behind Kelly?)

Meanwhile, Idol has been making headlines all month before, even whittling the warblers down to its top 10 finalists.

Earlier this week, America learned that one of its favorites, Frenchie Davis, was disqualified for posing topless on a kiddie-porn site. Fox has long tolerated bondage and fetish stars, strippers, adult wrestlers and liars but finally drew the line on the questionable content.

Davis was the second Idol semifinalist to be booted before getting a chance to perform. Jaered Andrews was replaced last week for an undisclosed reason.

The controversy appears to have cleared for fellow contestant Lance Corporal Joshua Gracin. The Marine's singing chops were accused of saving him and his unit from front-line duty in the Middle East. Gracin's higher-ups denied the charges, and the young man still gets his shot at making it into the final 10 next week.

With only six spots left, Gracin better pack a punch when he performs. The American people chose semifinalists Ruben Studdard and Kimberley Locke last night to join Julia DeMato and Charles Grigsby as finalists competing for the Idol title.

Meanwhile, the country music-lovin' crowd is going to get some rock relief next month as USA Network launches Nashville Star on March 8. The twangy series puts a country twist on Idol and is hosted by Access Hollywood's Nancy O'Dell.

The 12 crooning contestants will shack up in a house together for nine weeks while competing to win a recording contract with Sony Music Nashville.


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