There is something about “American Idol” that extracts intense emotions from the audience: devotion for the contestants, perhaps, or passion for the songs. For Dave Della Terza, it elicits utter disgust. But it also turns a profit.
Frustrated by what he called the manipulative nature of the televised singing competition, Mr. Della Terza started encouraging readers of a reality television message board five years ago to vote for the contestants they deemed the worst singers.
The idea spawned a Web site, Vote for the Worst, which received widespread attention last year for supporting the singer Sanjaya Malakar as he advanced in the competition.
For Mr. Della Terza, what started as a hobby has become a business. Last year, the site had revenue of roughly $40,000, Mr. Della Terza said, mostly through Google Ads. While some of the income paid for computer servers and legal fees, the site still made a profit, allowing Mr. Della Terza to take some days off work to maintain the increasingly popular site.
Mr. Della Terza is far from the only person cashing in on the “American Idol” juggernaut. The publisher of the popular “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series is promoting an Idol-themed edition. Walt Disney World is adding an Idol attraction to its Hollywood Studios theme park. Royal Caribbean International is embarking on Idol cruises.
But Vote for the Worst is unique, not only because it openly mocks the competition but also because it was formed spontaneously by an Internet-connected group of television viewers.
“It didn’t start out as a moneymaking venture; it wasn’t an attempt to leech off the ‘American Idol’ brand,” Mr. Della Terza said. “It started as a joke. But people really enjoyed it.”
The site now routinely breaks “Idol” news. In the first week of March, the site recorded 2.7 million page views as it reported rumors that a contestant, David Hernandez, had a background as a male stripper. Mr. Hernandez was voted off the show last week.
Mr. Della Terza said he did not expect to resemble a gossip columnist anytime soon. Still, the site has unintentionally become a font of “Idol” stories. Reports by Vote for the Worst in January that two “Idol” contestants had professional singing backgrounds subsequently became fodder for the news media. (Any person who is not under contract is eligible to audition.)
“We always post stuff on the site the producers don’t want you to know,” Mr. Della Terza said. “We don’t go out of our way to dig up dirt, but if it falls in our laps, obviously we’ll post it.”
The site’s fame rose last season when the radio personality Howard Stern repeatedly mentioned the site and encouraged listeners to vote to keep Mr. Malakar on the show.
In a conference call with reporters last month, Nigel Lythgoe, the executive producer of “American Idol,” said he did not believe online voting campaigns have any effect. “There are too many people who vote,” he said.
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