As the controversy over the ''American Idol'' vote counting continues, producers are taking some unprecedented steps to reassure viewers that the system is not being compromised by hackers and power dialers. One step was to grant a rare press interview with an official from Telescope, Inc., the independent firm that tallies the votes. ''We've got the biggest, best and fairest system available,'' Telescope general manager Sandy King told USA Today. King insisted that Telescope had procedures to prevent voter abuses like voting outside the two-hour post-show window or computer-assisted power dialers who vote hundreds of times. But she acknowledged one of the main criticisms leveled earlier this week in a report in trade publication Broadcasting & Cable, that the volume of calls can be overwhelming to local phone companies, preventing many calls from getting through to AT&T's long-distance pipeline. ''The call figures are astronomical,'' King said. ''Only a certain number can be processed at the local level.''
King's insistence that Telescope doesn't count calls made outside the two-hour window was contradicted last week by some Hawaiian fans of homegirl Jasmine Trias, callers who told the Honolulu Advertiser that they had been able to vote early and often by learning Trias' vote code from contacts on the mainland. In any case, ''Idol'' producers will address this issue during next week's finale by doubling the voting window to four hours. However, Fox insists that the move is not a response to criticism of the voting system. ''It has always been our plan for next week's finale to open the lines for an unprecedented four-hour voting period to alleviate congestion,'' the network said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the New York Times, judge Simon Cowell continued to blame viewer complacency for the votes that resulted in the ousters of critical favorites Jennifer Hudson and La Toya London. ''The reality is that those people simply aren't getting enough votes,'' he said. ''We have a lot of passive viewers on 'American Idol' who enjoy watching, and enjoy the controversy afterward, but don't pick up the phone.'' Asked to predict who'd win the grand prize next week, he predicted victory for Diana DeGarmo. ''I thought she was a stage-school brat when I first met her. But she's quite a nice girl,'' he said. ''And she's our little Seabiscuit.''