Web Site Gives Tech-Savvy American Idol Fans An Edge - InformationWeek

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Web Site Gives Tech-Savvy American Idol Fans An Edge

Fans can download free software that correlates the number of busy signals for each contestant, providing a good idea of who's getting the most votes.

Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks will face the last round of competition in the fifth "American Idol" tonight (Tuesday, May 23), with the winner announced Wednesday.

At 9:03 PM EDT Tuesday, predictions for the winner will begin streaming into the DialIdol.com Web site. The software will automatically calculate and post the estimates, said Jim Hellriegel, a 30-year-old network engineer from Cleveland, Ohio,

Hellriegel developed a program last year to help him speed-dial votes for his favorite "American Idol" contestants. Then he realized busy signals correlated to votes, and most busy signals on Tuesday night turned out as top vote-winners on Wednesday.

This year, Hellriegel bought the DialIdol.com Web site URL and posted the software application. Now fans can download free software he wrote that sends statistics on busy signals directly to his Web site, which ranks contestants in real time. The software is free and available on the site. Hellriegel estimates about 50,000 "American Idol" fans have downloaded the software.

The reality show ''American Idol'' from Fox has spawned some interesting Web sites where fans can dissect the latest Idol chatter. DialIdol.com is one.

The Web site has been accurate in predicting outcomes for each "elimination" show by using a program that measures busy signals for each contestant. Hellriegel said the application can predict the outcome with 86 percent accuracy.

Hellriegel wrote the application in Microsoft Corp.'s Visual Basic .Net. "I'm not a programmer by trade," he said. "I'm a Windows server engineering kind of guy. I do VB scripting.

The software uses the modem installed on the computer and phone line to automate the dialing process to vote on their favorite contestant. Each call results in a busy signal or vote. The DialIdol software allows users to automate the vote and monitors the information, submitting the data back to DialIdol.com where Hellriegel tallies the votes and busy signals. He calls it "measuring the busy signal."

The software managed to predict the fall of Chris Daughtry two weeks ago, and last week when Elliott Yamin was issued his walking papers Wednesday, sending Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks through to the finals.

Yamin got 33.06 percent of the 50 million votes cast after Tuesday's episode, according to Fox. McPhee and Hicks scored slightly higher percentage points, with one earning 33.68 percent of the votes and one earning 33.26 percent, respectively.

The site has created so much buzz that Hellriegel had to hire an attorney when he received a "cease and desist" order from the parent company of "American Idol" on March 22. "They sent the C&D claiming things that weren't true, and I know I'm not doing anything wrong, so I hired a lawyer to back me up," Hellriegel said. "We responded and haven't heard from them since."

Hellriegel wants Fox to recognize DialIdol.com as "a great extension of the American Idol publicity machine, and we compliment each other." The site gets more than 2.5 million visitors from the time the performance shows end on Tuesdays to the beginning of the elimination shows Wednesdays.

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