Is the Hillsong congregation skewing Australian Idol results by voting for their own? Today Tonight raised the question on Wednesday, noting that four of the eight remaining finalists are Hillsong members, and one is a born-again Christian.

Whether the church is distorting the vote by legal means is not a new question. The Christian question has been hovering over Idol ever since Adelaide-boy and churchgoer Guy Sebastian took home the first Idol crown. Since then a pewful of worshippers has passed through the Idol finals process.

In some quarters “there are mutterings that Idol contestants connected to large congregations have an advantage in a competition that relies on a popular vote”, wrote The Age‘s Katherine Kizilos last year, noting that 2006 finalist Dean Geyer worshipped at Adelaide’s City Church while others — Guy Mutton (Mutto), Jessica Mauboy and Lavina Williams — all sang in church. So did finalists from other years: Paulini Curuenavuli and Lavina’s sister, Emily.

Christian groups have downplayed the voting influence, saying it’s all that training in church choirs that sets their flock in good stead. In other words, talent triumphs. Or perhaps it’s all that training in Idol pizazz — Hillsong Church is a place where “all the nasty, negative bits of Christianity have been removed and we’re all winning contestants in a cosmic version of Australian Idol,” writes Pinky Beecroft in Manic Times.

Whatever you make of the Hillsong factor, Crikey understands that other denominations have also been pitching for their congregation’s 15 minutes. We have word from the dancefloor that Dancing with the Stars winner Kate Ceberano was strongly supported in her ballroom bid by voters in the Scientology community. In fact, we hear there was an organised campaign in finals week by her “people” to rally her other people. Then again, runner-up Fifi Box had the not insignificant weight of Triple M’s marketing department behind her.

Of course, it’s all conjecture. Voting for reality shows like Australian Idol isn’t broken down into religious electorates. In fact, in public view, it’s not even broken down into vote numbers.

In 2003, when Idol judge Ian “Dicko” Dickson inadvertently told The SMH that 1.4 million votes had been clocked in a 24-hour voting period for one final show he broke with Ten policy.

How many votes does it take to push someone over the line? Equally hard to know, though it’s likely to be in the thousands or tens of thousands. A number not out of reach of large congregations.

If you’re looking for the recipe for Idol (or indeed reality TV) success find yourself in a small (but not tiny) community, the more parochial the better.

Bendigo girl and third Idol, Kate DeAraugo, was plagued with rumours that her family bought community votes to get her through. True or not, the small town factor no doubt played its part.

If you can belong to a large church and a medium-sized community — where most people know your name — even better. Oh, and some chops wouldn’t hurt either.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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