LOS ANGELES - Only days after cuddly big man Ruben Studdard won the American Idol crown, some sour notes are sounding.
According to Internet gossip Matt Drudge, serious questions are being raised about the integrity of the final Idol vote Wednesday, and the entire franchise may be at risk.
Studdard beat out Clay Aiken's gut-busting Broadway sound by 134,000 votes out of a total of 24 million phone-in votes. Or did he?
On his Web site, Drudge quotes an anonymous top executive from a rival network who smells something fishy.
"Listen, I've been around Hollywood for a long, long time, and this reeks of a contrived, phoney ending," the exec says. "No one here believes for one second the votes landed just 1,300 apart. It's a disgrace. ... In fact, I think we are looking at a modern-day version of the $64,000 Question."
The source points to Idol host Ryan Seacrest's questionable math during the Fox show. Seacrest announced that Ruben had won by a mere 1,335 votes and a 50.28 per-cent score for Ruben. Problem is, that figure puts him about 134,000 votes ahead of Clay. Fox says there's nothing more to the issue than Seacrest misreading the figure.
The source suggests an outside audit be performed on the vote tally, but he stopped short of calling for an official criminal probe. "I know how this works, and I just do not think the truth is being told here."
Fox will launch an internal review of what led to the voter tally confusion, said a network official.
Despite the confusion, the night was a ratings bonanza for Fox, peaking at 40 million during the last half hour. That tops the ratings for the Academy Awards in March.