We hear a lot about Russian bots these days — particularly relating to interference in the U.S. presidential election. Now we can add “rigging a talent show” to the list. The victory of a millionaire’s daughter on The Voice Kids in Russia turns out to have been the result of fraudulent votes.
According to BBC News, contestant Mikella Abramova won the competition with 56.5% of the phone vote, leading to public outcry and an investigation by cyber security firm Group-IB. The state-owned network Channel One said in a statement,
“The interim results of the check confirm that there was outside influence on the voting, which affected the result.”
Who Is Mikella Abramova?
The BBC reports that Mikella is the 10-year-old daughter of pop star Alsou, who came in second place in the 2000 Eurovision Song Contest. Her father is millionaire businessman Yan Abramov.
Mikella sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” during her blind audition, turning two coaches’ chairs. As BBC Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford wrote, “Mikella wasn’t awful. But the scale of her victory was distinctly fishy.” She added that Alsou had called on her 2 million Instagram followers to vote, and there were also reports that factory workers had been paid to vote.
How Were The Results Rigged?
According to the BBC, “sequential phone numbers” were used to send “automated votes,” with Group-IB saying in a statement, “More than 30,000 votes came in for one contestant from those phone numbers.”
Compare that to the less than 3,000 votes that Mikella’s fellow contestants received, and things definitely look suspicious. It is reportedly unclear who was behind the rigging.
How Did The Voice Kids Respond?
The results of the vote have been canceled, and Channel One has reportedly asked Group-IB to inspect its technology. A full report will be issued later this month, and the network says it will adopt a new voting mechanism before the next season.
“Children should not take the blame for actions carried out by somebody else,” Channel One said in a statement. The show will reportedly air a special episode on May 24, in which finalists and semi-finalists will perform.
Many viewers have celebrated this response, with the BBC reporting that one woman tweeted, “It’s a surprise for our country, and a nice one, that they listened to the people.”
What Does This Say About Talent Shows?
Obviously, this scandal has its own implications in Russia. As one Russian newspaper wrote in response to the news, perhaps people “will start to take the results of real elections as seriously as the results of a kids’ music contest.”
However, it’s also unlikely to dissuade conspiracy theorists who believe other talent shows to be rigged. American Idol has certainly had its fair share of controversies over the years, including 2009’s “Textgate.” That’s when AT&T gave out phones and taught Kris Allen fans “power texting,” or sending several votes at once.
Then there were the mysterious “superfans” who voted for AGT: The Champions earlier this year, leading some fans to wonder who was actually deciding the outcome. In fact, if you search Twitter for the title of a talent show plus the word “rigged,” you’ll find endless tweets from fans accusing their favorite shows of tampering with results.
Yes, the results of a singing competition are not as important as the results of an election, but it’s still important to keep things honest and accurate.