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How Twitter helped predict Phillip Phillips' American Idol victory
The online news portal of TV5

The results are in and the winner has been declared, but many are still wondering how 21-year-old Phillip Phillips walked away with the crown of this year's American Idol contest.

A recent study about social media may have the answer. 

In a paper entitled "Beating the news using Social Media: the case study of American Idol," researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University in Boston used analytics to gauge contestants' popularity among Twitter users and the eventual outcome of the show.

It concluded that while Phillips had a strong and wide fan base in the US, his rival Jessica Sanchez had a larger global following based on geolocated posts on the social networking site Twitter. [See: Study]

"We provide evidence that Twitter activity during the time span defined by the TV show airing and the voting period following it, correlates with the contestants ranking and allows the anticipation of the voting outcome," the researchers said.

In their paper, the proponents correctly predicted the order of the contestants' elimination in the Top 5 based purely on viewers' tweets, from Skylar's exit on May 3 up to Joshua's shocking defeat on May 17.

By measuring Twitter attention given to particular contestants in the Top 5, the researchers were able to predict who got the boot each week. 

Based on the number of tweets mentioning Jessica Sanchez alone, it was a safe to say that she would be taking home the Idol crown this year.

This assumption, however, comes with a crucial caveat. while the study noted how Sanchez had such a strong global following--even singling out the Philippines as one of the active points for tweets--Phillips simply had the larger following in the US, where all of the voting takes place. 

"In the US, Phillip appears to have the largest fanbase of the two contestants," the study explained. "If the possibility of votes coming from abroad is discarded, using the available data, we could then claim that Phillip is going to be the winner of the 11th edition of American Idol."

According to data gathered by the researchers, Twitter chatter was favorable for Jessica Sanchez around the world, except that Phillip Phillips narrowly won in the US. 

As the study correctly predicted, Phillips took home the American Idol title on Thursday, much to the dismay of Filipino fans rooting for Sanchez worldwide.

The study is one of the early use cases of social media as a barometer for public sentiment and event outcomes, as people around the world express their sentiments and voice their preferences on what has supposedly become the water cooler equivalent of the 21st century.

In February, the Los Angeles Times in partnership with IBM ran a similar analytical study, this time for the outcome of the 84th Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars.

Two days before the Oscar awards night, chatter about the eventual winners in the three major categories–-The Artist, Meryl Streep, and Jean Dujardin-—were among the most talked about according to the study, suggesting that sentiments of Twitter users could indeed be a good measure of the awards' outcome. [See: Oscars and Twitter]