Controversies aside, Santilli believes voting still matters. "I don't think fans will ever stop voting," she said. "It's so emotional. When you're in the moment, you're just trying to get your person to the next week."
Who wins, however, seems to matter less and less.
Ever since Hicks won and Daughtry came in fourth in season five, Santilli said the message has been that you don't have to win to be a star.
"You can have a fairly successful music career without winning," she said, singling out Daughtry, who's debut album sold more than 4 million copies and was Billboard's number-one selling album in 2007.
Outsold by Daughtry, Hicks was dropped from the Arista label after earning the distinction of having the lowest-selling album of any "Idol" winner.
After last season, it was Lambert's career that eclipsed Allen's. Lambert has grabbed more headlines and sold more records.
"It's never been about records," Ju'Not Joyner, a top 20 finalist from last season, told ABCNews.com. "It's about the show and ad revenue."
During a live chat on a fan Web site in July, Joyner said Allen's victory on the show was rigged.
"The producers know who they want and they slant it to reflect that," Joyner said. "They fix it in a way that makes you surprised but it's still manipulated. Think about it: Adam, Adam, Adam, then... Kris. Surprise!"
Joyner, who is working on his debut album, titled "I Am," said the producers manipulate the audience by spotlighting certain contestants.
"They airbrush certain pictures," Joyner said. "Certain people are made to look a certain way. Lights and camera angles are saved for the end of the show. That's how they create a TV star."
Buckles, whose novel, "Stage 46: The Reality of Reality Television," is loosely based on his experiences working on "Idol," confirms Joyner's suspicions.
"You can clearly see in shows and comments by the judges that they have their favorites without question," he said. "Producers will focus more on this or that contestant. They'll say it's an amateur show and everyone is treated fairly but I believe they have their favorites going in and they try to sway the viewing public."
For now, all the controversy seems to play in the show's favor and keep the public tuning in. Despite declining ratings for the third year in a row, "Idol" remains the No. 1 show on television.
But there are plenty of other questions, such as how DeGeneres will mesh with the other judges and whether Cowell's departure will spell the end of "Idol." They make the question of who will win and how they're chosen less and less relevant.