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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

'Idol' singer Barba nets instant fame

By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
American Idol semifinalist Antonella Barba is quickly becoming a literal poster girl for the volatile mix of instant fame and Internet technology.
Revealing photos, purportedly of the 20-year-old, have been online for nearly a week. But pictures Friday on multiple sites, supposedly of Barba in a sex act, have boosted her to the peak of Internet interest.

'IDOL' CHATTER: What do you think about the controversy?

Expect more of such situations, because digital images are hard to control and simple to spread around the world, says Steve Jones, who teaches new media at the University of Illinois at Chicago: "I'm surprised we haven't had incidents of this kind more regularly."

Digital technology also bypasses film processing, which can tempt some to take more revealing photos, and it means photos are easily altered.

In an interview with The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., Barba's friend and fellow auditioner Amanda Coluccio verified the authenticity of some pictures, including one of Barba naked but strategically covered, which she said was part of a calendar made for Barba's boyfriend.

But she said she's certain the explicit photos are not of Barba. "The really bad ones aren't her. I've studied them. It's not her nose. She's never had (acrylic nail) tips in her life. She's the least slutty person I know."

Barba has been brought to tears over the controversy and is worried about what her parents think, Coluccio says. A call to the Barba home Monday was not returned, and Fox would not comment, but the singer remains in the competition.

Real or doctored, the images have made Barba one of the most popular search terms. For the week ending Saturday, Barba ranked third, behind Britney Spears and ahead of Idol, on Google's list of top 10 gainers. On Yahoo for the week ending Sunday, searches for Barba were 21/2 times greater than for Oscar honoree and former Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson.

Message board reaction is split over whether the uproar will help or hurt Barba, whose vocals have been criticized by Idol judges. Votefortheworst.com, which encourages votes for singers considered least deserving, recommends Barba.

Idol has had Internet controversy before. Season 2 semifinalist Frenchie Davis was bounced after it was learned she had appeared on an adult website to earn college money.

Young people especially might not consider the ramifications of embarrassing material online, whether on a job interview or Idol, says Amanda Lenhart of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Although it's not known who distributed the photos, it's clear that once they are shared there is no control over how fast and far they go.

"What we're seeing is technologies developing before we have social rules to help guide how we use them," she says.

Posted 2/23/2007 9:58 PM ET


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