Thursday's "American Idol" results show was a big event for Dave Della Terza.
He's not competing on the hit Fox talent show, but his influence was never tested more.
As Web master of the popular and irreverent anti-"American Idol" site votefortheworst.com, Della Terza has played kingmaker and dream-crusher during the past five seasons. Most famously, the 25-year-old part-time teacher at College of DuPage launched a campaign that garnered the universally panned Sanjaya Malakar a seventh-place finish last year and made the young performer a household name.
It also garnered Della Terza guest spots with David Letterman's, Howard Stern's and other talk shows.
His sway with voters is arguably on par with surly Idol judge Simon Cowell. Though voters Thursday night eliminated his "worst" pick from the female crop, Amy Davis, Della Terza was more comfortable with his choice from the pool of men with Daniel Noriega, who remains in the hunt for the title.
From his home in the Western suburbs -- he doesn't give his hometown because of death threats and other harassment -- Della Terza has been gearing up for the new season.
His servers are barely able to handle the 10 million hits in the first 48 hours of live shows, his cell phone is on the fritz, and the female contestants are all boring him to tears.
"No, I'm not excited," he complained. "I just know how much work it's going to be."
While his site makes money, he's admittedly in it mainly to annoy producers and fans of the show.
Before results from the first rounds were announced, Della Terza gave the Daily Herald his cheeky and whimsical views on how he chooses his worst picks, hate mail and the cottage industries his site has spawned.
Q. What was it about Daniel Noriega that made him your early pick for worst?
A. Danny has just really got an exuberant personality, and he's really just larger than life. That kind of person is going to annoy the judges and annoy Simon.
Q. What specifically about his performance Tuesday kept him in that spot?
A. I expected him to be way more flamboyant, but when Simon called him grotesque and continued insulting him during other performers' critiques, I knew we had it.
Q. Danny seems like a pretty obvious pick for you guys.
A. I know. I almost thought we weren't going to vote for him because he seems like the producers' pick for Vote For The Worst. It seemed like a trap or something. I also thought Danny was going to sing too well and not talk back to the judges. But I was proven wrong.
Q. Amy Davis was a bit of a dark-horse pick for the ladies. You had guessed it might be Amanda Overmyer or Ramiele Malubay before Wednesday's show. What pushed Amy over the top?
A. You know, no one (Wednesday) was any good for Vote For The Worst. It was just a lot of boring people who can't sing well. So in that case we had to go with truly the worst singer, which was Amy. I thought Amanda Overmyer was pretty Vote For The Worst personality-wise, but if the judges loved her, then we can't pick her.
Q. As a gay man, do you feel you have some kind of responsibility to go easy on performers who may also be gay or struggling with their sexual identity?
A. People say that and it's funny you ask because I got the weirdest letter about that after we picked Danny. They called me scum and a traitor and said I was ruining the gay movement. Now I have to be a spokesman for the gay community? I don't get that. Danny, I thought, was hilariously weird, and we're always nice to the people we vote for.
Q. You like getting hate mail, don't you?
A. I do love the hate mail. When I read that letter today, I thought this person obviously needs therapy. To me it's funny to elicit such a strong reaction. It's ridiculous.
Q. Do you think your Web site will be as big a player this year?
A. From the way the traffic has been coming in, probably. The site can barely stay up today. The way people are coming by, it definitely could have an impact in who stays and who goes.
Q. Did you ever hear from Sanjaya?
A. No, but his mom posted on our message board to say that Sanjaya loves us and we were like, "We know we're awesome." He knows that we liked him. Sanjaya was making the show watch-able for us.
Q. A lot of current and former "American Idol" contestants visit your site; get any good gossip from them?
A. The musical director, Rickey Minor, is apparently a giant tool. We heard he makes the singers do things they don't want to do to get them kicked off the show. It helps the producers rearrange the show the way they want it to go.
Q. Who do you think is actually going to win this season?
A. It's always so tough to tell at this point. Right now, it looks like Carly Smithson or Michael Johns, but since neither are American, I don't think the deep South is really going to vote for them. They're really hyped, and the producers are obviously shoving them down the audience's throat.
Q. Both Carly and Michael are professionals, and you're staunchly against people like that competing on the show.
A. I think that when you have someone like Carly Smithson who had a giant record deal and it didn't pan out at all, that's totally different than someone who has competed in an amateur singing contest getting chosen for the show. She's got experience that most of those people don't have. How is that fair? And it's not fair that she's already had her shot. And Michael sounds like a real tool, and I know I've said that earlier about someone, but he is. Some of his former bandmates have been to the site and not had nice things to say about him. But he's what the show wants. He's going to make the housewives really happy, and that's something the producers are looking for right now.
Q. Who does the sweet caricatures of your picks for the Web site?
A. My friend Laura Hawbaker. She came over Tuesday night and drew the caricature of Danny in something like 20 minutes. She wasn't happy with it and wanted to do it over, but I was like, "It's great!" She's really amazing. I sent one to (Season 6 contestant) Chris Sligh because we made him an honorary Vote For The Worst pick. We auction the caricatures off at the end of the season and the money goes to the starving artist. Sanjaya's sold to one of his fans because they wanted to give it to him. Sanjaya sold for $350. And I didn't realize the value of these things until people started asking for them. I told the guy who bought Sanjaya's it was far from mint because it was on a piece of paper that I had gotten all crumpled up, but he still wanted it. You can go to her Web site www.laurahawbaker.com to see more of her stuff. She'll love that I gave her a plug.