To qualify as a Grammy Award voter, a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences need only be credited on six commercially released songs. According to a recent Los Angeles Times exposé, several music labels are exploiting this loophole by getting low-level staffers to record group Christmas albums. Do you have a shot at helping dole out a Grammy?
The six-song loophole aside, the Grammys and other old-line shows like to keep things within the guild, while the upstarts tend to favor more populist approaches. With an estimated 14,000 eligible voters, the 104-category Grammys have an especially big voting pool. (The Latin Grammys are awarded by the separate Latin Recording Academy.) A bit smaller is the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which deals out the Oscars. The 5,607 members are divided into branches tailored to their specific professions and are responsible for selecting worthy nominees. Art directors, for example, choose the art-direction nominees but have no say over who gets a directing nod. (Everyone, though, gets a crack at the Best Picture finalists.) Ballots for the actual statuettes go out to the entire membership. Joining the academy is a toughie; it's invite-only, and you'll need to do something pretty spectacular in the celluloid world—like write or direct an A-list feature—before you get tapped.
The primetime Emmys are a bit less democratic—branches of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences convene volunteer judging panels to select the individual winners. Even more oligarchic are the Tonys: The 710 voters consist of the board of directors of the American Theatre Wing, plus the governors of such Broadway-centric organizations as Actors' Equity and the American Federation of Musicians Local 802. The Golden Globes feature the narrowest electorate, composed solely of members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association—94 journalists, at last count. (Want to join up? The HFPA opens the membership rolls every February through March.)
Mixing in some egalitarianism seems to be the trend among the newer competitions. Last night's Video Music Awards were mostly selected by 1,000 industry insiders and celebrities, handpicked by MTV. However, the Viewers Choice and MTV2 Awards were decided through Internet polls. The nominees for hip-hop's Source Awards are picked by the magazine's editorial staff, but the winners are determined by a combination of a readers poll and the judgment of the prestigious "Five Mic Council," a group of influential radio DJs and artists. About half of the sports-themed ESPY Awards are decided through Web surveys and the other half by the ESPY Academy, a group of Hall of Fame athletes, sportswriters, and SportsCenter talking heads.
If there was an award for complicated selection criteria, it would doubtless go to the Dick Clark-produced American Music Awards. Nominees are chosen according to a formula that factors in Nielsen SoundScan sales figures and airplay data from Radio & Records magazine. Surveys are then sent to 20,000 American households, chosen to account for age, geography, and ethnicity. Of late, the complex electoral process hasn't translated into big ratings, however; the show lost more than 3 million viewers between its 2002 and 2003 editions.