Celebrity Deathmatch: American Idol Edition

Alina Goldman, HCI Masters
Fan Du, CS PhD
March 24, 2014


This special edition of Celebrity Deathmatch adds a tangible twist to American Idol’s elimination process.
Audience members use gestures to vote a contestant off of the show. As audience members vote, contestants approach elimination until one gets eaten by the Cowellsaur.



High Tech
2 horizontal motors
1 vertical motor
1 accelerometer https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11446
1 Arduino Leonardo
Starboard Flexible LED Strip https://www.sparkfun.com/products/retired/10640

Low Tech
Pipe Cleaners
Conductive Thread https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10867


Challenges and Solutions
  • Calibrating Motors: The three motors did not linearly change speed or direction and all had different calibration settings. We spent time testing which settings to use, and ended up adjusting our solution to fit the most stable settings. We also discovered that the analog pin that we used actually made a difference in the calibration settings.
  • Getting Magnets to pick up Contestants: We encountered problems getting the Cowellsaur to pick the contestants up when they got near him; either nothing got picked up, or the magnets would be picked up without the person. We played with the magnet configuration on the contestants and the Cowellsaur to get them to line up to make the interaction work.
  • Creating tracks and getting them to move along one path: We first created the tracks out of wire, but this solution was not effective so we ended up making them out of pipe cleaners. The motors also knocked the the tracks around, so w created rails to keep them on path.

Reflections and Future Work

In this project, we found ourselves reinventing our idea and repurposing our work. The idea started out with us trying to create ways for audiences to dynamically interact with performance, but ended up focusing on the low tech visualization rather than the input method.

We realize that context plays a huge role in the effectiveness of the interaction. Our original idea was to visualize audience or class participation, but realized that a voting system made more sense. American Idol is just one application for the system, but adding to the display made the visual specific and relatable.

As we created the interaction, we considered the unique effectiveness of a tangible visualization, i.e. what would make this tangible interaction better than a high quality graphic that is faster and cheaper to make? We considered several ideas that would make the physical interaction unique, including having the dinosaur pop a balloon if it got too closer (see picture below). Another idea was to simultaneously create art through the audience votes; as the contestants moved along a track, they could drag a paintbrush that could paint a canvas put under the tracks.


The interactions we considered either did not make sense or were too difficult to implement, but in the future, it would be interesting to add a uniquely tangible component to the project.


Source code on Github