Has America Gone Idle?
Ten is the new fifty. It’s all downhill from ten. Or is it for American Idol ?…
It’s hard for me to believe that American Idol is now in its 10th season on television and its 6th consecutive season as the most watched program on TV (now breaking the record of five previously held by All in the Family and The Cosby Show). Even some of the kids on the show this season were more interested in crayons and coloring books than television programming back when the show first premiered in 2002 as the 30th ranked TV program. But it didn’t take long for American Idol to strike a chord with the US public and grab the #1 overall slot by its 4th season. Though it may still hold that title of #1 most watched today, it hit its peak back in Season 6. So why has American Idol lasted 4 seasons after seemingly hitting its peak? Why hasn’t it been overtaken by other newer reality shows after 10 seasons? Because American Idol isn’t just a reality TV show. A reality TV show is Amazing Race, The Bachelor or Jersey Shore. But American Idol is an advertainment that has reshaped our own reality.
In our world where mass media has rapidly faded in order to make way for the masses of media, the impact of American Idol on the culture landscape has extended far beyond just TV viewership. In order to stay alive, the program has had to stretch itself further than a traditional channel in order to have that mass appeal that TV used to have. Since Season One, product placement within the show has been overt; everyone from Coca-Cola, Ford, iTunes and Hollywood itself have invested huge time, money and product into the show. That’s the part the audience views as ‘the ads’, but doesn’t mind. But the segment many fail to notice is that the show is constantly selling itself through reinvention (while staying true to its roots). With the TV show as a backdrop, American Idol has become a generator of new artists and their music sales, an architect of new judges and their music sales, music videos, concert tours, toys/video games and an international charity (thru Idol Gives Back). Even some of the biggest losers of the show have had gone on to have short careers in music like “She Bangs” William Hung or Pants on the Ground’s Larry Platt.
While most TV programs these days ‘get’ the expansion beyond traditional, their idea of it means providing digital viewers with their exact same content. Meanwhile American Idol remains one of the rare few of the current TV programs that you still cannot watch online. But it has found its own way of sneaking into other media channels. And done it more effectively. Just this season, you can choose the ending of J.Lo’s latest music video on their website. You can vote for your favorite Idol via phone call, text message or online. You can watch the making of and backstage clips on their website. You can join the community and read/share insights into who the next big star will be. You can buy American Idol cover music and videos on iTunes. You can donate to help global charities through Idol Gives Back. All of these things keep viewers engaged, feeling a part of a community and ultimately watching American Idol. So although American Idol seems to have gone idle in the past couple of seasons, don’t count it out just yet. It really has restructured the way that our culture receives reality TV. So when X Factor premieres in September of this year, it has huge shoes to fill in order to finish off American Idol for good.