A Look At The Popularity Of American Idol

Did you know the first season of American debuted less than five years ago? It made its premiere on June 11, 2002. The show quickly became a topic for talk "around the water cooler" as people discussed the singing ability of the contestants still on the show and debated who should get cut and sent home next.

By the time the season finale aired on September 4, 2002, the Fox network realized they had a big hit show. The other networks weren't concerned. Not yet anyway. That has changed though. The other networks no longer try to compete against American Idol and expect their Tuesday and Wednesday night shows that air at the same time as American Idol to take a dip in the ratings. Dancing With the Stars, another popular show where the viewers get to vote on who stays and who goes home, is not going to air their upcoming season on Tuesday and Wednesday nights like they have in the past. They are going to air their show on Monday nights and have their results show on Tuesday nights with the Tuesday night airtime being right after American Idol ends.

American Idol is now the number one show in America, by far. In fact, they could lose half their viewership on any given night and still be in the top 10 television shows.

Not watching the show can put people at a social disadvantage because discussion of the show is a hot topic almost anywhere a person goes. That's why I started watching it in season two. I was sick of everyone I knew talking about it and feeling like I was an outcast because I knew nothing about the show. Now, I'm addicted to it as are millions of other Americans. And the ironic thing is the concept for American Idol didn't originate in the United States.

American Idol is based on a British television show called Pop Idol. And yes, Simon Cowell was part of Pop Idol. Simon, along with Simon Fuller developed Pop Idol and then brought the concept to the United States as American Idol.

Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Ryan Seacrest have all been part of the show since it first aired but did you know Ryan had a co-host the first season? His name was Brian Dunkleman. Brian left after the first season. He was unhappy with his role on the show, the producers were unhappy with his performance, and Simon Cowell was openly critical of him. Dunkleman is involved with American Idol again though. He does voice over work on American Idol rewind, a show rehashes everything that happened in past seasons of American Idol – you know – just in case you missed it or want to see it again.

But why has American Idol become the phenomenon it now is? After all, it isn't the first singing competition to be aired on television. Star Search had singing competitions and was on the air for 12 years but it never became a mega hit. The key might be in viewer participation. Star Search had some participation but only from the studio audience whereas American Idol gives anyone with access to a phone the ability to be part of the decision of who goes and who stays. And the voting public gets to make 100 percent of the decision once the top 24 contestants are picked. The judges get to speak their mind each week and they hope the voters will listen to them, but ultimately the viewers decide. I think that is a big part of what has made American Idol so popular. The viewers get to make the decisions. It gives viewers the feeling of control and power.

Combined with the viewers making the decision of who goes and who stays is the contestants themselves. They are everyday people just like you and me who happen to be talented singers, usually anyway, and have not yet been discovered. Plus, the judges and producers have a good knack for not only choosing contestants who can sing but ones with personality as well which makes the show very entertaining.

There are likely very few people living in the United States who have not heard of American Idol. You almost have to be living under a rock to not know about it these days. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think it's good. It's a family friendly show without violence unless you count Ryan and Simon's or Paula and Simon's fights.

The phenomenon doesn't show signs of slowing down. How much bigger can it get? Who knows? All we can do is wait and see.


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