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American Idol

From dKosopedia

First U.K. winner Will Young (left) and first U.S. winner Kelly Clarkson

Fox television program, based on the United Kingdom's ITV-produced program Pop Idol. Viewers vote by telephone for their favorite singers.

Fantasia Barrino was the 2004 American Idol winner. Past winners include Ruben Studdard and Kelly Clarkson. Idol has also launched the careers of Clay Aiken, Tamyra Gray, William Hung, and Justin Guarini.

While on the surface American Idol may be the ultimate expression of Fox's banal programming, that would be somewhat unfair to its contestants. The increasing income gap between rich and poor, cited by social commentators of various ideological perspectives, encourages many people to try to "get rich quick" — not just on American Idol but also through gambling and even crime. American Idol raises profound questions about why people seek fame — and why they need to — in the United States.

Fortunately, American Idol may be changing American society's understanding of fame and status. In spite of many claims of racism (even from Elton John!) after 2 superb black female performers were voted out during the controverisal and uneven third season, two of the three winners to date (May, 2004) happen to be African-American, and one happens to be overweight (Ruben Studdard). Kelly was also dogged by claims of weight issues, and Fantasia, a single mother, has been criticized both for her private life and physical appearance. Yet, they all won, and have been comercially successful. One of the judges remarked, upon Studdard's win, that Fox viewers were changing the very definition of what it takes to become an idol, demolishing prejudices he had.

Some would say that American Idol reflects continuing progress for GLBT entertainers in reaching mainstream acceptance and even adulation. The United Kingdom's first winner, Will Young, was widely speculated as being gay and finally came out when a tabloid planned to run a story outing him. He has gone on to have an extremely successful recording career and is considering a move to the US market (although reportedly he was told to "play down" his homosexuality if he tries for the States). Both Clay Aiken and Justin Guarini quite clearly choose not to make their sexualities an issue in the contest. Considering the continued quasi-homophobic banter between host Ryan Seacrest and judge Simon Cowell, and Cowell's issues with Will Young (Young all but called him homophobic in one interview and has had an extremely chilly relationship with him due to week after week of Cowell's harsh remarks during Pop Idol and disparaging remarks in the press afterwards) and comment on the Howard Stern radio show that you just had to "look at" Clay to answer if he was gay, means that this progress is open to question. However, Jim Verraros, an American Idol season 1 finalist who came out after his season ended, said that Simon had never had a problem with him.

William Hung, who was treated as a joke during early audition rounds but went on to do a slew of TV appearances and have a successful novelty CD, happens to be Asian-American. The show has also had several Pacific Islander and Hispanic contestants.

"Reel" and real life occasionally intertwine on Idol. In 2003, a Marine, Joshua Gracin, faced increasing controversy over whether he was exploiting his uniform to stay in the competition (he was a mediocre, at best, singer and performer) and whether he should be singing and dancing while his fellow Marines were risking their lives in Iraq. In 2004, scandal rocked the American Idol institution when questions arose about the integrity of its telephone balloting process. In the 2000 election, similar questions dogged Fox News's performance on election night, when the network became the first to declare George W. Bush the winner — a call the network had to retract. There have also been a running string of comments as to why so many people can vote for American Idol but cannot vote in national elections. When "reel" and real life intersect on Idol, as in April 2004 when angry fans complained that Bush's address to the nation preempted their program, the results can be baffling.

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This page was last modified 14:01, 14 June 2006 by Chad Lupkes. Based on work by dKosopedia user(s) JamesB3, Punishinglemur, Sipples, Power and Jumbo. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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