Convergence: American Idol Always Wins

The case standing out in my mind is American Idol by Fox.

For me it is a brand more than a reality TV show, as this “most impactful show in the history of television” almost attracts more than 30 millions viewers in each season. The program has been localized into a Chinese version called “Super Girl”, which is a huge success and gives rise to the prosperity of reality programs in China. Though it is a “spin-off” from the British Pop Idol, the good reputation, high ratings, audience voting, and etc. of American Idol could be sound evidence for us to look at.

As we all know that American Idol is categorized as reality television program, it puts emphasis on featuring ordinary people instead of professional actors and actresses, which implies the property of participation in nature. Media participation is one of the primary concerns in Deuze’s article, which means “people who make media have collaborated with those who use media in the past” (p. 245). On the one hand, in this American Idol case, it is the mass audience who behind the television screens in the past that present themselves then walk “on” the screen, facilitating the solo singing competition and co-creating the show, the final media product.

On the other, another participatory feature of American Idol is the audience voting section. Without a doubt it highly involves people who still consume media content. A traditional point of view indicates that audiences are passive information receivers but voting via text messages or calls changes it: the viewers do not just actively choose what they want to watch, however, “it’s the viewers who dictate the outcome”. The voting tactic contributes a lot to the current interactive media ecology, “giving users increasing powers of access both outside and within corporate industrial contexts” (p. 246).

Based on the aforementioned collaboration by both professionals and amateurs, American Idol is a representative example of “we media” to embrace the idea of convergence culture. The “top-down corporate-drive” and “bottom-up consumer-driven” flows are clear in American Idol, where we find the media product enable us to exercise our control on what we view and listen to. Its official site online resonates with the concept of convergence culture. Meanwhile, American Idol has won considerable revenue, which resonates the function (increase revenue, p. 247) that convergence culture serves.

Creative industry refers to the “merger between individual creativity and mass cultural productions” (p. 250). Deuze re-stresses on the significance of participation and collaboration, indicating that the producer and consumer are interchangeable and interdependent. Although I don’t think American Idol could explicate how “interchangeable” is realized, this show does make the producers and viewers interdependent to a large extent. Moreover, since American Idol’s debut, as a brand, it has developed both online and offline games, even a theme park. Besides, it does kind of reflect what is the trend for pop music now and have impact on the audience. I’m uncertain that I’m on the right track of understanding the term “creative industry”, but I think these spin-offs are media work in a broad context as well.


~ by luckymaggie on September 9, 2010.

7 Responses to “Convergence: American Idol Always Wins”

  1. I love watching reality shows because it gives us a sense that normal people are engaged in media production. The Apprentice, America’s next top model, project runway, The Masterchef…These are the shows I’ve been following for seasons and there is a clear pattern of these shows. When normal people appear on the TV screen, they become actors and actresses. How they are presented on TV is determined by the editing tools monitored by the producers of the show. But I agree with you that “It’s the viewers who decide the outcome”. Audiences’ opinions are fundamental in reality shows because the more popular a reality star is, he or she is more likely to stay in the show. And of course, the voting system is a very good example of convergence culture in reality shows, it coordinates with the corporation’s business interests.

  2. I think a large part of the “individual creativity” comes from the contestants as they were once the viewers and are now the participants or the limelight of the show. To me media participation, convergence culture, and creative industries are basically different aspects of the same thing, so you do have a good case that illustrates the concept of creative industry. Personally I have never been a follower of suchlike shows. I just tend to think that they are too time-consuming, though I wouldn’t mind listening to their albums. And sometimes you just can’t be sure if the outcome answers to the expectations of the viewers or is actually manipulated behind the scenes.

  3. The case study of mine is related to yours, we both discussed about the reality show. It is really interesting how fan culture influenced the trends, styles, and the contexts of the show. On the other hand, I begin to think whether the performance art industry will be influence by the convergence culture in the same way. I think both reality show and performance art have the space for participants to impromptu during the performance; the producer or the director will have less power to control the production. One of my friends wrote an essay about the possibility that the fan culture might restrain the creativity in little theatre or experimental theatre. Her point is that the fan culture represents the popular culture, and if the audiences hold more power than the producers and the directors, the trends and the context of the performance might not be “experimental” anymore. In this way, the convergence culture might not benefit the performance art. I think this point is very interesting.

  4. It’s very interesting that you used American Idol, I would have never thought of this as an example of convergence. In the Deuze’s article he mentions the primary way television media gets participation is by being interactive and I think AI does a great job of that. I used to be an avid viewer of the show and felt a sense of ownership placing a vote for my favorite contestant and knowing my vote could be the differences in helping someone achieve their dream. Another thing to note in this show is the usage of ordinary, amateurs and turning them into a brand. I believe Ford is a sponsor of the show as well as Coca-Cola and I can recall the contestants doing “promos” for each product during the season which leads to Deuze’s other point of corporate companies finding ways to increase revenue within this converging trend of media.

  5. Comments for blog 3

  6. I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought of reality television when reading Deuze, but I guess I can see how fan participation–and ownership–contributes to convergence culture. I would think from Deuze’s perspective it would be more about the viewer participation in the outcome of the show than of the amateur singers’ participation on the show, but it is definitely interactive, without a doubt! And it is technology that allows that level of interactivity, too, not just for American Idol but for shows like So You Think You Can Dance, too!

  7. The article at BuddyTV you linked says: “American Idol’s success comes from the human element of the production – viewers get to know the contestants, they find their rooting interests, become emotionally involved and, ultimately, it’s the viewers who dictate the outcome. With its grand scale, audience participation and cultural cache, there is absolutely nothing like it.”

    It’s interesting to me that these characteristics of American Idol are exactly what has made it possible to create copies of the program in almost every country in the world. (Malaysian Idol is a huge hit in Malaysia! And they also watch American Idol.)

    I would suggest that since American Idol is so well known, it doesn’t make a great example for this kind of assignment — what can you say about it that has not already been said? 😉

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