American Vocalist

American Idol Judges

Judges: Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nikki Minaj, & Keith Urban pose with host, Ryan Seacrest for Season 12 of American Idol
Judges: Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nikki Minaj, & Keith Urban pose with host, Ryan Seacrest for Season 12 of American Idol

American Idol vs. Nationalism

American Idol has set the stage for nationalism on television. From American Idol's patriotic logo to it’s image of high status, the number one rated show represents American values by creating an ideal image of the American Dream. This image is strengthened by a history of transnationalism and diverse judges that come together to share and promote a national identity.

In “The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema,” Andrew Higgens examines the role of nationalism and transnationalism in America. Higgens defines nationalism as the mapping of an imagined community with a secure and shared identity and sense of belonging, on to a carefully demarcated geo-political space. This definition can be argued as the foundation to American Idol’s success. American Idol serves as an imagined community while the contestants seek a shared identity, and Hollywood provides the carefully demarcated space.

Several factors have lead to the success of American Idol as a national TV show. In addition to it’s patriotic title, the imagined community of American Idol depicts the American Dream by discovering unknown singers and giving them a chance at stardom. For many citizens, the show provides an outlet from rags to riches. According to Higgens, “national cinema seems to look inward, reflecting on the nation itself, on its past, present and future, its cultural heritage, its indigenous traditions, its sense of common identity and continuity.” Higgins article can be reflected through the traditional rounds, set of judges, and even the host, Ryan Seacrest, that American Idol has used to maintain its legacy.

When the show initially begins auditions, candidates that make it through to the next round receive a “golden ticket to Hollywood.” The golden ticket is a marketing technique that enforces Hollywood’s reputation as an outlet for celebrity while also advertising the city itself. Higgens analysis of films can apply to the promotion of Hollywood for tourism; “such developments have traditionally assumed that a strong national cinema can offer coherent images of the nation, sustaining the nation at an ideological level, exploring and celebrating what is understood to be the indigenous culture. Of equal importance today is the role that cinema is felt able to play in terms of promoting the nation as a tourist destination, to the benefit of tourism and service industries (Higgens 67).” Hollywood as a desirable tourist destination is further emphasized by the scenery and celebrities who derive from there.

Madelyn Patters auditions in  Texas for Season 13 of American Idol
Madelyn Patters auditions in Texas for Season 13 of American Idol

The judges, successful musical producers and artists use there status as celebrities to represent the future of the American Idol dream. The show features top pop stars such as Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Paula Abdul. All of the women highlight sex and the glamorous side of the Hollywood image mainly through their appearance. The show includes transnationalism as well perhaps to expand it’s audience beyond the United States. Some international judges include the infamous British judge, Simon Cowell and the current Australian judge, Keith Urban. “The concept of national cinema is hardly able to do justice either to the internal diversity of contemporary cultural formations or to the overlaps and interpenetrations between different formations (Higgens, 68).”

Transnationalism is not limited to the judges, it is rooted in the history of the entire show. American Idol was initially inspired by foreign countries. The concept came from the popular British series “Pop Idol” which was initially inspired by the Australian show “Pop stars.” However, neither of these foreign series found the same success as American Idol. Higgins suggests; "The degree of cultural cross-breeding and interpenetration, not only across borders but also within them, suggests that modern cultural formations are invariably hybrid and impure (Higgens, 67).” Therefore, American Idol was not born with a national identity but formed it through time. These examples of transnationalism contribute to the idea of Hollywood’s market of success.

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Famous contestants discovered on American Idol
Famous contestants discovered on American Idol

Producers use mass communication to strengthen a national identity through many platforms of media and advertising. Fox markets brands into the television show. For example, the judges will be drinking Coca Cola or the contestants will ride around in brand name SUVs. In addition, the corporation uses phones as a media platform by putting the voting in the viewers hands. This allows the audience to have the option of choosing whose voice will lead to fame and fortune. The audience is often influenced by the internet and magazines who portray the singers in a specific light depending on their background.

The contestants reflect another side of nationalism, the individual side. People from an array of territories across the United States come to celebrate the same dream of becoming the American Idol. Vocalists of all classes, races, sexes, and backgrounds become vulnerable together to be a part of a community and share an identity, “national identity is, in this sense, about the experience of belonging to such a community, being steeped in its traditions, its rituals and its characteristic modes of discourse.” Belonging to the American Idol community is what makes the show so desirable. It means being a part of national American talent. “The public sphere of the nation and the discourse of patriotism are thus bound up in a constant struggle to transform the facts of dispersal, variegation, and homelessness into the experience of rooted community (Higgens, 65.)” Regardless of one’s backgrounds, each contestant comes with the desire to be “on the other side.” That side that the judges represent so flawlessly.

The only twist is, the contestants risk rejection and the humiliation on national television. The comedy of the bad singer is a huge attraction for audiences, and even goes too far at times. However, it remains an American value of freedom of speech and comedy. Unfortunately during season twelve, a singer took the liberty of shooting himself after a bad review from the judges. The tragedy was an indirect result of not achieving the dream of becoming the next American Idol.

While American Idol represents an aspect of the American Dream for many who believe they can sing, it also challenges the traditional values of working hard and receiving an education to achieve success. By promoting an easy way out, American media is contradicting traditional values, and thus creating a modern American experience. Nevertheless, American Idol remains a legend. Countless singing shows have followed, but none remained as devoted to the talent of the nation. Through marketing, American Idol has created a national image of Hollywood and celebrities as the American Dream for many singers seeking recognition, and their supporters. American Idol came from foreign inspiration and expanded it’s audiences by including a diverse cast and talent pool. Together, nationalism and transnationalism contribute to viewers and contestants passion for American Idol every single year.

Jennifer Lopez Performance on Idol

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