Cover

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Contents

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: No Boundaries

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pp. 1-18

On May 20, 2009, Kris Allen took his musical victory lap on the stage of the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. Clutching his microphone like the trophy he had just won, he proclaimed his triumphant message: “There are no boundaries,” he sang, over and over, “there are no boundaries.” The song itself—Allen’s acceptance address as the eighth winner of the televised singing competition American Idol— was heavily criticized in the press, not least for its lyrical clichés.

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1 Facing Reality: American Idol as Reality Television

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pp. 19-50

In February 2006 a report began circulating that several fans of Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken had filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Unsettled by a tabloid piece claiming that Aiken had engaged in a same-sex liaison, nine women had voiced their displeasure in legal terms, and were considering a class-action suit ...

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2 Facing the Music

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pp. 51-80

Amid the slew of successful Season 3 auditions aired on February 2, 2004, Micah Read’s stood out—not for any unusual vocalism or visual gimmick but for the way his broadcast segment located American Idol within a crucial discourse of popular music. Read began his broadcast audition with Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Praising the performance, judge Simon Cowell recalled that he had found the “obligatory rocker” in the previous season’s cast...

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3 Win or Lose: Success and Failure and the American Dream

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pp. 81-101

“American Idol. American Music. American Dream,” read an online advertisement for American Idol’s 2005 season.1 This is the formula at the heart of American Idol’s success, where the entanglement of American myth and American music becomes a calculable equation with money as the sum. According to Simon Cowell, he and Idols co-creator Simon Fuller peddled the idea for the show’s format unsuccessfully in the United States before they produced it in the United Kingdom in 2001.

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4 Idol Worship: Civil and Sacral Religion in American Idol

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pp. 102-133

Waiting in San Francisco’s Cow Palace at 6:45 am for the early-morning start of Season 4 auditions, I watched a small group in the stands begin singing together. Their spontaneous outburst quickly caught on, and soon much of the entire stadium, several thousand strong, joined in a communal performance of Harry Dixon Loes’s “This Little Light of Mine.”

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5 Going Places

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pp. 134-159

Every summer one hundred thousand young men and women crowd into sports arenas and convention centers around the United States, sing their hearts out for twenty seconds, hold their breaths, and hope to hear this congratulatory pronouncement: “You’re going to Hollywood!”

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6 Politics as Usual

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pp. 160-191

In the final moments of American Idol’s fifth season, host Ryan Seacrest marveled at the 63.4 million votes recorded the previous night— more votes, he said, “than any president in the history of our country has ever received.”1 Critical speculation throughout Idol’s run has frequently remarked upon the enthusiastic participation of American Idol viewers, contrasted with voter turnout in the election of political leaders.

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7 The United Nations of Pop: Global Franchise and Geopolitics

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pp. 192-219

Simon Fuller recalled, in 2003, “when I dreamt up the idea of Pop Idol, I always saw it as a global concept.”1 As increasingly transnational processes drive cultural flow across geographic, economic, and political boundaries, the significance of reality television programming broadens, too, far beyond mere diversion.

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Epilogue: Crystallized

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pp. 220-228

Ohio is pivotal in any national election. The balance of red and blue in its political allegiances has lately tended toward purple, fueling some intense partisan anxiety. But in the Idol election of 2010, there was no question who had the Buckeye vote, or who had captured the Heartland's heart. I had the extraordinary fortune to be living in the ...

Notes

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pp. 229-262

Works Cited

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pp. 263-292

Index

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pp. 293-301