Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol

By Katherine Meizel
Buy Book

Indiana University Press, 2011

ISBN 978-0-253-22271-8

320 Pages


Katherine Meizel argues that American popular song, the music industry, and narratives of American identity interact in a meaningful way on the hit television program, American Idol. The show—now a transnational export with dozens of spin-offs—provides an American stage where the politics of national, regional, ethnic, and religious identity are performed before millions of viewers. With contestants packaged into familiar portraits of a range of American identities, difference is carefully highlighted and coached into a viable commodity by judges. Consumer choice, as expressed audience voting, also shapes the course of the show, negotiating ideas of democracy and opportunity closely associated with the American Dream.

Through interviews with audience members and participants, and careful analyses of television broadcasts, commercial recordings, and print and online media, Meizel demonstrates that commercial music and the music industry are not simply forces to be criticized or resisted, but critical sites for redefining American culture.



Introduction: No Boundaries
1. Facing Reality: American Idol as Reality Television
2. Facing the Music
3. Win or Lose: Success and Failure and the American Dream
4. Idol Worship: Civil and Sacral Religion in American Idol
5. Going Places
6. Politics as Usual
7. The United Nations of Pop: Global Franchise and Geopolitics
Epilogue: Crystallized

Works Cited


Katherine Meizel is Visiting Assistant Professor at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Online media for this book