Success on Idol’s Stage Raises Ratings

By Kate Stanhope

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES – Cost for one 30-second television
advertisement during this show’s season five finale: $1.3 million.
Number of viewers for said season finale: 36.4 million. The pride
the average Joe has in being a terrible singer on an episode of the
show: immeasurable.

“American Idol,” the nationwide television sensation, returned
last night for its sixth season on Fox and the Office of
Residential Life is taking part in the action. Tonight at 8 p.m.,
ORL will be hosting viewing parties in De Neve Plaza and Rieber
Vista for the second half of this long-awaited season premiere.

In partnership with Fox, UCLA joins other universities across
the country hosting viewing parties to celebrate the two-night,
four-hour season premiere. Just as UCLA’s own Rose Bowl played host
to season six auditions this past August, Seton Hall University,
New York University, University of Washington and Trinity
University’s college towns were home to season six auditions as
well.

Fans are ready for the return of a show that spawned both
Clay-mates and “Soul Patrol”: Hilariously horrible auditions,
knockout performances, high-profile guests, and anything but kind
words from snarky judge Simon Cowell.

With this unique recipe for success, “Idol” has moved to the
forefront of a prime-time schedule increasingly cluttered with
reality TV. At a time when many reality shows, such as “Survivor”
and “The Apprentice,” are losing their status atop the Nielsen
ratings, “Idol” is gaining momentum every season.

“It has become more of a bandwagon show in the last two years
with so many new fans,” University of California-Los Angeles
graduate student Natalie Elliott said. “After the phenomenon of
Kelly Clarkson, Americans realized that they have the power in
their own hands to create the next superstar.”

This upcoming season will mark the third year in a row that the
show will hold the most expensive advertising rates on TV. “Idol”
was also named the most-watched program of the 2005-2006 television
season.

The British import has come to play a much bigger part in
television than anyone expected when it debuted in 2002 during the
normally lackluster summer TV season.

Elliott, a devoted “Idol” fan who has attended the official
American Idols Live! Tour every year since its inception, said it’s
the success of the program’s top contestants and the marketing
behind the show that has kept old fans coming back for more and
drawing new viewers every season.

“The show does a good job of keeping in the spotlight even in
the off season,” she said. “The top 10 tour throughout the nation,
(many) release CDs, and they have Broadway shows and movies coming
out soon after.”

Television Professor Vincent Brook of the UCLA School of
Theater, Film and Television noted the “convergence of platforms”
as a reason for the show’s success as well.

“It ties in to the industry in a synergistic way to have them
succeed on a wide variety of platforms,” Brook said.

The influence of “American Idol” is hard to escape. Last March,
Shakira took to the “Idol” stage to perform her newest single,
“Hips Don’t Lie,” from her album “Oral Fixation, Vol. 2.” Previous
to the performance, the album had only gone gold in the U.S., but
after “Idol,” “Hips Don’t Lie” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100
that June and “Oral Fixation, Vol. 2” went platinum.

With its impact and large audience in mind, “Idol” has even
directly hit scripted television shows such as “Lost,” which due to
a drop in audience this season will move to 10 p.m. on Wednesday
nights in February, due – at least in part – to avoid the “Idol”
results show at 9 p.m.

Brook traces much of the show’s success back to historical
television success stories.

“The show does have a history to it,” he explained. One popular
format of early television was the game show, considered taboo for
many years after the “Quiz Show” scandal of the late 1950s.

Also popular were amateur performance shows. These shows played
a big role during the transition from radio to television in the
early ’50s, although performers never met the type of success
“Idol” stars meet today.

“Normally they were there just to win a few bucks and gain
notoriety. It was not so much of a stepping stone then,” Brook
said.

Success has hardly been elusive for those talented enough to
grace the “Idol” stage. First season winner Clarkson has sold over
5 million copies of her sophomore album “Breakaway,” as has season
four champion Carrie Underwood and her debut “Some Hearts.” Season
four contestants Fantasia Barrino and Jennifer Hudson have found
great crossover success, with a hit Lifetime movie and a Golden
Globe-winning performance in “Dreamgirls,” respectively.

Echoing Elliott’s sentiments, Brook also listed the power of the
voting component of “Idol” as a large contributing factor to the
show’s popularity.

“It’s the participatory format and the grassroots (aspect) that
keeps people interested,” Brooks said.

“There are so many aspiring people who think they are going to
be the next Kelly Clarkson,” Elliott said. “It’s so difficult to
make it big, it makes the auditions realistic. It’s a reality check
on how hard it is to make it in the entertainment industry.”

No matter what the future holds for the show, the phenomenon
holds strong as the search for the next American superstar begins
once again.

“‘American Idol’ is a way of life,” Elliott said.

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