Series: American Idol

An American version of the British series Pop Idol, which is better known due to the fact that far more people live in America than Britain. In Britain, Pop Idol was also pushed aside for The X Factor. X Factor came to the U.S. in 2011, with Simon Cowell. The Idol season that followed suffered the worst rating drop in the series' history.

The show was launched in 2002. In twelve seasons, it's launched several careers. Among the more notably talented and successful are Kelly Clarkson (Season 1 winner), Clay Aiken (Season 2 runner-up), Ruben Studdard (Season 2 winner), Fantasia Barrino (Season 3 winner), Jennifer Hudson (an Academy Award winner for Dreamgirls), Chris Daughtry, Bo Bice, David Archuleta, Adam Lambert, and Carrie Underwood (Season 4 winner, the first Idol to go purely country).

It's also launched the "career" of William Hung, whose… slaughtering of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" landed him a record contract, in which he did the same thing to several other pop "standards". So Bad, It's Good, indeed.

Another reason for the show's popularity is the chemistry among the three(?) judges:
  • Simon Cowell (seasons 1-9), a famous UK record exec. His acerbic comments are insanely quotable. Naturally, he's caught a little flak for his attitude. Imported from the equally successful UK show Pop Idol, which started the tradition. He left American Idol at the end of the ninth season to start an American version of The X Factor.
  • Paula Abdul (seasons 1-8), an '80s pop star. Initially became known as the sweet contrast to Simon's sour attitude, being the most willing to stick her neck out for middling or poor acts, to the point that her endorsement became seen as more of the Hufflepuff House of judgments. However, later in her run on the show, she became more notable for her off-screen troubles than her judging (and for maybe showing up to set drunk on more than a few occasions). Also rose up controversy for judging a performance before it even actually happened. Decided not to return for Season 9, and was replaced by comedienne Ellen DeGeneres.
  • Randy Jackson (seasons 1 - 12), a Grammy Award-winning rock bassist, singer, and record producer. Notable for calling nearly everyone "dawg". (Don't confuse this guy with Steven Randall Jackson, the former member of the Jacksons.) He was the longest-sitting Idol judge, having served as a judge for 12 seasons.
  • Kara DioGuardi (seasons 8-9), a record executive, music producer and songwriter who has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the music business, including Céline Dion, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, and season 1 Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.
  • Ellen DeGeneres (season 9), a comedienne and talk show host. Initially, she made fans fear that the show was taking a turn for the worse, seeing as she didn't have roots in the music industry before she came on. For the most part, they were proven wrong, as DeGeneres provided valid criticism and also proved to be a pretty reasonable match for Simon's acerbic wit. Ellen went the way of Simon without warning after her only season.
  • Jennifer Lopez (seasons 10-11, 13-), a pop singer, actress and record producer. After departing from the show following its 2012 season, she returned for 2014.
  • Steven Tyler (seasons 10-11), the frontman of Aerosmith.
  • Mariah Carey (season 12) Grammy Award-winning recording artist, with numerous #1 singles under her belt. Probably known for being the ultimate diva on the music scene.
  • Keith Urban (seasons 12-): An Australian country singer. Most notably the only judge from the 2013 season to return the following year.
  • Nicki Minaj (season 12): Rapper/singer, known for her outrageous persona(s) and even more out-there fashion choices.
  • Harry Connick Jr. (season 13): Singer, actor, pianist, conductor and composer who already guest-judged on the show a handful of times before being named a permanent one for its 13th season.

One website nailed Paula's judging with the line "her ritualistic fare of generalized superlatives that highlight nothing specific about a performer." Simon, on the other hand, generally responds with either a verbal shrug ("It was good, it just wasn't great") or unabashed criticism ("I felt like I was at a high school musical"), so his rare superlatives actually mean something.

A great deal of the show's entertainment value comes in the first weeks, when one can watch all sort of untalented (and worse) singers warble their off-key "songs" at the four judges.

Still, the show has its detractors. Year after year, opponents try to either get a boycott of the show going or tried to sabotage it by putting the worst contestant in the winner's circle. Their efforts never succeeded, though with Season 6's Sanjaya Malakar (who made it to 7th place) and Season 8's Danny Gokey (who made it into the top 3), they got closer than ever. However, by season 12's end, one rival site has succeeded. In 2013, the site promoting the worst contestant shut down, though past versions remain accessible on the Internet Archive.

The show was a veritable ratings behemoth, drawing 20+ million viewers on a bad day. To put it in perspective, President Barack Obama's speech on the state of Healthcare in September 2009 drew about 30 million viewers — on 10 different networks. The 2009 finale of American Idol drew 28 million viewers — on one network. American Idol alone cemented FOX as the top dog network in terms of advertising potential during its heyday. The network used the show as a lead-in to whatever show they wanted to boost — the most notable examples are House and Glee, which nearly doubled their respective viewerships and went from merely popular to megahits once they started airing in the post-Idol timeslot. American Idol was the highest-rated show in the U.S. from its beginnings to the 2004-2005 season. It has since started to slip, notably being beaten by rival show Dancing with the Stars on several nights in the past two seasons in total viewers (though in the coveted 18-49 demographic, American Idol still wins), and being beaten by The Big Bang Theory in 2013 whenever the two have aired new episodes against each other. However, Idol has far from run out of gas (yet), as it was still able to beat out the Vancouver Winter Olympics on all but one night (February 23rd, 2010). Its ratings have continued to slide in the mid-2010s, eventually overtaken by NBC rival show The Voice, but continues to be a solid mid-season performer for FOX annually, especially when they've been hurting for reliable shows post-House.

It's very likely that, in decades to come, this will be the show most remembered as what defined American television in the first decade of the 21st century. For better or worse.

This show provides examples of:

  • A Cappella: The auditions are sung without any instrumental accompaniement.
  • American Title
  • Badass Longcoat: Adam Lambert on the Season 8 performance finale wore a long, black trench coat with fog machines while singing "Mad World".
  • The Band Minus the Face: What the show has become with the exit of Cowell.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: Even if contestants don't win, many of them get to share the stage with their musical heroes during the finale.
  • Brutal Honesty: Simon, which is one of the reasons contestants don't like him.
    • Jimmy Iovine in Season 11, and Harry Connick Jr in Season 13
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Siobhan Magnus, who had an extremely... unique... personality (see Cloud Cuckoolander below), but was one of the best singers of season nine.
    • Many people assumed that Nicki Minaj would be an awful judge before her first season even began airing, but all things considered, she's probably a very good judge. While nurturing and empathetic to potential contestants, she's equally as direct and honest with her critiques. She isn't afraid to disagree with her peers, either, such as the one time she defended a young white girl who said she wanted to do, "the country thing" against Keith Urban's wrath for referring to country as a thing.
      • However, some people point out that her critiques aren't particularly specialized to the voice, but merely presentation and vibes. She only seems knowledgable on tone.
    • Likewise, Mariah Carey is a very... unusual person to put it gently, but, her critiques are probably the most knowledgeable.
  • Commercial Break Cliffhanger: Probably the modern innovator (if not Deal or No Deal). Dammit, Ryan, that's not funny!
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Paula Abdul was so loopy that people just assumed she was completely high all the time.
  • Cousin Oliver: Kara DioGuardi, the fourth judge added in Season 8.
  • Cringe Comedy: The vast majority of the Ford commercials fall into this, intentionally or not. The best example is probably season 7's "Ring Of Fire" commercial. (It warranted some serious Corpsing from Ryan, and even David Cook facepalmed over it after it aired.)
  • Cuteness Proximity: Bring anything cute into the audition room and prepare to watch Paula dissolve, with Simon about a millisecond behind her.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Simon. Ellen started to trend towards this as well, although this shouldn't be surprising given her background.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: In Season 9, Aaron Kelly was asked if he liked Justin Bieber. Kelly's response: "Well, I do, but..." He then immediately shut up.
  • Don't Think. Feel: A contestant who made it to the top 24 in the tenth season, explicitly. And any of a number of others, some more explicitly than others.
  • Dramatic Pause: See Large Ham.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Look at Steven Tyler.
  • Elimination Statements
  • Excuse Question: During Season 7, using text messaging (which was at standard rates).
  • Filler: Like you wouldn't believe.
    • Season 11 had the task of trying to fill 2 hours every night even as the number of contestants went down. Apparently FOX lost all faith in having shows follow it.
    • Hell, there was so much Filler that this very page used to have an extensive metajoke about it, with such trope entries as "More Filler" and "Engaging Chevrons, just to break up the (recursive) monotony.
  • Film At Eleven: The early episodes, with their "coming up next" clips before each commercial.
  • Follow the Leader: Ever since Jennifer Hudson's success, almost every heavy-set girl who auditions feels the need to give a horrid, eardrum-popping rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going". Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you like that sort of thing), these girls do not sing like Jennifer Hudson.
    • Defied by Malaya Watson in season 13, who, for cinema week, sang Dreamgirls, but sang "I Am Changing" instead.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Half the time during the initial interviews, they telegraph that a contestant is going to get a "yes" and go to Hollywood by showing scenes shot at the contestant's home - something they never do for people who get a "no". Somewhat justified in that they only shoot the at-home interviews after they've gotten the nod - it's a waste of time and money to go and shoot a contestant beforehand, especially given the low rate of success.
    • The use of the save. When it debuted, the show was scheduled such that they didn't necessarily have to use the save, and if (when) it was used, the following week would feature a double elimination. Then Jermaine Jones got disqualified early in Season 11, leading to a double elimination before the save had been used and thereby forcing the judges to use the save just to get the finale in its proper week. Conspiracy Theorists had a field day with the fact that the obvious producer's favorite just happened to receive the fewest votes in the top 7, since the judges wouldn't be allowed to use it after reaching the top 5 and as such, if the save were still on the table at the final six, they'd be forced to do a performance show where literally everyone knew full well that no one would be eliminated the next night.
      • It got worse in Season 12, where the show was scheduled such that the judges again had to use the save, no double elimination afterwards, just to get the right number of weeks...and the American public made it impossible for the judges to use the save by eliminating every male contestant before a single female one in a season where the producers were clearly trying to end the streak of male dominance that had pervaded the show.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The judges Ryan Seacrest (sanguine), Jennifer Lopez (melancholic), Harry Connick Jr. (choleric/sanguine), Keith Urban (phlegmatic), Simon Cowell (choleric, VERY choleric), Paula Abdul (melancholic), Randy Jackson (sanguine/choleric), Steven Tyler (sanguine), Mariah Carey (melancholic), and Nicki Minaj (choleric/sanguine).
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Ryan, Ellen, and Simon turned Season 9 into a "Let's see how far we can push Fox" contest.
    • Season 10 had Steven Tyler start this on the very first audition.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In Season 7, the show started to allow instruments. Unfortunately, this led to 4 of the next winners being guitar players, some that were better at it than singing.
  • Guest Host: For one episode of Juniors, Ryan Seacrest was indisposed, and Gladys Knight (!) stepped in to cover for him.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: A few, each with their own Portmanteau Couple Name; Chris Richardson and Blake Lewis ("Cake") in Season 6, David Cook and David Archuleta ("Cookleta") in Season 7, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert ("Kradam") in Season 8, and Phillip Phillips and Heejun Han (Philjun) in Season 11. And of course, Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest for many.
  • Hopeless Auditionees: The main reason to watch the early episodes each season.
  • Idol Singer: It's right there in the title.
  • I Have Just One Thing to Say: An episode of season 9 ran long, so the ending was rushed. Simon had to speak for all of the judges, prompting him to give Adam Lambert a standing ovation.
  • Jail Bait: Steven's infamous "hot, humid and happening, just like your daughter" line, spoken to former MLB pitcher Joe Magrane after his 16-year-old daughter Shannon had just had a superb audition. Needless to say, Joe was not amused, and Steven later referenced his faux pas, saying "I hope your daddy isn't still mad at me" to Shannon (who made it all the way to 11th place) at a later performance round. In Steven's defense, Shannon's over six feet tall even without high heels.
  • Jerk Ass: Simon. In order to get a positive statement out of him, you have to be really good. Harry Connick Jr. is also capable of being very negative with his comments, which prompts boos from the audience.
  • Judge Stock Phrases: "Pitchy", "indulgent", "relevant", "true artist", "commercial", "dawg", "in it to win it".
    • Simon: "rubbish".
  • Large Ham: " aMERican Idol!" Yes, Ryan. It is.
  • Licensed Game: There's a number of them, and they're all pretty awful. The judges got to give their own commentary for at least the first set of games.
    • It gave the show a Crowning Moment of Funny when a Season 9 auditioner boasted that she'd trained using one of the video games and that it told her she was a perfect singer. Of course, everyone who knows anything about just how bad the games are knows what came next... That couldn't have been good for the game's marketing, at least.
  • Lighter and Softer: Since the contestants on Juniors were kids, many of the songs used therein were from an era when musical censorship was far less necessary.
  • Likes Older Women: The implication of this is averted in Juniors with changes to some song lyrics.
  • Long Runner:
  • Mama Bear: J-Lo is known to weep whenever a contestant is eliminated. At the beginning of Season 10, she apparently wasn't sure if she wanted to go through with being a judge after she ended up having to send a fan favorite contestant home. It was especially heartbreaking in Season 11 when Ryan asked J-Lo to deliver the news that the dorky Jeremy Rosado had been eliminated. J-Lo's voice cracked and she stammered before finally working up the strength to announce that Jeremy had been cut from the competition.
  • The Mean Brit: Simon Cowell.
  • Mind Screw: Before Jennifer Hudson made it as an actress and before Fantasia Barrino got success from her second album, the most successful person to come out of Season 3 was William Hung.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Ace Young in Season 5, Blake Lewis and Sanjaya Malakar in Season 6, David Cook and David Archuleta in Season 7, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert in Season 8, Casey James, Lee Dewyze and Tim Urban in Season 9, basically every guy from Season 10 (but most notably James Durbin and Casey Abrams), and Phillip Phillips and Colton Dixon in Season 11.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Usually of the leggy variety. Kellie Pickler and Katharine "McPheever" McPhee in Season 5, Haley Scarnato in Season 6, Kristy Lee Cook in Season 7, Pia Toscano and Haley Reinhart in Season 10, and pretty much every girl in Season 11 (but especially Shannon Magrane and Hollie Cavanagh).
    • It also seemed like they were trying to do this with Kara DioGuardi during her stint as a judge.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: The saves for both seasons ten and eleven were revealed this way, putting each of their respective recipients in shock.
  • Nice Girls: Paula, Ellen, and Jennifer, who have each had to learn that effective judges can't always be nice. Ellen quit because it hurt her to be mean to people.
  • The Nicknamer: Nicki Minaj.
  • Older and Wiser: Following the season 12 finale, reports that the judging panel would be completely rebooted with successful Idols of years past came about, suggesting Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert and Clay Aiken to be in the running.
  • Power Trio: Randy, Paula, and Simon, until the addition of Kara as a fourth judge. And now, Ellen!
    • They went back to the Power Trio format... but with Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler instead of Paula and Jennifer Lopez instead of Simon.
      • They went back to 4 for Season 12, probably to cut down on the filler.
  • Precision F-Strike: Steven, to Casey Abrams:
    You already are a cult hero, I mean there's millions of people in America that are really angry, because you pissed them off because you're so fucking good.
    • And Steven (again) to James Durbin, after the latter's performance of Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Comin'":
    James! That was fuckin' crazy good!
  • Product Placement: This show is possibly the most shameless purveyor of this Trope, from the shticky Ford commercials every week to:
    Ryan: "While you hang onto your Coke glass, why don't you tell us about how nerve-wracking the first audition was."
  • Re Tool: They've tried a number of tweaks over the years, but nothing more dramatic than what they did for 2011. With Simon Cowell gone, they made some major changes. The show moved back from a four-judge panel to a three-judge one. Instead of directly replacing Simon, they went for a new dynamic. The show moved from Tuesdays and Wednesdays to Wednesdays and Thursdays. They increased the age-range that they will allow. In 2011, they only allowed contestants to use instruments once — that rule didn't survive to 2012 (which some say is one of the reasons Phillip Phillips won). Additionally, they tweaked the voting format by allowing votes through Facebook, instead of only phone and text-message voting.
    • The retool for season 13 might outdo the one for season 10. They've removed most of the Hopeless Auditionees part of the audition episodes, choosing to focus more heavily on the people actually getting through to Hollywood Week, they've installed a new "chamber" for audition rounds where the auditioners get to rope in their nerves before they sing for the judges, Ryan Seacrest's part in the audition rounds has been toned down significantly, and auditioners can now accompany themselves on an acoustic guitar.
  • The Runner Up Takes It All: A fairly frequent occurrence is for the season winner to be outsold by at least one of the runners-up, who goes on to have a longer and/or more successful career.
    • A lot of people forget that Clay Aiken was the runner-up on the second season, as he had far more success than the actual winner, Ruben Studdard.
    • Fantasia Barrino of Season 3 hasn't done too badly — as long as you don't compare her to Oscar-winning, Super-Bowl-anthem-singing Jennifer Hudson, who finished seventh.
    • Season 5 champion Taylor Hicks has been outdone by four of his competitors: third-placer Elliott Yamin, fourth-placer Chris Daughtry, sixth-placer Kellie Pickler, and even eighth-placer Bucky Covington.
      • If you count runner-up Katharine McPhee (though she's had more success in acting), that makes five.
      • Chris Daughtry isn't just an example within his season, he's a pretty good example within the entire show. His band's debut album became the best selling album of 2007, and he currently sits as the third best-selling Idol contestant of all time behind Clarkson and Underwood. And again — he placed fourth, meaning that the collective American consciousness felt there were three better contestants than him. Also, during the season, he was offered the opportunity to leave the show and replace the singer of the band Fuel. He turned it down, but an established rock band liked the fourth place winner of the season enough to want him to front them.
    • There is no denying Jordin Sparks is the most successful contestant from Season 6. However, the most talked-about finalist that season wasn't her, nor was it even runner-up Blake Lewis. Rather, it was the season's seventh-place finisher, Sanjaya Malakar, who was known for being bad more than anything else.
    • During the seventh season of American Idol, runner-up David Archuleta was much more popular than winner David Cook. Archuleta still has a larger fanbase, but Cook has had more radio hits.
    • Try finding media coverage of the most recent season that mentions Kris Allen, the winner of Season 8, before fan favorite runner-up Adam Lambert.
    • Season 9 is the show's least successful season, as Lee De Wyze's career went nowhere. Crystal Bowersox didn't do much better either, but like Archuleta and Lambert, she was the more popular of the two during the season. In fact the only one to find musical success was third-place finisher Casey James who had moderate country success. However the most successful from the season would be eighth-place finisher Katie Stevens, who while not an artist, became a successful actress as one of the stars of MTV's Faking It.
    • During Season 11, runner-up Jessica Sanchez was definitely more popular than winner Phillip Phillips, but the latter's song "Home" became a massive hit that fall.
      • However, Seventh-place Colton Dixon seems like he's surpass both Sanchez and Phillips, as he's collaberated with Chris Daughtry, and Lifehouse singer Jason Wade, and has a massive fanbase and two singles getting airplay
    • Really, the only winners who are more popular than everyone else in their season are Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks, and Scotty McCreery. (Both Carrie and Scotty went country.)
  • Sadistic Choice: Sometimes, to convey voting results, Ryan will split the contestants into two groups: one which is the safe, and one which is not. The last contestant will be asked to stand with one of the groups. Sometimes they get it wrong, and at other times, they will not choose, only to have Ryan choose for them.
  • Running Gag: Sometimes, the live shows run long, creating problems for DVR users and especially local FOX affiliates. It peaked in Season 9, when the network complained to the show. All sorts of tactics were employed in order to fix this, such as judges commenting by committee, or only on alternating performances.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: In the Season 7 finale, David Cook chose not to do a reprise even though it had always been done in the finale because he felt he didn't need to dwell on past performances
  • Show Stopper: Ian Benardo, who straddles the line between obnoxious and hilarious in the way only a Camp Gay Jewish New Yorker can.
  • Signing Off Catch Phrase: "Seacrest out!"
  • Sixth Ranger
  • Sound Effect Bleep: This is sometimes done this during the audition rounds with angry rejects, as seen in this video of a particularly upset reject named "Rhonetta."
  • Spinoff:
    • World Idol (A one-off special broadcast on December 24, 2003 and January 1, 2004, with a competition between 11 recent champions from international versions of Idol, complete with a gathering of all of their Simon Cowell expys, and voted Eurovision-style. Norweigan representative Kurt Nielsen won, especially after a judge affectionately declared him the champion of Middle-Earth Idol because he looked like a hobbit)
    • American Idol Rewind (Syndicated reruns recapping a particular season, with additional interviews with contestants)
    • American Idol Extra (A former recap/"post-game" show aired by Fox Reality Channel)
    • American Juniors (A spinoff in Summer 2003, which formed a 5-member teen pop group)
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: A big complain of Idol as it began to slide from its popularity zenith was that the show was giving too much time to the Hopeless Auditionees, something that increased after William Hung became a widely-mocked sensation, and not enough on the talented singers the audience wanted to latch onto and follow. Following an executive shuffle and show retool for season 13, the show turned down the bad auditions and pitched their commercials to focus squarely on the more successful contestants that had a chance of possibly winning.
  • {{Sweeps]]: Each season gets real in February and ends right in the middle of May. Given the show's importance to the network, this has to be deliberate.
  • To Be Continued: Jennifer Lopez burst into tears after letting an early favorite go in season 10. Randy and Steven praised her for being considerate. The bad news is that only ten of the top twenty four contestants were named.
    • Repeated in season 11, where the first episode of Hollywood Week ended with Symone Black, age 16, falling off the stage, apparently injuring herself, though viewers would have to wait until the next episode to discover how badly.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: For all their bickering, Simon and Paula have an incredibly solid relationship, and seeing as how he brought Paula on The X Factor with him, he clearly respects her opinions. (Most of the time.)
    Simon: I love her to death now. I honestly, honestly do.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: The fairness of the voting is frequently called into question, with a lot of people suspecting that it's rigged in favor of contestants preferred by 19 Entertainment. Also played literally, in that viewers are allowed to vote as many times as they want.
  • Vulgar Humor: In Season 9, Ellen would get on Ryan's nerves this way.
  • Wham Episode: The episode was Casey Abrams was initially voted off. First Hulk Hogan appears and throws Ryan into the crowd and later in the show Ryan reveals Casey received the fewest votes. Casey starts to sing but the judges immediately cut him off and say they will save him while it's looking like Casey is to have a heart attack. He didn't.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Applied to the audience in a Season 11 episode. The bottom three contestants for the week of April 11, 2012 had all been doing really well. When the judges saw how the voting turned out, they were all upset, and Randy in particular went on a tirade. Needless to say, they used their save immediately. The saved singer, Jessica Sanchez, went on to finish second.
  • Who Is This Guy Again?: Sometimes members of the top 24 received little to no screentime. Examples include Jason Castro of Season 7, Allison Iraheta and Kris Allen of Season 8, and for those with short memories or didn't watch season 10, Hollie Cavanaugh of Season 11.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After Season 12, all four judges and the producers were fired. Only Ryan Seacrest and Jimmy Iovine got to stay.

Alternative Title(s):

Pop Idol