The Southern Appeal of 'American Idol'
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"American Idol" heads into its 10th season in January, 2011. The show has gained fame as one of the most successful network shows in television history. No doubt there are a multitude of reasons the show turned into such a top hit. People in America's south, especially, welcomed this show and its talented young singers from across the country into southern homes each week, often forming television viewing parties just to watch the new batch of young crooners.
Exactly what aspects of "American Idol" appeals to southern audiences?
1, Kelly Clarkson, winner of Season 1, won hearts from the first time she opened her mouth. A former cocktail waitress, Kelly appeared unaware of how talented she actually was. Her friend Jessica convinced her to audition. Kelly, with her sparkling eyes, laughter-filled voice and down-home personality attracted fans like honey-bees to clover. It didn't hurt that her rival and runner-up in the competition was Justin Guarini, a talented young heartthrob from Georgia who received much of the teen girl votes.
2. Southern folks root for underdogs and for poor guys and gals who make good. Maybe it's Scarlett O'Hara in them, or something like that. They love it when one of their own rises to the top. "American Idol" was this world-famous television event where young people aged 16-24 had a chance to try out to become America's next greatest pop star. All they had to do was audition, show their stuff and perhaps win a spot in the semi-finals.
3. "American Idol" producers showed the bad singers, too. Simon Cowell epitomized the look. He put a voice on mean thoughts that usually remained unspoken. In the South, folks have manners. Audiences weren't used to people coming out and saying what they really thought. They laughed at all the horrendous talent during the auditions, but for someone to make comments as mean, nasty and cruel as those of British bloke Simon Cowell was an anomaly for southern viewers. They watched in open-mouthed shock, and tuned in the next week to hear what that English guy would say next.
4. The winners of the first five seasons hailed from the South. Kelly Clarkson was from Texas. Reuben Studdard, Season 2 winner, was from area code 205 and wore the t-shirts to prove it. This "Velvet Teddy Bear" from Alabama had a background in gospel singing, guaranteeing support from a huge southern demographic. Runner-up and North Carolina native Clay Aiken won the hearts and attracted a growing number of fans each week with his magical voice. Underdog fans became Claymates and helped Clay win a TV Guide poll that named him the "most-loved reality show star of all time." Season 3 brought another North Carolina native, Fantasia Barrino to duke it out with Georgia's Diana DeGarmo. A more southern-fried duo is not to be found anywhere.
In Season 4 brought country music singer Carrie Underwood and rocker Bo Bice. Underwood was from Oklahoma and Bice from Alabama. Carrie knocked the ball out of the ballpark and hasn't stopped raking in the top awards in music.
Season 5 produced another winner from Alabama, Taylor Hicks, and runner-up Katherine McPhee. At last "American Idol" had someone in the top two other than a southern-bred boy or girl. McPhee came from California. Season 5 also gave the country its first glimpse into North Carolina sweetheart, Kellie Pickler, whose rags-to-riches story remains one of the most endearing of all the tales that have come out of the "American Idol" phenomenon. Kellie has since gone on to become one of the most successful country music stars on the scene today.
Songs of the South and Hush My Mouth: 'American Idol's" Gone Country
When viewers factor in how many winners and runners-up came from the American South and the southern charm that came along in those first seasons, it is little wonder that the show took off like a rocket shot from one of sponsor Coca-Cola's bottles. Incidentally, Coca-Cola is an Atlanta-based company. The ride continues.