The Success of 'American Idol'

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Friday, April 08, 2016

The Success of 'American Idol'


Trent Harmon is the fifteenth and last winner of American Idol. However, my favorite moment came before the winner was announced last night.


Carrie Underwood, arguably the most successful winner in the history of the show, was given the honor of performing the last song before the final results were announced. She chose to sing Something in the Water, a song about the way faith and baptism change those who know Christ. (For more, see Janet Denison's article on her faith.) Her amazing performance illustrated the importance of using our influence for the glory of God. 


But back to American Idol. Time magazine calls it the show that "won contemporary culture." Why was it so successful? Why are the answers relevant to you this morning?


Time notes that Idol was the first show of its kind in the U.S. When it launched in 2002 as an adaptation of the British Pop Idol franchise, few expected it to do so well. Survivor, the first reality show, was only two years old. The genre was in its infancy, at least in our culture.


That was then; this is now.


Idol's offspring include The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, Project Runway, and Top Chef. Last Comic Standing, The X Factor, and America's Got Talent are all relatives as well.


I remember when Idol began—it was the first time I was allowed to vote on anything that affected what Hollywood produced. There was a sense of empowerment that helps explain the enduring appeal of the show and others like it.


Then there's the narrative factor. Idol knew that we would want to know the singers before we voted for them, so the producers made background stories significant to the show. Their strategy worked: people mounted campaigns for their favorite singers, with everything from multiple calls after a show to full-out social media campaigns.


We want to be empowered and to know the celebrities we support. But there's more to the Idol phenomenon: like all good television, it gave us an alternate, vicarious universe in which to live. We identified with the singers we supported and lived their dreams with them. When they lost, we lost. When they won, we won. For a few hours a week, we could live in the glamour and celebrity of Hollywood.


Now American Idol is done, its popularity distributed among the plethora of shows that do what it did. But the needs it met are still real. We still want to feel empowered. We still want to know the celebrities we support. And we still want to live in a more exciting world, at least for an evening.


Here's the good news: True followers of Jesus experience all of that and more. Not Sunday Christians or the superficially spiritual, but people who surrender every day to Christ as their King and serve him with all they have and are.


Such disciples are empowered to change the eternal destiny of those they influence. They know the King of kings (Revelation 19:16) with intimate passion. And they live every day ready to step from time into eternity, from this fallen world into God's glorious paradise.


Millennia after American Idol is forgotten, your next act of obedience to Jesus will resonate in eternity.



Publication date: April 8, 2016


For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit

Do you want to live a life in whole-hearted pursuit of loving God and others? 

Read today's First15 at