American Idol Story Elements

I don’t have time to watch, but I found myself getting sucked in this week. And here’s something I realized as I watched Simon, Paula, Randy, Ryan, & the contenstants–the show is using story principles.


Duh, I know: of course, it is. But it does it so well. It reminds me of a research article I read about sportscasters and audience enjoyment of sports competitions. They found that if they could inject story elements–suspense, rivalry, etc.–people enjoyed the games more. Next time you watch a college football game, notice what the color commentators say to make it a contest. It’s not just about reporting what #45 did out in the flat.

Anyway, back to Idol. Look at these elements.

What draws us to characters?

Beauty, threats, quirkiness, larger-than-life situation or skills, source of viewer wish-fulfillment.

Humm, let’s look at the cast of performers. Don’t we see all of that? How many of us wouldn’t love to be able to sing like they do? Have a shot at becoming a recording artist? Or just goggle at someone getting this chance?

What factors generate suspense?

Threats to characters we like or marvelous opportunities for them, turns in the situation, a prolonged resolution.

Humm. Our sympathy is engaged because these folks are normal folks, many of them underdogs. Many viewers identify strongly with one or two because of the contestant’s various social groups and because, heck, the auditions are for people like you and me. It could be us up there in front of the world! You’ve got the threat of peformance fright, but also the overriding opportunity to make a dream real. You’ve got a wonderful career, if not millions of dollars, on the line. You’ve got Simon who is honest, but also plays his part. Isn’t that the moment of most suspense with each performance? You’ve even got a little subplot going on between Simon and Seacrest. There’s no villain here. But there are plenty of obstacles. Weekly threats.

What does Idol give us that Survivor never could?

It’s all REAL, even if the producers let their selection of performers be influenced by things other than vocal talent. And because it’s real, we believe it. Which means we can more easily feel sympathy and root for the various performers.

It’s a simple but brilliant concept. And I just wasted 4 hours watching it. And I’m likely to do it again.

Zing, Baby. Zing!

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2 Responses to American Idol Story Elements

  1. Mette Harrison says:

    I’ve started to wonder of late how REAl it is. Do you think Simon could and Ryan could really come up with those metaphors on the fly like that?

  2. John Brown says:

    Hummm. I hadn’t thought about that. Geez, Mette, now I’ll be scrutinizing that as well (grin)

    The one thing that saves it for me; however, is that unlike SURVIVOR it’s about real stuff. A real career is on the line. There’s real audience voting even if people can vote multiple times. It’s not a dumb made-up contest.