There’s something to be said about a television program that introduces millions of its audience members to a life-changing new technology by virtue of participating in the programs as voters, that’s American Idol.
In 2003, though the SMS (Short Message Service) technology was available and popular with millions of cell phone users in Europe and Asia, its use among Americans – who until then clung to the good old habit of “phoning” their loved ones – lagged behind.
It wasn’t until AT&T, sensing the potential of this untapped and cheap technology, signed on as sponsor of American Idol when viewers of the singing show started making use of SMS or – as we Americans call it – text messaging. "American Idol put texting on the map," said an AT&T executive at the time. The rest is history, from 2009 to 2010 there was a 75% increase in the number of text messages teenagers sent and received (a total of 100 a day, in 2010). And it is safe to assume the numbers have just trended upwards ever since. Thank American Idol.
Besides introducing the American public to new technologies, American Idol is known for reviving the careers of once successful entertainers (Paula Abdul, Jennifer Lopez) while setting trends not only in music but also in fashion, etc. Never mind the numerous sponsors that have influenced millions of American Idol viewers with their persuasive marketing and advertising messages (for better or worse, and the growth of the American economy).
But American Idol has achieved something even more remarkable – as well as scary, depending on how one sees the prospects of American popular culture (as a half empty or half full glass). Former judge and producer Simon Cowell introduced American audiences to S&M (as in Sadism & Masochism) thanks to the way he humiliated eager contestants on a daily basis and in front of millions of eyeballs. No wonder America is now going gaga over Fifty Shades of Grey.
And how to forget the many discussions and controversies that sprung out of the judges (and the audience's) final decisions when it came to effectively elect the next American Idol, with fans protesting the WGWG (White Guy With Guitar) supremacy – as arguably more talented runner ups such as this year’s Jessica Sanchez have been unable to conquer the crown for years -- for allegedly not belonging to the WGWG dynasty.
So, whoever the producers of the show pick as the next judges (and whatever the reason why Jennifer Lopez and Steve Tyler are leaving for), the upcoming changes in American Idol will keep shaping American popular culture whether one likes it or not.