Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol
Katherine L. Meizel
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 02/16/2011
Format: Paperback 6 b&w illus., 9 music exx.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22271-8
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Honorable Mention, 2011 Woody Guthrie Book Award

The hit television program American Idol provides a stage where the politics of national, regional, ethnic, and religious identity are performed for millions of viewers. Diversity is carefully highlighted and coached into a viable commodity by judges, argues Katherine Meizel, with contestants packaged into familiar portraits of American identities. Consumer choice, as expressed by audience voting, also shapes the course of the show—negotiating ideas of democracy and opportunity closely associated with the American Dream. Through interviews with audience members and participants, and careful analyses of television broadcasts, commercial recordings, and print and online media, Meizel demonstrates that commercial music and the music industry are not simply forces to be criticized or resisted, but critical sites for redefining American culture.

Author Bio

Katherine Meizel is Visiting Assistant Professor at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.


“Shows how the hit television program American Idol demonstrates that commercial music and the music industry are not simply forces to be criticized or resisted, but are critical sites for redefining American culture.”

“An engaging analysis of one of the most important developments of the past decade for popular music on television.”
 — Chris McDonald, author of Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“Meizel’s ambitious book is a model of clarity and seriousness in its treatment of American Idol, American identity, the American mood in the early 21st century.”
 — Matt Stahl, University of Western Ontario

“[An] engaging critical [investigation] of nationalist music politics. . . Katherine Meizel persuasively theorizes that American Idol is important because it constructs and voices narratives about American nationalism, while pop-song performances mark boundaries between Americans and Others.Dec 2012”
 — Notes

“Meizel writes with a clarity and intelligibility that makes her analysis of the phenomenon of the show compelling even for those who are not interested in the show itself. She takes a broad view of the show, using plenty of outside sources to put it in context. She not only brings understanding to many aspects of the show but also uses the show to bring understanding to issues of media and American culture.”
 — Music Reference Services Quarterly

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Table of Contents


Introduction: No Boundaries
1. Facing Reality: American Idol as Reality Television
2. Facing the Music
3. Win or Lose: Success and Failure and the American Dream
4. Idol Worship: Civil and Sacral Religion in American Idol
5. Going Places
6. Politics as Usual
7. The United Nations of Pop: Global Franchise and Geopolitics
Epilogue: Crystallized

Works Cited

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