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Gender and 'American Idol'

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Lee DeWyze is officially the winner of the ninth season of American Idol.  The triumph of Lee, the third scruffy, low-key, guitar strumming, regular Joe white guy in a row, over the dreadlocked and husky voiced Crystal Bowersox will no doubt cause a certain amount of consternation amongst the incredibly devoted Idol commentators and fanbase.

Many will blame tween girls and their mothers for voting with their eyes instead of their ears, and many will claim that Crystal deserved the win. But Idol is a voting show, a show about giving the people what they want. And if “the people” are young girls and middle-aged women, why shouldn’t their desires count?

In recent years, as the Idol viewership has dropped, reaching record lows this season, the voting process has become more and more dominated by hardcore, intensely invested fans and less by casual viewers. There is no limit on how many votes a household can call or text in, making it possible for people to vote constantly for the full two hour voting window. Many fans do, some even dialing or typing on two phones at once. And the vast majority of those committed fans are females younger than 18 and older than 35.

As this trend developed, it became much more difficult for female contestants to do well on the show. The last female winner was Jordin Sparks in season 6, a season that offered a particularly weak crop of men. Both the seventh and eighth seasons featured all male final twos, and the eighth and ninth both had only one female in the top five.

This is of course unfortunate for the talented women competing on Idol. DeWyze, for all of his sheepish everyman charm, is a noticeably less polished and prepared performer than Bowersox; he suffers from frequent pitch problems and an embarrassingly awkward stage persona.

But Idol has never been just about raw talent. The show has always been about finding personalities that appeal to the masses of viewers, and by the nature of a voting competition, the person who manages to earn the most votes automatically deserves the title. Bowersox may be a better singer and performer than DeWyze, but he clearly did a better job of drawing the adoration of the Idol audience, so he is the rightful winner.

It is disturbing that the female dominated audience is so uninterested in supporting contestants of their own gender, just as it is disturbing that Adam Lambert’s sexuality was a factor in last season’s voting patterns and that there has not been a legitimate African American male contender for the title since season two. This tendency to choose similar regular dude guitar players as winners is probably also disturbing to the label which has to give them recording contracts, if season 8 winner Kris Allen’s tepid album sales and season 7 winner David Cook’s struggles with radio singles and lack of media presence are any indication.

So maybe the tastes of tween girls and their moms are problematic for 19 Recordings, who has to try to maintain their fickle affections for the cute guy of their year, and for the few Idol fans who for some reason think the show is supposed to crown the absolute most musically talented contestant. But their opinions aren’t invalid, and they’re not ruining anything. They like seeing blandly nice, nonthreateningly attractive boys on their TV, and they’re willing to wear out their dialing fingers to get it. Good for them.

Gender and 'American Idol'

Johannah Cousins

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APA Reference
Cousins, J. (2010). Gender and 'American Idol'. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 26 May 2010
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 May 2010
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