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Localizing the Global Idol Machine

Localizing the Global Idol Machine


In ‘Regimes, Pathways, Subjects’, Felix Guattari addresses the ‘machine addiction’ which he describes as:

“an apparent democratization of access to data and modes of knowledge… a planetary intermixing of cultures, paradoxically accompanied by a rising tide of particularisms, racisms and nationalisms” (1995: p. 112)

In my following entry, i will address what Guattari mentions about the “access to data and modes of knowledge”, the “intermixing of cultures” and “nationalisms”, how it splits the “cultural assemblage” (Guattari 1995: p.113) of the machine from the Idol phenomenon up into its different culture and then piecing it back together in globalization.

But where did the idea of the “Media Machine” come from?

In this clip, called “Human Contraptions: The Media Machine“, it shows how the Media Machine came about, by telling people about what happened in real life, which then evolved into news, and then further on into sensationalizing it. Further down the clip, it shows how by making money for this media machine, it is unclear whether us as the audience is using the remote to watch the television, or if the television is using the remote to watch us, as we are the subjects for its content, like the fuel for the machine. Like a mirror, the television watches what we do and broadcasts it, except it blurs this reality with a lot more sensationalism.

This then moves further along into reality television, where it merely plays “around with representations of reality” (Siegel 2007: p.238), still using the machinic method of subjectifying its audience into its content, sucking people into its large media machine and churning these information back out to these same people.

Here is another look on how the Media Machine works–> Conservativemap.pdf

About Idol

As an introduction, let me tell you what Idol is about. It is basically a “showcase of unknown singers – some good, some very bad- from around the country. Each week, the finalists perform and the audience votes out one contestant. In the end, the surviving performer gets a record contract and a promotion deal.” (Jenkins 2006: p.60)

Addiction to Idol

I did my own drawing on what why i thought there was an addiction to the Idol Machine. The red words are from the consumer point of view, and the blue words from the Idol Franchise point of view.


The Idol Machine Addiction
Done by Laura Chong

Just as being sucked into this Idol Machine, American Idol says: “You ask an entire country to step forward and audition.” “Reality television invites an entire country to step forward and be calmed and stupefied and appeased.” (Siegel 2007: p. 246)

The Idol show first started in New Zealand on a show called Popstars, which then moved to the UK and took on as Pop Idol, and has then moved to the USA to be American Idol, and the rest moves on from there. (Hill 2005: p.33) The Idol franchise has become so big that “Forbes ranked American Idol as the most profitable of all reality series, estimating that it had netted the network more than $260 million in profits by the end of its third season.” (Jenkins 2006: p.60)


Past American Idol winners

So, this Idol Machine is really doing well huh? In fact, it did so well that it “sprouted” to 40 territories around the world, including:

1. United Kingdom (Pop Idol)
2. America (American Idol)
3. Australia (Australian Idol)
4. France (Nouvelle Star)
5. Singapore (Singapore Idol)
6. Malaysia (Malaysian Idol)
7. Canada (Canadian Idol)
8. Philippines (Pinoy Idol)
9. India (Indian Idol)
10. Ethiopia (Ethiopian Idol)

Australian Idols

Australian Idol finalists at Sydney Opera House

Localizing Idol
But in these countries, how do they repackage their show to make it appeal to its local audience?
How did they make a global franchise like Idol into a local content?

Idol has been a show which license of the format has been obtained from overseas then produced as a local version. This form of producing a show is “easier and safer to buy a format has proven successful elsewhere than it is to develop your own concept from scratch.” (Murphy 2006: p.23)

As Murphy says, “What makes reality TV uniquely suited to adaptation is that once you’ve made the necessary adjustments, the show becomes essentially ‘local’ because it is about whatever the participants (and of course the editors) choose to make about it.” (2006: p.24)

Including local people into the shows, it gives them a sense of identity, as the people on the show will speak the same language, roam the same streets, behave similarly. Localizing Idol particularly, provides the national audience with people who are from similar backgrounds as them, thus feeling more at home in their television sets.Thus, what exactly is this identity and culture that the locals can connect with? Rico Lie defines the concept of culture as being observed through “(inter)actions, products, and institutions” that exist in “collective minds” (2004: p.24) Thus, it is in the way they act, their landmarks, the things around them, and their day-to-day lives.

Commodification, as described by Andrea Schuld-Ergil,

“is bound to the process by which a thing is imbued with meaning so as to create within it a type of cultural identity… and this alteration occurs via an individual’s (or culture’s) mental projection or encoding of certain qualities or essences into the perception of that good or service… which then aid in the construction of our cultural environment.” (2006: p.171)

Here, Canadian Idol shows some of their culture by including the Canadian landmarks in its opening sequence (institutions).


Canadian Maple Leaf symbol to show where it’s from
Image retrieved from

Australian Idol shows its own lifestyle in its ads whether it is at school, in the office, skateboarding, or waiting for the bus (interactions).



For Singapore Idol, it shows its locality by using themes that are very Singaporean. For example, when it was Singapore’s National Day, the theme for the week was on “Home, Friends & Family” a culture that Singapore encourages (interactions).


Also, another way in pushing the localization of Idol in Singapore was having a week’s theme on singing songs from the contestants own second language (e.g. Chinese, Malay, Tamil).

Malaysian Idol made their ad very culturally unique too, by showing that they do enforce very strict rulings, with the example of receiving a visitor pass to park your car.


Integrating people from different backgrounds into Idol


William Hung was made famous when he went on to the American Idol auditions and sang a bad rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs”. However, his sincere effort and believing in himself despite his inability to sing made audiences in America fall in love with him and the American Idol Machine decided to pull him in as part of their promotional strategy as well.

However, are integrating people from different backgrounds into completely different cultural groups really beneficial?

In the case of William Hung, many have spoken up and said that he has been a disgrace to Asian people, as they now think that all Asians behave like William Hung.

Disgrace William Hung

Giving people from other backgrounds the wrong impression of the Chinese

And to add to the fuel, the latest Season 7 of American Idol has shown another Asian, Philippino, Renaldo Lapuz, to disgrace the Asian community.


Thankfully, there is still the latest Season 7′s Ramiele Malubay from Philippino heritage, who proves that Asians still have talent and redeeming the culture.


Picture retrieved from

Effects of Cultural integration

In Kerrie Murphy’s “TV Land: Australia’s Obsession with Reality Television”, she says that:

“Simon Cowell, who was a judge in both Pop Idol and American Idol, spotted cultural difference from his place on the panel. ‘As [season one of] American Idol ended, I clearly saw what was so American about it: it was the scope, the excitement, the glamour,’ wrote Cowell. But the pageantry wasn’t the only thing that made it so American; another trait, brashness, was also there in abundance.’ (2006: p.38)

Thus, she continues to say that since “Australian viewers are exposed to both US and British styles of reality TV, it’s no surprise that we tend to blend both styles, keeping whatever is most likely to appeal to local audiences”, and “what makes a reality show essentially Australian is the attitude espoused by those participating in and watching it.” (Murphy 2006: p.39)  

Globalising of the localised Idol

Assemblage of the cultures – together as one ‘machine’


Picture retrieved from

In 2004, the winners from Idol came together to form World Idol. They were from:

-UK – Pop Idol – Will Young
– South Africa, Idols– Heinz Winckler
-Poland – Idol – Alicja Janosz
-USA – American Idol – Kelly Clarkson
-Netherlands – Idols – Jamai Loman
-Deutschland – Superstar – Alexander Klaws
-Norway – Idol- Kurt Nilsen
-Pan-Arabic region Lebanon- SuperStar – Diana Karazon
-Belgium – Idool – Peter Evrard
-Canada – Canadian Idol – Ryan Malcolm
– Australia – Australian Idol -Guy Sebastian

World Idol contestants

World Idol contestants

The contestants were gathered in London, and the two-part special World Idol was aired to those countries listed, which eventually crowned Norway’s Kurt Nilsen the very first World Idol (Murphy 2006: pp.30-31).

And since Asia caught on on the Idol Franchise much later, they also decided to bring together the cultures like World Idol, creating Asian Idol 2007.

Asian Idol

Asian Idol Contestants


Contestants from:

– India – Indian Idol, Abhijeet Sawant
– Singapore – Singapore Idol, Hady Mirza
-Malaysia – Malaysian Idol, Jaclyn Victor
– Philippine – Philippine Idol, Mau Marcelo
– Vietnam – Vietnam Idol, Phương Vy
– Indonesia – Indonesian Idol, Mike Mohede

In both World Idol and Asian Idol, each singer has his/her own localised sections to present its own culture to the world.

This shows that each countries’ culture has become commodified and churned into a larger commodification – the Idol Machine. Thus, to form the globalization of this Idol Machine, it “requires the constant production of new commodities (new Idols from around the world) and new markets (new countries to break into) so that capitalism is inherently expansionist and dynamic.” (Barker 1999: p.45)

Idol Machine shapes everyone into one mould


Same Mould?
Photo retrieved from

So is this Idol Machine really moulding everyone into the same person, no matter where they come from?

An American Idol skeptic says that these Idol contestants are

“processed like American Cheese into singers molded into a “type” by board-room career planners, style consultants and song-crafters. To me, this is an evil process, and waters down the entire industry.” (Goodfella 2007: Internet)

Writer from Indiana Daily Student, Cory Barker, believes that the reason behind the failure of the past American Idol winners or as he refers to as “fallen idols”, is to do with the Idol Machine itself. He says that

“The labels refuse to re-mold their business plan and instead continuously trot out their talent as “from American Idol” and expect that to work… Not all of the winners’ styles fit the classic “Idol” mold and the labels should have recognized that and promoted them differently.” (2008: Internet)

I completely agree with this notion. Despite the Idol Franchise being a big machine, it should also consider the nitty gritty details that people should be individually marketed to ensure their best potential being shown. And though Idol seems like it is churning out the same people over and over again, they actually aren’t the same, and though we come from the same world, each individual country still has its own identities and cultures that makes it truely unique.

Future of Idol? Stepping onto another platform, another world

Is the Internet a place with a culture where things can be “localized” as well?

Has the Idol Machine move so far beyond the physical world that it has stepped in and pulled in a new territory?

As Marshall McLuhan describes as “Medium as an extension of the body”, with the vast nature of the internet spurring on globalization, which culture, then would Sims Idol be connected to? Or does it take on an identity or culture of its own?

So far, cultural imperialism of the internet has moved into the Westernization of the world. Which is why most of the Idols series, including now’s Sims Idol, has taken a Westernized outlook as well.



Therefore, I have illustrated the machanics of the Idol Franchise, splitting it up to the different cultures and countries, and within the localized country, further splitting the machanics of its individual Idol and what makes these Idols so localized.

These cultures are then assembled back into one, being more apparent when they are literally brought back together in World Idol and Asian Idol and the effects of the interaction of these cultures.

This entire movement of cultures are churned into Idol Machine, but what is important is, will this machine last long and how far it will go in the future. For this, only time and the different movements in culture can tell. Like the reality of television, we’ll see who is the last one standing in the end – culture or Idol.


. “The Conservative Media Machine.” Retrieved 24 March 2008, 2008, from

(2006). How Real is Reality TV? North Carolina, McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers.

(2007). Makeover Television: Realities Remodelled. London & New York, I.B. Tauris.

(2007). “The Media Machine.” Retrieved 24 March 2008, 2008, from

Andrejevic, M. (2004). Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched. New York, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Barker, C. (1999). Television, Globalization and Cultural Identities. Buckingham & Philidelphia, Open University Press.

Barker, C. (2008). “Fallen “Idol”.” Retrieved 24 March 2008, 2008, from

Bignell, J. (2005). Big Brother: Reality Tv in the Twenty-First Century. Hampshire & New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Cheryl Pawlowski, P. D. (2000). Glued to the Tube: The Threat of Television Addiction to Today’s Family. Illinois, Sourcebooks, Inc.

Foege, A. (1996). The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson’s Media Machine. New York & Toronto, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

goodfella. (2007). “Daughtry: The Tortured American Idol Rocker Guy.” Retrieved 24 March 2008, 2008, from

Hill, A. (2005). Reality Tv: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. London & USA, Routledge.

Lie, R. (2003). Spaces of Intercultural Communication: An Interdisciplinary Introduction to Communication, Culture, and Globalizing/Localizing Identities. New Jersey, Hampton Press, Inc.

Murphy, K. (2006). TV Land: Australia’s Obsession with Reality Television. Queensland, John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.

Sayre, S. (2008). Entertainment Marketing & Communication: Selling Branded Performance, People and Places. New Jersey, Pearson Prentice Hall.

Siegel, L. (2007). Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television. New York, Basic Books.


Fuller, Simon. American Idol Season 1-7. 2002-2008.

Fuller, Simon. Australian Idol Season 1-4. 2003-2007.

Fuller, Simon. Asian Idol. 2007.

Fuller, Simon. Malaysian Idol Season 1-2. 2004-2005.

Fuller, Simon. Singapore Idol Season 1-2. 2004-2006.

Fuller, Simon. World Idol. 2003.



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