NZ Idol: performance, talent and authenticity in a song contest

Wright, Rebecca Elizabeth
King, Barry
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

NZ Idol was a highly rated Reality Television series with three seasons spanning over three years since 2004. The production of this show has caused much media controversy and debate over its musical and/ or artistic worth with speculation centering on whether the show’s competition is based on musical talent or on audience popularity. The media generally claim that popular music shows or talent quests such as NZ Idol create instant celebrities (or as Rojek calls them Celetoids) whose talent is slight and whose career is short lived. Such talent quests therefore offer nothing of worth to New Zealand’s Music Industry, or for that matter to the contestants themselves. This thesis analyses these views in relation to NZ Idol as an unfolding media performance. The social impact of the show on New Zealand musical culture and on the music business in New Zealand is assessed as well as the experience of the show as a media ritual. The importance of popularity and perceived authenticity is discussed as well as notions of instant stardom. In addition, the thesis is concerned with the attitudes of musicians toward their craft as well as attitudes toward the talent shows themselves. Therefore an important aspect of this thesis is primary research based on a survey of the views of professional musicians. The data elicited through the survey centres on musician’s perceptions of their own careers, attitudes toward instant stardom as well their thoughts on the Pop Idol format, specifically NZ Idol and its contribution to the local Music Industry. Data on employment and earnings are also included in the data set. Another aspect of this research is to uncover the predominant media attitudes toward NZ Idol, which are often surprisingly at odds with the views of the musical community and these are the views the media claims to represent. Also discussed in greater depth are the ways in which the media portray and represent NZ Idol and the particular images that are generated about the show, the contestants and judges. All of these matters serve the purpose of advancing the public understanding of the limits and opportunities provided by talent contest shows and the prevailing attitudes towards them. Finally my own personal experiences from the weeks I participated as a contestant in NZ Idol Season Three are examined and reflected on along with the actual benefits to a contestant’s musical career once the series has ended and the ways in which participating in such a Reality Television show could possibly have more adverse effects than positive career enhancing possibilities.

NZ Idol , Performance , Authenticity , Song contest
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