Over the past decade, reality shows have ascended to the top of the Nielsen rating charts and have assumed a dominance that is difficult to cast aside. One such reality show, American Idol has grown in popularity over its last six seasons. This chapter discusses one of the main arguments of a larger honors thesis that examines the underlying motives that keep American viewers watching. As a cultural commodity, American Idol can be viewed as a product of American values and holds a societal purpose for its viewers. Therefore, the arguments within this chapter propose that the great popularity enjoyed by American Idol is due to its ability to psychologically involve its viewers. More specifically, the psychological purposes of this show may lead to the amplified depiction of the humiliation of performing candidates. Current research within the field of media psychology suggests that the motives for viewing reality television can be explained by the uses and gratifications perspective, which includes the concept of social comparison, and by other more sociological means. The ability of social comparison to provide viewers the opportunity to protect and amplify their self-esteem is discussed. The potentially intensified emphasis on humiliation will be demonstrated through the aforementioned motives, due to their abilities to urge viewers to protect or increase their self-esteem.

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