Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Women's Studies

Major Professor

Sara L. Crawley, Ph.D.


Stereotypes, Reality television, Heteronormativity, Repitition, Gaze


This paper examines how the reality competition television program American Idol serves to reinforce gendered, racialized and heteronormative stereotypes, particularly for female contestants. Through its "democratic" style of public audience voting, those competitors who not only sing well, but also perform their gender and race to standards which have been deemed by the judges to be appropriate mainstream American culture, prove to be the most successful on the program. Through a content analysis of the show's first four seasons, I find that those female contestants who begin their tenure in the contest by fitting into categories which would be considered stereotypical for their gender and race, and continue to appear and behave in this manner, move farther along in the competition than their peers appear to be more innovative. I also find that while the judges comments suggest that American Idol purports to be looking for someone "unique," the contestants who do well in the competition are in fact not exceptional, but rather fit into "conventional" performances of either white or African American women. Those who present themselves as too different, that is, "deviant" from gendered or racialized performances end up being voted off the show before getting their chance to be crowned American Idol.