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What Makes American Idol So Popular?

American Idol is the most popular TV reality show ever produced and as it enters its sixth season there aren't any signs of a let up. For this season more than one hundred thousand people audition for the right to be crowned America's next idol and stand next to Taylor Hicks, Carrie Underwood, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard and Kelly Clarkson.

Last year American Idol was the most watched show on TV. But what makes it so popular? The reasons are many but can be summed up in two distinct categories.

First, we love to see people bomb out big time. For the sheer entertainment factor, there's hardly something more interesting than watching someone who is sure they are the next Idol, face a good dose of reality. We all think, "Why didn't someone, somewhere along the way, sit down with this person and tell them they didn't have what it takes?" It is usually left up to the Idol judges and especially Simon Cowell to break the bad news to them. And even though Simon says some off the wall things, much of what the says, needs to be said.

It is also fun to watch the truly bizarre and every season on American Idol we get full exposure to the bizarre. We certainly wouldn't vote for someone dressed as Apollo Creed, or that has their face painted, or appears to have invented some new strange dance as the next Idol, but we do find great entertainment value in the circus side of the show.

The second, and biggest reason American Idol is so popular is because we, as the public, get to choose who has the talent and wins our hearts. There isn't anything better than seeing someone like Kellie Pickler's hard luck story and then getting to be a part of, and witness her rise to stardom. Who wasn't touched by a regular, unpretentious guy like Elliott Yamin who's surprising voice and devotion to his mom charmed us all and created an incredibly loyal fan base. And of course let's not forget the winners like Taylor Hicks going to his top 12 interview playing the harmonica or Carrie Underwood's emotion and thankfulness on the night she was crowned an American Idol.

All along the Idol selection process we develop relationships with our favorite contestants. One night we favor someone because they sang our favorite song, then next week our choice doesn't do so well and we feel their pain. We may even switch loyalties during the process because we see character revealed during the grueling rise to stardom, character we don't particularly like.

The bottom line though is that the winner of American Idol is America's choice, not the choice of a boy band producer, a greedy agent, a radio station network or any other fake deal. There isn't anything fake about American Idol. There isn't anything fake about unknown underdogs living regular lives, suddenly becoming household names.

There's even the counter culture of American Idol that's takes Idol wannabes like William Hung and makes them famous or takes the likes of Jonathan Jayne and Kenneth Briggs and cheers them on as they gain popularity after a particularly rude comment from Simon. This is the Idol process and we all get to participate in it.

The only thing left to determine is, who will be the next American Idol?

Alan LeStourgeon runs the American Idol News blog where he writes about Idol contestants, posts various Idol videos and participates in the American Idol process.