Making Meaning of Reality Television Celebrities: The Reception of South African Idol by Young Adults in Joza, Grahamstown
Department of Corporate Communication and Marketing, Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha, South Africa
- *Corresponding Author:
- Magade ME
Journalism, Department of Corporate Communication and Marketing
Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha,
Tel: (043) 703 8532
Received Date: Aug 03, 2018; Accepted Date: Aug 06, 2018; Published Date: Aug 16, 2018
Citation: Magade ME. Making Meaning of Reality Television Celebrities: The Reception of South African Idol by Young Adults in Joza,
Grahamstown. Global Media Journal 2018, 16:31.
Copyright: © 2018 Magade ME. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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Reality television or “factual entertainment” is a hybrid of old television formats and factual programming in order to create a “new” entertaining show designed to draw the attention of audiences and increase viewership ratings. South African Idol is one popular local example. Adapted from the British programme Pop Idols, the show promises upward mobility for the young star who wins the competition. This show has become a subject of conversation amongst young people in South Africa who aspire to the “success” and “celebrity” status that is produced by participating on the show. This paper uses of a Cultural Studies framework in order to examine the relationship between texts and audiences as an aspect of the “circuit of culture,” with its interrelated moments of production, texts, consumption and lived experience. Our research focuses on the text and audience “moments” of this circuit. Audience studies research suggests that we should situate television viewing and the meanings made of TV programs in the natural setting of the home, and that this setting should be taken seriously as a unit of analysis. This study therefore, seeks to understand the ways in which audiences make meaning of this television programme within the domestic context.
South African idol; Factual entertainment;
Television; TV programs
This focuses on the South African media context within
which South African Idols is broadcast before moving on to
examine the research context of Grahamstown, the small town
in the Eastern Cape in which viewers encounter the show. It
more specifically locates the study within the township of Joza
and the socio-cultural and economic conditions that constitute
the lived environment in which the viewers, who are the respondents of our study watch, talk about and mutually
reflect on the show and its contestants.
The broad South African broadcasting context within which
the show is produced looked at. Here, we examine some of the
critiques of broadcasting of the post-apartheid state in order
to situate Dstv’s M-net, the platform that produces the show
and its structure as the first subscription television network in
South Africa. This examination of the broader broadcasting
context and of Dstv will enable me to examine the agenda
setting of the network, and how it promotes some audiences
while marginalises the audience according to socio-economic
factors. In the same instance, the network not only just
marginalises some identities, but at the same time, it is about
the promotion of others. This forms the backdrop to the
history of South African Idols as a reality television show,
including the show’s target audience and its ratings, which
indicate its popularity amongst young adult viewers, visible on
social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter.
In all societies, human beings engage in the production and
exchange of information and symbolic content . With the
latest technological developments, the way in which media
messages are produced has also transformed in a significant
way . In his argument, Thompson proposes an approach to
the study of the media that is ‘cultural’. This cultural approach
is concerned both with the meaningful character of symbolic
forms and with their social contextualization. According to
Thompson , communication media are concerned with the
production, storage and circulation of materials, which are
meaningful for the individuals who produce and receive them.
Thompson further reminds us that, mediated communication
is contextualized and because the social context in which
communications occurs is structured in various ways, this has
an impact on the kind of communication that occurs .
In keeping with Thompson’s position, we argue that it is
easy to focus on the symbolic content of media messages and
ignore the complex array of social conditions which underline
the production and circulation of these messages . Our study of the meanings made by young people in Joza from
watching South African Idols makes use of this approach. In
this way, without ignoring the ideological implications of the
symbolic forms of the show’s messages, we seek to show how
“mediated communication is an essential part of the broader
contexts of social life” , as the meaning that are made from
these forms of mediated communication are interpreted in
relation to the social, cultural and economic factors of the
South African Broadcast Media during
The history of broadcasting in South Africa reflects the
national history within which it developed. Initially, the
development of broadcast media in South Africa was largely
shaped by the establishment and evolution of the South
African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) . The SABC played
a significant part in both constructing and supporting the
governance structures of apartheid in South Africa. It primarily
supported the then government's efforts to combat what were
seen as the "revolutionary forces" ostensibly marshalled by
the African National Congress (ANC) in exile during the
apartheid regime . It also played a significant role in the
apartheid project of separate development and ethnicisiation
of black South Africans [3,4]. The apartheid attitude of
‘separate development’ was not confined to the political
sphere, but extended to cultural matters, thereby contributing
to the infusion of the arts with political meanings .
The Social Context: South Africa,
Grahamstown and Joza
Despite the transition to democracy in 1994, South Africa
continues to be a country marked by severe and increasing
inequalities . This is still evident in the society that we live in
today. Even though a number of black people have managed
to get better chances of employment and education. The
conditions are still dire in many black communities. As
researchers have observed it, some South African children
grow up amid extraordinary affluence and privilege. But this is
not the case is areas like Grahamstown, where majority of
black youth are still unemployed and in some cases with only a
Matric certificate at their disposal. “The boundaries of
privilege have extended beyond whiteness to include
considerable numbers of black children growing up within the
fast-growing black elite and middle class”. However, this
observation is valid, but it is only applicable to the minority of
the black population. This means that groups that were
marginalized during the apartheid era remain marginalized to
Even within black communities there is some segregation
between working class blacks and middle class blacks, blacks
who have versus blacks who don’t have. Nevertheless, the
truth of the matter is that, majority of black youth still live in
dire conditions of poverty and limited or no access to
resources. In The post-apartheid South Africa, class has replaced race as the foundation of deep social cleavages .
The unemployment rate amongst the youth, women and black
people is drastically increasing instead of decreasing . This
will be discussed in detail later in the chapter.
The truly remarkable nature of South Africa’s transition to a
new state was portrayed in the election and the inaugural of
Nelson Mandela as the new president in 1994 . In order to
map out this transition we will adopt the transition theory as
explained by Adler and Webster. These two authors identify
three factors that have contributed to the country’s transition
to democracy. They argue that; in order for South Africa to be
where it is today, there had to be contestations between those
who had power and those who were disadvantaged . This is
still evident in the society we live in today; where young
people are always striving to get access to better education
and other opportunities.
Due to the well-known fact that the government of today
has failed to provide resources and services to its citizens, this
has led to the public venturing in other options to find means
of survival. It is for this reason that shows like Idol are very
popular amongst young people, especially those who are
looking to better themselves. If young people cannot get
employment opportunities, shows like Idol are a promise of a
better life for them.
Alongside with all the things that needed to be done during
the transition period, at the helm of it was the focus on
developing the young people which were seen as the future
leaders of the country. The transition period also came up with
its challenges. When the African National Congress (ANC)
gained power post the 1994 general elections, many promises
were made including eradication of poverty, access to
education and employment opportunities for young people.
While a lot has changed in policies, the practicality of these
promises has proven to be difficult to implement. This is
evident in the current socio-economic status of our country
which is characterized by the lack of employment
opportunities, especially amongst young people reference.
Young people are always among the first to experience the
challenges and possibilities of social change . The youth
embodies and performs the ‘flow of cultural modernization’
that accompanies the economic, political, and technological
transformations that shape their lived context . Willis
argues that young people usually look at themselves in
relation to political and economic shifts and respond to these
in different ways. His insight offers us a way of studying how
young people form and reform their ideas about themselves or
others when their social and political context fractures .
Often their responses are seen as violent, mischievous and
Today, young people are emerging as one of the central
concerns of African studies. Located at the heart of both
analytical apparatuses and political action, they also have
become a preoccupation of politicians, social workers, and
communities in Africa. Undoubtedly, the centrality of this
subject is connected to the extraordinary change over the last
three decades in the way African societies see them.
Youth are an increasingly compelling subject for study in
Africa, entering into political space in highly complex ways. To
pay attention to youth is to pay close attention to the
“topology of the social landscape-to power and agency; public,
national, and domestic spaces and identities, and their
articulation and disjuncture; memory, history, and sense of
change; globalization and governance; gender and class”.
In most African societies, distress as well as success adhere
to the body and are read on the body, especially among young
people. By living life on the margin, young people abolish the
gap between adolescence and adulthood, and in some cases,
between childhood and adolescence. Sex and violence become
rites of passage and initiation which, like the new religious
practices, produce a historicity of dissidence and dissent.
When it comes to the local youth in South Africa, research
has indicated that young people experience considerable
emotional distress . The causes of distress amongst young
people in South Africa can be attributed to many factors, most
visibly those social and economic conditions which constrain
their life-chances. These include forms adversity such as
poverty, unemployment, dysfunctional families . These
challenges are prevalent amongst young people in the Eastern
Cape Province, where our study is based, which is estimated as
being the poorest province out of the nine provinces in the
This research is conducted amongst the youth of
Grahamstown, South Africa. Grahamstown is located in the
Eastern Cape Province and falls within the Makana Local
Municipality. It is a fairly isolated provincial town, with the
closest major urban cities being Port Elizabeth and East
London, 120 and 140 km away respectively. The total
population of greater Grahamstown, which is inclusive of the
black communities that lie on the outskirts of the city, is
roughly 125,000 people. Of the total population, 78 percent
are black, 12 percent are colored, 10 percent are white, and
less than 1 percent are Indian. Forty-five percent of the
population is between the ages of 20 and 49 years of age,
while 39 percent are younger than 20 years of age.
My specific local area of interest is Joza location of
Grahamstown. This location contrasts markedly with the city
center, with its white suburbs and businesses. It is a small
township, situated in SA’s poorest province, and like many of
its metropolitan cousins, its inhabitants struggle with the lack
of provision of basic services, such as water and sanitation. In
addition, many of its residents are unemployed: in 2010, the
local unemployment rate was estimated to be 32.9 per cent,
higher than the national average of 24 per cent .
South Africa Broadly; Youth within
South Africa, like many other developing countries, has a
youthful (15-34 of age) population consisting of 70% of the
national population. In 2010, the country had an
unemployment national average rate of 24 per cent ,
which had increased to 36.1% in 2014 . The majority of young people from poor South African townships still live in
dire conditions, in contrast to their white counter parts [5,12].
It is important to note that because of poverty and other
structural factors, young people continue to live on the
margins of political and socio-economic participation, unable
to make meaningful contributions to decisions that affect their
lives. This is mostly the case with young people in
Grahamstown who, because of being situated in a rural area,
often feel excluded from the nation building project of the
The inequality that characterises Grahamstown mirrors that
of South Africa, which is one of the most unequal societies in
the world with the richest 20% earning nearly 70% of the
country’s income. Due to these challenges, many young
people are faced with prospects of dropping out of school at
an early stage. These challenges and the high rate of
unemployment in the area mean that the majority young
people from poor households are more likely to be without
jobs. In 2007, unemployment among black South African youth
25–34 (years of age) stood at 42% .
To try and deal with this issue of unemployment amongst
young people, the South African government has implemented
the Community Work Programme (CWP) in order to create
employment for young people. This programme is also
available in Grahamstown but has been criticized by many,
with the view that it does not address the issues of poverty as
it offers low wages. Men between the ages of 15 to 34 are
more likely to find jobs in the formal sector than women, but
young men from poor households are finding it increasingly
difficult to enter the job market.
In South Africa’s broken and violent society, youth who are
socially excluded are particularly at risk of turning to drugs,
crime, and violence. This results in the image of regarding
black youth as problematic, a notion Seekings  terms the
“youth problem”. Both the “youth” and the supposed “youth
problem” were socially constructed ideas . Seekings
further argues that, the “youth problem” notion was traced to
the revolts that took place in South African townships and
rural areas during the 1980’s. at the height of political
transformation, young people were often referred to “shocked
troops” or “foot soldiers” to indicate the kind activism and
participation they had in fighting the apartheid regime .
Young people during this time boycotted school classes,
demonstrated and fought in the streets against security forces
. The “comrades”, as they came to be known, rendered
whole areas ungovernable and helped build the structures of
people’s power . The way young people in the 1990s were
viewed by those who opposed the apartheid government was
somehow different to how young people are views in this day
and age. In the 1980’s, young people were referred to as the
“Young Lions”, which is contradictory to today’s view of
regarding the youth as “problematic” and “troubled” .
The Approaches to Studying the Text/
In response to the negative reactions to the processes of
industrialization, urbanization and the emergence of
contemporary forms of mass media, theorists have been
concerned with the relationship between the text and the
audience and with the effects of the media on their moral,
political and economic lives .
Theorists looking at the competing approaches between
those that stress the power of the media and those arguing for
the autonomous power of the audience have two propositions
to studying the social life . The first position is represented
by the ‘effects’ tradition that draws on a hypodermic model of
media influence . Strelitz suggests that; even though
theorists within this tradition may differ in their political
perspective and their focus on short-term behavioral changes
and or long-term cultural and ideological changes, what they
do share is the view that the media, as powerful social
institutions, are able to ‘inject’ their audiences with their
messages and thus affect their behavior .
Opposing the ‘hypodermic’ model of the media and social
life is an approach that stresses audience autonomy instead of
textual determination . On the latter approach, there are
differences in terms of the underlying political philosophy.
Whether it is ‘uses-and-gratifications’ research or the ‘twostep
flow’ approach, mainstream theories rooted in liberal
pluralist philosophy have emphasized individual, psychological
meanings rather than social ones .
Strelitz  argues about the different approaches to
studying the social life by describing those theorists who were
concerned with ‘culture industries’ as ideological apparatuses
that seek to serve the interests of dominant groups. He
compares it with ‘mainstream’ American approaches that see
the media as a reflector of the value consensus that is deeply
embedded in society .
According to theorists using the American approach to study
social life, the media have short term and restricted influence
, while for the Frankfurt School theorists, the media act as
a powerful instrument that aid the maintenance of class
oppression. Media in the mainstream American approach are
seen as relatively weak, but important, instruments in the
circulation and reinforcement of shared values . The
limitations of such a perspective is that the differences of
response or interpretation are attributed solely to individual
differences or personality . In contrast, cultural studies
theorists who support relative audience autonomy attempt to
uncover clusters of readings that correspond to significant axes
of power within particular social contexts .
To look at the meanings made in a particular social context,
a Cultural Studies approach that look at the relationship
between the media and its audiences is employed. Where the
audiences being examined are not viewed as passive television
viewers but rather as active [22,23]. For a long time audiences
of media message have been viewed a passive receivers,
however, research confirms that audiences choose to engage with the medium and its content in a variety of active ways,
including managing their attention to it, making meanings out
of its messages, analysing and criticising, and selectively
remembering it .
The approach thus views audiences as active participants in
the process of receiving and making meaning of these media
messages . The active audience approach also maintains
that even if individuals may have relatively little control over
the content of the symbolic materials “made available to
them, they can use these materials, rework and elaborate
them in ways that are quite alien to the aims and intentions of
the producers in order to interpret and make sense of their
own lives” within a specific lived context .
Making sense of media texts is a habitual part of our
everyday existence. Making sense of media texts requires an
active process of interpretation in which meaning is actively
decoded . This act of decoding takes place within a
complex social structure in which the message is not isolated
from relations of power .
Media texts are interpreted and manipulated by audiences
in ways in which they make sense of them. It is important
therefore that the “consumption of media messages should be
seen as an activity: not as something passive, but as a kind of
practice in which individuals take hold of and work over the
symbolic materials they encounter” .
Since its inception, research in the communication and
media industry has been concerned with the issue of impact or
effects. The claim of communication research to disciplinary
status and as well as to a wider political relevance, “comes
from the concern of researcher trying to explain how the mass
media make a difference in social life” . This is the case in
the study we are conducting as we will looking at the
meanings that our research subjects make from watching the
Idols show and how does this show shape the way the view
themselves and their social life within their lived context.
This study employs a qualitative method into studying the
meanings made by the research subjects from watching the
Idols show. Qualitative research is a method that involves an
interpretative, naturalistic approach to its subject matter. This
means that as a qualitative researcher one is required to study
things in their natural settings, with the attempt to make to
make sense of and interpret phenomena in terms of the
meanings people bring to them .
A qualitative approach differs from quantitative in
significant ways. The latter can establish regularities in social
life, while on the other hand qualitative evidence can allow the
process which links the variables to be revealed .
Qualitative research is regarded as messy and at times tends to
involve false trails and blind alleys to a much greater degree
than the idealization implies . Bryman further explains:
The problem that much quantitative research is relatively
unconcerned with theory implies that it is a weak account of
how concepts come into being and also how they come to be subject to a measurement process. In fact, concepts provide a
central focus for much social science research but they are
loosely or tangentially related theoretical considerations.
The role of a researcher using a qualitative approach is to
“seek to preserve the form and content of human behavior
and to analyze its qualities, rather than subject it to
mathematical or other formal transformations” .
Six focus group discussions were conducted and interviews
were held when necessary in order for the respondents to
expand further on what had emerged on the discussions.
Furthermore, in order to get the respondents’ independent
inner views, we gave respondents questionnaires so that they
can answer freely without being influenced by other
participants in the focus groups. To protect the true identities
of the respondents, they will referred to as “R” which stands
Due to the fact that our research focuses on the social
production of meaning, this study is a reception analysis which
is predicated upon a qualitative approach to research that
includes both text and the socially situated audience [29,30]. It
is therefore important in this research that we focus on the
audience (reception) and their social conditions (social
context), because the meanings that they make from watching
this show (Idols) are preceded by experiences which have
occurred in their lived context. The reception analysis tradition
emphasizes the idea that human “subjects are engaged in the
process of making sense of their own lives and that they
continuously interpret, create and give meanings to their own
This approach is useful as it suggests that the everyday
constructions and interpretations people make about their
lives should be taken into consideration in any conception of
social science research . The main central aim of
ethnographic reception analysis is therefore to understand the
live experiences of the audience. Thus, it then has to engage
with the situational contexts in which the media are used and
The Viewing Context
As discussed in our literature review that cultural studies
proposes that the main aim of reception ethnography is to
understand the lived experiences of the consumers. Thus it is
important that this approach engages with the situational
context of the everyday lives in which the media are used and
understood . The respondents had this to say when asked
about how the view the show:
R: I like watching the show with my family.
Respondent was more specific when responding.
R: I watch the show with my sister, my mom and dad. My
dad is the huge fan of the show.
Other respondents also agreed that they watch the show
with family members of their friends.
I then further ask the respondent’s why the enjoy watching
the show with family and friends. It turns out that on Sundays
at 5pm everyone is ready to watch Idols. As we would know
that the viewing context is a rule-based context in which
power relations play significant roles. It is therefore important
that we pay significant attention to the viewing context
because we need to consider the issues of power that
translate into this context like negotiations like around
programme choice . The respondents have this to say:
R: I watch the show with my sister so that I can be
comfortable and not be disturbed.
R: I watch the show with my family and friends because I
like the comfort of being in my own space and I enjoy the
heated conversations we have over the show and about the
Other contestants also stated that stated that they like
watching the show with their family and friends because the
conversations and the debate that they engage in with the
people they watch the show with. The viewing of television in
this case is not disruptive of the social relations that exists
between the family members and friend, but rather enhances
the view experience into something that they enjoy. It is
Strelitz  that suggests that taking into consideration the
household context in which the viewing takes place, enable us
to move beyond the idea that looks at television as disruptive
of family. Strelitz  explains that the focus should be on the
way in which television can be used in order construct
occasions which enable various types of interactions to be
As it has pointed in chapter two that the socio-economic
conditions of Grahamstown represent those that prevail in the
broader society in South Africa. What is interesting enough in
the case of this study is the way in which the viewing
experience of the show is negotiated by the fans of the show
in this location? Due to high unemployment rates many
households do not have DTV connection because they cannot
afford the monthly subscriptions. But this does not stop the
minority group of fan from watching the show. What happens
is that these fans gather together at a friend’s house who has a
connection and they watch from there. Those who are
fortunate enough to have connections are in any case always
willing to invite and welcome those who do not have
connection to watch the show every Sunday. In this way, new
social relations are created and new ways of interacting are
pursued as Strelitz  suggests.
This is evident in this study. Majority of the respondents
mentioned that, as they watch the show with friend and family
members, there people who do not have Dstv connection who
usually come and watch they show with them. Through this
interaction and watching the show with other, new social relations that would have not been formed if it were not for
the interest in the show, are formed.
During the preliminary interviews, one of the respondents
also suggested that they sometimes hosts a couple of friends
on Sundays when they are watching the show. One of the
friends they usually invite is someone who her parent did not
know, but through these constant visits, a new bond was
created by these constants visits on Sundays.
The respondent explained that she has a friend that is a fan
of Idols. However, because he (the friend) does not have
access to Dstv, she then invited him over at her parents’ house
to come and watch the show. From then on, the parents were
introduced to the friend who has now become a regular visitor
on Sundays in order to watch the show.
Celebrity as a Field for Competition
In an interview of season eleven’s top ten contestants, they
shared their views about being in the show and the answer
that they all came up with is that being on the show is very
competitive. One of the contestants attested mentioning that
the only competition on the show is he, while others
mentioned the names of the contestants which they thought
were the strongest. Turner  argues that the formats of
reality television like Idols are all set out to produce what is
deemed “the best” for their contestants. This way some sort of
competitiveness is set out to be the most important factor in
On the case of Idol SA judge Randall Abrahams warned the
contestants during the live performance shows by stating that:
“At this stage of the competition, we expect nothing less from
you but the best”. Not only does this put pressure on the
contestants, but it also makes them highly competitive with
This indicates that being of the show is the survival of the
fittest. Another contestant said that every single person taking
part in the competition is versatile. By saying this, the
contestant is means that even though they are in a
competition, there is something different that each contestant
has which is different from what others have. He further stated
that each contestant has an upper hand over the other, but no
one really has leverage on anyone.
Also in the case of contestants being interviewed. When one
assesses the clothes they wear, the background of where the
interviews are done is different as compared before they got
to Sun City. In Sun City, everything is clear, the cameras and the
lighting is done as if a well-known celebrity is going to
perform. By doing so, the producers are setting the scene for
both the viewers and the contestant. Bu so doing they
inventing in the viewer’s mind and idea of what life can be
once one becomes famous, which is totally different from the
life the contestants lived before coming to the show. This is
supported by Turner  when he eludes that, the extent of
control and convincing that the producers have to portray is
important for the construction of desire and identity in the
viewer’s mind. What Turner suggests here, is the idea that producers will do almost anything in order to sell the notion or
lifestyle of celebrity and glamorous and something that the
viewers should desire and aspire to.
Face, Identity and Im/politeness
“Face” is defined as “the positive social value a person
effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has
taken during a particular contact”. Further argued that face
can be seen as closely connected to/with one’s emotions,
rather than belonging to the individual, he claims that face is
located in the flow of events in the encounter and becomes
manifest only when only when these events are read and
interpreted for the appraisals expressed in them. Subsequent
application of face to the theory of politeness was made by
Brown and Levinson by presenting face as a cognitive and an
individualistic that was influenced by a rational, rather than
model person (1978/1987). The importance and usefulness of
Brown and Levinson’s conception is that it separated the
conception of identity for face, making it easier to differentiate
between the two. Furthermore this separation made it easy
for researchers to examine the interconnections between
identity con-construction and impoliteness in a media genre
like talent shows such as Idol. The discursive/post-modern
approach to politeness came with a renewed interest in
conceptualizations of face. Other constructivist theories have
argued that relational work should form part of the work on
identity and further explained that face should be viewed as
closely related to, and embedded, in identity .
This approach suggests that it is identities rather than the
individuals who carry out social practices. By so doing, this
approach made it easier to understand that it is identities that
have face. These constructivists further asserted that the
assessments of im/politeness can be connected to the notion
of identity including the notion of face. Blitvich, argues that
“impoliteness may ensue when identities and positioning that
speakers are trying to construct are not verified their
Judges, Viewers and their Role(S) on
The judges occupy an important role in the show. Their roles
are often described as an interactional one as they lead by
asking questions and summoning the contestants to sing while
they are making their assessments. The contestants are
required to sing in front of the judges while after judgment
they have to argue their chance in the show. As Blitvich argues
that, one of the genre specific features of Idol is that
contestants have the opportunity to respond to the judges’
assessment of their performance. Though the judges’ roles in
the in show are to give expert opinions, this role is
interestingly challenged during the live shows. During this
phase of the show, the viewers have the ultimate say on which
contestants make it to the next round. Therefore, a contestant
actually wins the contest against the expert judgment. The
relation between the audience, contestants and the show remains an interesting field of research amongst some
To put this into context, the respondents for this study have
indicated that the judgment that the judges make in some case
is not always a fair. Hence the intervention of the viewers is
also needed at some stage in the show. Here are some of the
responses about the way that judges assess the contestants.
R: I don’t think that the way of judging in the show is fair. It
is not a good thing that the future and the fate of the
contestants must lie in the hands of four people. It is a good
thing that at some stage in the show, the audiences is asked to
While the above response above praises the intervention of
the audience’s decision making power in the process of
creating celebrities. Some respondent felt a different way.
R: I honestly think that the judging in the show is fair
because the judges show no favoritism.
Another respondent agreed and had this to say.
R: The way the judges assess the contestants is fair. The
show is the image of how aggressive the music industry is, so
the judges are okay for being tough on them.
These responses are an indication that the respondents
themselves feel different about how the judges conduct their
assessments of the contestants. While other feel like their
harsh criticism is much needed others are vying the viewers’
power in the process of decision making. Hence then it is not a
surprising issue that the contestant- judge and viewer judge
interaction is often found to be very confrontational at times,
making this section of the show a crucial locus for identity
negotiation and impoliteness.
The expert (the judge) in the show relates to the
entertainment aspect of the show in two, sometimes
overlapping, styles: “through harmonious, non-confrontational
relations, as in some lifestyle shows: or through verbal conflict
and confrontation, as in courtroom shows”. With this being
said, it is important to note that, in Idol the “generic rhetorical
strategies of the judges are related to their expert identity and
crucially involve the rating of contestants’ artistic talent. In
addition, different Idol judges relate can and do relate to the
entertainment dimension of the show in different ways, an
area which needs further research on its own.
To sum up, it would be useful to use Blitvich’s views when
he states that with a huge number of contestants claiming star
quality and a panel of judges, alongside the viewers, voting in
and out the contestants until the winner is selected, the show
has turned the talent search into an entertainment battle that
often includes. Where impoliteness is genre-sanctioned as in
the case of Idol, there have been a debates amongst
researchers in that field whether or not the confrontainment
within which impoliteness is recognized emerges and develops
can still be considered impolite. To answer this, recent global
explosion of confrontainment-based reality television genres
signals the view that is recognized as such, even if it is genresanctioned and that it is used as an important attentiongrabbing
In the interview, the contestants also said that the part of
the show they enjoy the most is the live show. They pointed
out that they like the debate and the clashes that ensue
between the contestants and the judges. In other cases the
judges are in conflict with each other’s assessments of the
contestants, and this makes the show very interesting to the
Fame and Authenticity
When the contestants get to the live shows they are
carefully styled and the viewers are shown clips of the
contestants selecting their new outfits to complement their
newly found status. From this phase of the competition, it is
evident that there is a shift from the visual codes of the of
reality television to the aesthetic and technological form of
light entertainment. Some of the noticeable changes are that
the camera starts to capture the performance through swift
panning aerial shots. The contestants in their performances
now directly address their acts to the viewer rather than the
Giving a take on the UK version of the show, Raven argues
that Pop Idol has shattered our cultural illusions of stardom in
that its narrativised emphasis on the process of manufacturing
militates against the investment of fantasy, desire and
adoration. For pop to work, reality and fantasy must merge. In
many cases in the competition, contestants and viewers are
given the sense that, when the experts (the judges), are done
working on the contestants they will become stars. This
reiterates the idea that, the judges together with the
producers of the show are the manufactures of stars, proving
the fact that they are manufactured identities presented to the
viewers as real and authentic.
This study was built as results of the researcher’s interest in
celebrities as influencers of young people. It was also fuelled
by the researcher’s passion for watching the South African
Idols shows. To make sense of the meanings that the viewer’s
male from watching the show, a Cultural Studies approached
was employed as a means to guides the study. Audience and
reception were used on order to make sense of the way in
which audiences make meanings of reality television shows
such as Idol.
The research recognizes the fact the young people are
always trying to find themselves. By this we refer to the fact
that young people are living in a society whereby they are
encountered by issues of unemployment inability to access
institution of higher learning. As a result, majority of them
resort to committing crime but others do try to build a better
life for themselves by finding casual employment and finding
other opportunities to better themselves.
The South Africa Idol show has become one of the
opportunities and platforms that young people can use in order to better themselves. The winner is guaranteed a chance
at stardom and in the entertainment industry and is sold the
dream that their life will never be the same again. Many young
people across the country gather each season with hopes that
their lives will be changed. This research has therefore proved
two things in this regard. Firstly, this research had indicated
that the viewer’s view the show as an opportunity to achieve
upward mobility in life. The viewers watch the show with idea
that the show promises the winner an exit from poverty into a
better life. Secondly, this research has indicated that these
young people have a sense of admiration and envy that
develops from watching the show. These young people admire
the promised dream that the idol will be living after the show.
The prize money is and sponsorships that they winner gets, are
amongst some of the things that make the viewer’s wish they
were the actual winners.
The study also indicated that the show has offered an
opportunity for new social relation to develop. In most cases
the viewers do not have DSTV subscriptions, but this does not
stop them from watching the show. This rather causes the
viewers with no subscriptions to navigate their way of
watching the programme which they do by asking neighbors or
by gathering at a certain venue in order for them to watch the
It has also been proven in this study that the viewers are
attracted to the show due to its entertainment factor. But this
is not the only thing that they are watching the show for. In the
interviews many participants have agreed that the other
interesting thing about the show is the clashes amongst the
contestants. The competitive nature of the show makes it a
worth-while for the contestants. Many of whom believe that
the reality of the world we are living in requires a person to be
able to fight for what they want. These research participants
also feel like the judges are not being unfair to the contestants
when they are being harsh to them but rather they are
treating them the very same way they will be treated in the
entertainment industry. As a result, these participants express
that the contestants should be grateful for being on the show,
as this is a platform to practice for what is yet to come in their
lives as celebrities.
The study has also showed that the show showcases a
glamorized idea and construction of being a celebrity. If does
not foreground the fact that celebrities are also ordinary
people contestants are always shown performing on stage
wearing new clothes every time during the live shows. This is
also done through means of glamorizing the stage that they
are performing on. This construction of celebrity is somehow
misleading the viewers as it present the celebrity as an
individual who is living a life free of stress. The downfalls,
though they happen, are not made to be the point of focus in
the show because they will distort the kind of celebrity
construction that the show is selling to the viewers and the
In addition to these findings, the study found out that the
idea of stardom is represented by a physical place which is Sun
City. In Sun City the contestants are required to perform all
kinds of challenges which will see them getting to the next stage of the competition. While this is the case, contestant s
who fails to make it to the next stage prides them for having
reached this point of the competition. Though they fell short,
it is a big thing for them to reach the Sun City phase. Also for
those who pass the challenges set out for them in Sun City, this
becomes and achievement for them, having made it through
to the next round despite the odds. This has proven that
reaching this stage the contestants feel a sense of
accomplishment and that this place of stardom, will hold
memories of sentimental value for them.
In conclusion, the meanings of celebrity made by young
adults of Joza from watching the Idol show is centered around
three connotations. First of all to be a celebrity means that you
are worthy of attention. These participants view celebrities as
people who are worthy of being watched and desired. As
evident in the case of Idol, contestants perform every Sunday
on television in order to be pleased and bring pleasure to the
viewers. In actual fact, this means that there the Idol
contestants cannot be stars without spectators (and being
watched). Secondly, the viewer’s locate being a celebrity or
being a star closely to being successful. This means that a
person cannot be a star or a celebrity without having any claim
to fame, something that they have done and earned them
their claim to fame and success. In the case of the show this
would mean being the winner of the show’s season. Thirdly
and lastly, the competitive nature of celebrity proves to be an
interesting factor the participants deemed important in the
constructions of celebrities. In this case, this means that in
order for one to become a celebrity they must fight with all
they have in order to occupy their spot in the entertainment
industry. This is also evident in the show by the amount of
competition that is visible amongst the contestants. Each
contestant is willing to do anything in order to be ahead of
others. As the judges would normally put it in the show when
they are addressing the contestants, that the contestant who
has more chances of winning the title and be crowned an idol
is the contestant that is willing to do everything in their power
in order to stand out of the rest of the crowd.
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