American Idol TV Poster Image

American Idol

The one that started it all; OK for tweens and up.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The audition phase of the show can sometimes be mean-spirited, as judges criticize contestants. But later episodes are enthusiastic and exciting.

Positive role models

This is a mixed bag. At the judges' table, some can be very positive and encouraging, while others can be negative and belittling. In the contestant pool, some are clearly dedicated, hardworking performers who just want their chance to succeed -- while others just want their 15 minutes (or even seconds) of fame.

Not applicable

Sexy clothes (one woman memorably appeared in just a bikini), talk of appearing sexy, flirtations with judges.


Audible swearing/negative language used by both judges and contestants includes words/phrases like "you are an ass," "that sucked," and "crap!"


Product placement and sponsorship is everywhere, and there are lots of branded tie-in products on the market, too.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this hugely popular reality competition show has spawned countless other similar series. The judges' rapport and comments are as big a part of the show as the singing. Their feedback, primarily Simon Cowell's (who left the show in 2010), can be severe and hurtful ("you remind me of a wasp," "that was terrible," "that was the worst one yet"), though the new judges take a gentler approach. People of all backgrounds and body types try out for the show, if only to get a few minutes to meet the judges and/or get their 10 seconds of fame. Contestants have been mocked for cross-dressing, lack of talent, strange attire, dressing/acting sexy, and general physical appearance. The camera lingers on contestants who respond to the judges with joy or bleeped obscenities, hand gestures, and tears. Parents should also know that the show is a walking advertisement, with commercial products embedded throughout.

What's the story?

Every season, the AMERICAN IDOL judges -- Simon Cowell (2002-2010), Paula Abdul (2002-2009), Randy Jackson (briefly Kara DioGuardi, and Ellen DeGeneres), and now Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler -- and host Ryan Seacrest visit cities across the United States, judging thousands of hopeful singers. The program showcases performers at both ends of the spectrum: The very \

Is it any good?


The contestants' emotional, sometimes astounding performances grab those watching at home, who also feel involved in the process, since their votes determine the show's outcome. The judges' often over-the-top personalities have become infamous, as well as reality-show benchmarks. And while adults know that Simon's putting on a performance with his constant jabs, for kids, is this the standard of judging we want modeled? It's worth thinking about. Though beginning in 2011, judges Lopez and Tyler take a gentler approach.

Many contestants are clearly looking for their moment in the spotlight. But plenty of the Idol wannabes are in it because they're truly talented singers who are dreaming of a big break. Many winners and runners-up have gone on to become true pop stars, proving that the show's formula -- as unforgiving as it can be -- really does work.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the audition process. Are the contestants who clearly have no singing ability auditioning for real or for fame? How can critiques be helpful to those who take the competition seriously? What's the difference between constructive and destructive criticism?

  • What is talent, and what talents do your kids feel they have? Does this series inspire them? If so, in what way?

  • What do kids think of the way the judges speak to the contestants?

  • How is the show making money by having consumer products obvious at every turn?

TV details

Premiere date:June 11, 2002
Cast:Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Steven Tyler
Genre:Reality TV
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:DVD

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Parent of a 10 and 12 year old Written bykatehenry March 3, 2010
This is great fare for the whole family. We went to the American Idol summer tour concert last summer. Really a great time had by all. It's rare to find something the my husband and I enjoy just as much as our girls. Plus, because we all watch together, we're able to talk about the consumerism, sexuality (think Adam Lambert) and whatever else pops up on the spot.
What other families should know
Too much consumerism
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 12 year old Written byjordynannee February 21, 2015
For me American Idol shows that any one can follow their dreams,but sometimes following your dreams can and in disappointment.Sometimes the show there is swearing but they usually bleep it out.
What other families should know
Great messages
Teen, 17 years old Written byDanceMomsAddict June 9, 2014

Love this!

I used to watch it a ton when I was younger but it might be a little boring for kids 7 and under