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End of an Era: Using Social Data to Understand American Idol’s Dedicated Fans

It’s the end of an era. After 15 seasons, the original talent show, American Idol, came to a close last night.

It was the show that started the reality competition trend… after American Idol’s astounding success, shows like The Voice, X Factor, and the Got Talent series all emerged. Yet, Idol was the one to beat. At its peak, Idol was a ratings dream and a star-making machine. Idol is credited for launching the careers of some of music’s biggest names including Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Kellie Pickler, Daughtry, Scotty McCreery, and Jennifer Hudson. Up until season 10, American Idol had steady viewership – a whopping 29.3 million viewers tuned in to see Scotty McCreery’s Idol crowning. However, Idol’s fate has long been questioned due to plummeting ratings, the loss of massive sponsors, and the shuffling of judges.

So, we got to wondering… who are the dedicated fans that have stuck around through the thick and thin? From Simon Cowell’s snide remarks in the early days, to Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey battling for attention behind the judges table. And… who are the fans that tuned into last night’s epic finale, to bid the cultural phenomenon a final goodbye?

Using Affinio, the audience intelligence platform, we were able to analyze the @AmericanIdol Twitter audience to see what interest-based communities were following the show (pre-finale) (Disclosure: BrAve is an investor in Affinio). Affinio’s advanced social graph algorithms are able analyze the connections that exist within a social audience and pinpoint differing audience segments based on the interests and passions of that segment.

The results? Interest-based communities of Country Fans, Teen Girls, TV Fanatics, and American Idol Super Fans all emerged. Some of these communities came as no surprise. The niche group of country-fans was expected, as Idol has produced a number of big-name country stars including Carrie Underwood, Scotty McCreery, Kellie Pickler, Lauren Alaina, and Kree Harrison. But there were also some not-so-obvious communities such as NASCAR fans and Sports Dads who are closely following the Idol series.

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To demonstrate the power of the Affinio platform and the insights that can be easily extracted on these communities, we decided to take a closer look at the American Idol Super Fans community. These are the fans that live and breathe all-things American Idol.


Getting to know the Idol Super Fan:

The American Idol Super Fan goes as far as to use keywords such as Music, American, Idol, and Singer to self-describe. Their top hashtags, or topics of conversation, include #Idol, #AmericanIdol #IdolTop4, and #IdolFinale. Their top influencers include past contestants such as Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, James Durbin, and Haley Reinhart. Not only are they influenced by past contestants but also current and past Idol judges including Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, Nicki Minaj, and Simon Cowell.
Although Idol may be over, how networks and advertisers speak to a TV show’s viewers will differ depending on their interests, how they consume content, etc. Understanding the clear differences between these communities should inform all content and marketing strategies.

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The communities that wanted to say goodbye:

Some of the same communities such as the WWE community, Sports Dads, and Conservative Christians, tuned in to last night’s show and engaged in conversation with the hashtag #IdolFinale. What was even more interesting was the new interest-based communities, who we can assume are not regular watchers, that tuned in for the last Idol show ever.

While we noticed that the American Idol Super Fans community was not vocal during last night’s episode, what we did find was four distinct communities dedicated to some of Idol’s past contestants and winners: a Carrie Underwood community, a Dalton Rapattoni community, an Adam Lambert “Glamberts” community, and a David Cook community. While these communities aren’t large enough to be recognized as unique communities in the @AmericanIdol following, they dominated last night’s #IdolFinale social conversation.

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Take, for example, the ‘Carrie Underwood’ community. These fans self-describe using bio keywords such as ‘Carrie’ and ‘Underwood’ and share hashtags including #thestorytellertour (the name of Carrie’s most recent worldwide tour). It comes as no surprise that these super fans tuned in to last night’s show. Carrie even wowed the crowd with a duet with Idol Judge, Keith Urban.

In contrast, the ‘Glambert’ community self-describes using bio keywords such as ‘Glambert’, ‘Adam’, and ‘Lambert’ (see below) and share hashtags including #bestfanarmy, #americanidol, and #glamberts.

How the Glamberts self-describe:

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What this means:

What these two analyses tell us is that American Idol truly became a universal show and attracted a large and extremely diverse audience over its 15 season tenure. While some communities have not been engaged in recent years, the show was important enough for many new groups to tune in and join the conversation one last time. And while many of the interest-based communities will move on and find a new show, the communities dedicated to some of Idol’s past contestants and winners will continue to support them and will always remember their Idol roots.

As host Ryan Seacrest says at the end of every show, goodnight America. 


To learn more about understanding social audiences, request a demo with Affinio.