Art Marketing Lessons from American Idol

American Idol is a true phenomenon that offers visual artists marketing lessons.

Americanidollogo200American Idol is a true phenomenon that offers visual artists marketing lessons. From humble beginnings, the Fox singing contest reality show program has grown to 27 million viewers making it the most-watched TV show in the US. Additionally, it is broadcast in a taped version to 100 countries worldwide.

The show makes for great water cooler conversational fodder for die hard fans. For others, including me, it is a guilty pleasure. I admit to overcoming smug somewhat elitist feelings of being too busy, too cool, too with it to spend time watching it. Somewhere around Season Three, I succumbed as it grabbed my attention. I imagine some reading this have noses turned up thinking what a crock. But, that’s okay, different opinions make things interesting and you are invited to freely express yourself by commenting below.

Most reality shows seem to be about taking ordinary people and putting them in stressful situations so they will make fools of themselves for the viewers entertainment. AI plays this game too as it winnows the more than 100,000 contestants down to a select few. But, when only a dozen contestants are left, it becomes truly interesting as real talent is put to the test.

Storytelling for Artists & Creatives

Discover Storytelling for Artists. Click the banner.

I’m sure some tune in to hear withering remarks from British judge, Simon Cowell. But, I believe more watch because they like the music, grow fond of the performers and enjoy the opportunity to participate and support them with their votes. The drama, talent and tension are played out in ways that offer lessons to visual artists seeking to create their own bond with an audience.


The judges are forced to provide commentary and insight. Most of it is forgettable, occasionally some tips are poignant classic reminders worthy of taking notice. Regular viewers hear the same repeated advice, which is spot on and can be boiled down to:

  1. BE ORIGINAL – The contestants most often sing songs well known to the audience. When one takes material and makes it fresh and new into her or his own, there is magic when what is familiar becomes original. On the other hand, when a watered down version of a popular song is sung, it always falls flat.
  2. MAKE GREAT CHOICES – It seems near impossible for a singer to make magic if they lack a true connection to the song. You’ve heard the phrase, “He could sing the phone book and it would sound good.” That said, no one will buy a phone book song, nor will a career be made. The audience cannot be fooled by a lackluster performance or a terrific technical performance where there is no connection of the singer to the song. Those who take and own a song are always sent to the next round. It is those who don’t, despite obvious talent, who risk being sent home.
  3. PRESENTATION IS CRUCIAL – As a potential singing star, presentation is crucial. This includes hair, makeup and wardrobe. Moving well with confidence on stage and playing to the camera also are important. This means nonchalantly acknowledging the camera without being mesmerized by it. Most importantly, presentation is a matter of being likable, or admirable or both. When an artist’s personality shines through the song and in the silly, sometimes cruel moments before and after singing, a further connection or bond with audience is established. When the song connection and the audience connection come together, you get what Cowell calls the “IT” factor. This as when you got it, you got it.

So, how does this all translate to a career as a visual artist?

Storytelling for Artists & Creatives

Discover Storytelling for Artists. Click the banner.

BE ORIGINAL – In the observations of the common attributes shared by successful artists, I’ve long noted, even well before I wrote my book, the primary criteria or first matter is to create work that resonates with prospective collectors and to find interesting ways to repeat new iterations of the same theme. Be successful, be original, and by all means don’t be afraid to be IT!

MAKE GREAT CONTENT OR THEME CHOICES – Often the most successful artists are not creating a brand new look, but rather reinterpreting a style to make it original for themselves. Nothing wrong with being a pioneer, but it’s not necessarily a surefire way to amass collectors either. The artist who owns the look does not have to have invented it. You may have read it here before, but this adage is apropos and worth repeating. “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

PRESENTATION IS CRUCIAL – If the artist lacks confidence, or at least the ability to passionately portray confidence in the work, the job of selling the work falls solely to art. There is simply more to it than that. Perhaps  it’s not fair, but most buyers would rather own a piece of art from someone they like or admire or both than from one who they don’t. This is far more critical for self-representing artists than for those who work in relative anonymity in the stable of a large publishing company. But then in those cases, the publisher has to shine in the way it conducts its business. As for poster publishers, there arguably is no better example than Wild Apple Graphics of a company that knows how to shine a light on itself.

Seven Savvy Points to Ponder from American Idol

  1. Don’t let the critics deter you when you are right, but be smart enough to know when they are right.
  2. The purest talent isn’t always the biggest winner.
  3. Find a niche large enough to carry your interest and to build  a market.
  4. You can sometimes stumble and fall and still pull through if you retool to come back strong with work that touches your audience.
  5. If you aren’t particularly likable, you have to be interesting, admirable or compelling in some unusual way.
  6. You can’t bore people into success or buying your art.
  7. If you become successful, use your clout to help worthy causes

Personal Storytelling

Discover Storytelling for Artists. Click the banner.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 8 comments