Fangirl Thursday: Coming Home

American_Idol_logo

When a television show you love ends, it can feel like leaving home. But when a television show ends years after you stopped really loving it, it can feel like hearing that the house you grew up in—but have since moved far away from—is going to be torn down. You might not have the same connection to that place anymore, but you still feel that loss, and that loss makes you think about who you were when you lived there and how much has changed since then.

I haven’t watched American Idol in years, but for a brief time, that show and its fandom were my home. So before it ends tonight, I wanted to look back—not so much at the show itself (because people far more talented than I am have done that already) but at its impact on my own life as a fangirl.

I was an Idol devotee for its first two seasons. I had a picture of Justin Guarini in my high school locker and worshipped Kelly Clarkson. (Let’s be honest: I still worship Kelly Clarkson.) I saw the Season Two contestants on tour, and, yes, I will admit to casting more than one vote for Clay Aiken. That show was something my family—even my extended family—wanted to watch and talk about together, which was rare at the time.

But as time passed, I drifted away from Idol, only returning for occasional episodes and each season’s finale. In fact, it was during the Season Eight finale that I saw Kris Allen and Adam Lambert perform “We Are the Champions,” and I knew right away that I was in trouble. Allen had the cute, singer-songwriter vibe I always adore, and you had to be crazy not to be drawn to Lambert’s incredible voice and magnetic stage presence. When coupled with the genuine friendship I saw on display when Kris was named the winner, I knew it was only a matter of time before I fell down an Internet rabbit hole, trying to catch up on everything I missed during the season.

During my trip down that rabbit hole early in the summer of 2009, I encountered a LiveJournal community about American Idol, and it felt like finding a home. The people there were smart, funny, and just as obsessed with the show and its contestants as I was. It was the same magical feeling I got when I discovered my first Star Wars fan site and visited MuggleNet for the first time. I didn’t feel alone anymore. But I didn’t have much experience with actual fandom participation. Sure, I’d posted on message boards about So You Think You Can Dance and even had my own blog about my hometown hockey team, but this was bigger and crazier than a message board and much wider in scope than the Buffalo Sabres fandom. I was scared to make that jump from lurker to participant in the discussions.

But then it hit me: I wanted to be a part of this. I didn’t want to watch everyone else having fun and making friends like I did in the Alias fandom back when I was in high school. I wanted to have fun and make friends myself. So the night of the first stop on the Season Eight tour, I stopped lurking and started commenting, and I never looked back.

That summer was the most unique summer of my life. I spent countless nights upstairs on my old desktop computer listening to “cellcasts” (horrible cellphone live streams) of concerts and working to get our fandom to the top of the Twitter trending topics. I would stay up way too late waiting for the perfect pictures from tour stops and get up way too early to watch performances on morning talk shows. I even took my laptop on vacation with me to the beach so I’d never be too far away from the fun. (This was, of course, before I had a smartphone.)

And then I wrote. We used to have “Appreciation Posts,” in which we’d write about what certain contestants meant to us. And for the first time, I discovered that I could share my story with people by sharing the story of why I loved something that was important to me. And I discovered that I could learn so much about other people by reading about what drew them to the people and things they loved.

It was in those shared moments with other fans that I figured out what fandom friendship is all about. As I talked to my fellow Idol fans that summer—and throughout the year that followed—our conversations grew from favorite performances and how adorable Kris Allen is to opening up about our lives. And that’s what friendship is all about no matter where it forms: moving from shared appreciation of something else to shared appreciation of each other. And I needed that friendship. My time in the Idol fandom was a time of major transition in my life: I was getting ready to enter my senior year of college in Summer 2009, and by the next summer, I had my first full-time job. My Idol fandom friends encouraged me as I finished my senior honors thesis, cried with me after I left my college newspaper office for the last time, and gave me great advice about everything from boys to searching for jobs. Those friendships taught me to always be open to the possibility of making new friends—both online and in the world outside of fandom.

Some of those friendships have faded with time, and some were sullied by the same drama that plagues all big fandoms. But some of those friendships didn’t just last through changes in fandoms; they flourished. The Idol fandom is where I met the wonderful Leah, who is still my go-to person to text during sporting events and who so many of you also know and love. It’s where I met Nikki, who was the first fandom friend I spent time with in person; who took me to Erie, Pennsylvania, to see Adam Lambert in concert on my 22nd birthday; and who I still meet for lunch and dinner dates. And it’s where I met Heather, one of my best friends and someone who I now can’t imagine my life without.

Season Eight of American Idol brought a lot of people together who were going through huge shifts in their lives, and in its fandom, we found a place to belong. We found a home. In talking about a season that featured incredibly different people coming together, becoming friends, and making something special, a group of incredibly different fans came together, became friends, and made something special. And the sense of unity, understanding, and belonging that I felt in the early days of that fandom have informed everything I’ve ever done here at NGN.

Ultimately, I walked away from that fandom when it stopped being fun, and that taught me something, too: It’s okay to leave. If the drama gets to you, if you start feeling misunderstood instead of understood, and even if you simply don’t like the show anymore, you can walk away. The true friends you made will still be there, and it’s not like you’ll never find anything to love again. And walking away allows you to leave with good memories, which is how all fandoms should be remembered. You have to leave home sometime, but you’ll always carry a piece of that home and those people with you—no matter how many years pass or how many other fandom homes you have afterward.

American Idol helped a lot of people find their voice—not just on the show itself but in the fandom that built up around it. I’m one of those people, and I will forever be grateful to that show for being the gateway through which I found the community that would help me grow into a more confident fangirl and a stronger, happier woman.

Do you have any memories of American Idol you’d like to share or any stories of fandom homes you’ve had over the years? Tell us about them in the comments! 

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8 thoughts on “Fangirl Thursday: Coming Home

  1. it’s funny that you talk about American Idol Season 8 as that was the one and only American Idol season that captured my attention. I was in fifth grade during that season so I never got up the courage to actually post but I was absolutely a daily lurker and it was the second concert I ever went to with my dad, I still have some amazing memories. I think Allison being voted out on the top four was the one and only time I’ve screamed because of a reality TV show. I still love the contestants from that season and Kris and Adam both still frequently blare through my headphones.

    The first time I actually engaged in fandom was right before my fifteenth birthday when I plucked up the courage to post on a message board for Damon and Elena and I was an infrequent contributor. It wasn’t until this year that I truly made my first internet friends, from the 100 and Captain Swan fandoms and I’m so grateful that I decided to join chatrooms and send messages to blogs I admired. I’m really only just starting to create fandom homes for myself and I look forward to creating many more in the years to come.

    Katie, hearing about your fan mail project actually partly inspired my senior project, which a podcast celebrating the reasons why we love fictional characters and I wanted to thank you for making NGN such an amazing and welcoming place of intelligent people.

    • This is an amazing story, Abby. Thank you for sharing it with us! You got up the courage to join in long before I did and I hope you have many wonderful fandoms and friendships ahead of you ❤

    • Thank YOU, Abby! Comments like this one and readers/fellow fangirls like you keep me going. I’m so appreciative of your kind words. I don’t think I can properly express how much this comment means to me (It put the best kind of tears in my eyes.), but I will say that I am so honored that The Fan Mail Project inspired what sounds like an amazing senior project. I wish you all the best with it!

      I also love the story you shared! Allison was one of my favorites, too; I actually just pulled out her first CD again today! I’m so glad you found the courage to engage with fandom long before I did (I was in college before I started participating in any capacity), and I hope that you find many wonderful fandoms to be a part of and many wonderful fandom friends along the way. And it’s my sincere hope that NGN continues to play a part in your fangirl journey. ❤

    • Abby, I loved hearing your story! Back when I was in high school, I cherished my ‘X-Files’ message board more than anything. I was the youngest person on that board, but everyone was so kind and welcoming and they shared a lot of my teen milestones (like getting my drivers license!) with me. They were all my extended family. I think thats one of the things I love about fandom, that not only does it bring people from all over the world together, it also brings people of all ages together.

      Also, your senior project sounds amazing! I think you will love being able to go back and listen to it later in life.

  2. It was your turn to make me cry, this is beautiful.

    I had forgotten about Appreciation Posts, probably because I’m not sure I ever participated. Maybe in one for Michael because the way he was willing to re-examine his initial reaction to Adam meant a lot to me, but they weren’t a regular part of my time in the community.

    I love what you had to say about them though and it may have been why I wasn’t quite ready to participate yet. It was a way to tell our story. To be vulnerable and explain why this person mattered so much to us. I couldn’t articulate what these people meant to me at the time and wasn’t ready for that vulnerability even if I could.

    I don’t even know what I was searching for when I found that first post about Kris and Adam’s friendship. All I can come up with is that it was there because it was where I was supposed to be. In lieu of anything else, I have to believe that I was meant to find them and that silly, special community. That I was meant to find you, Nikki, Leah, and the handful of other friends I made over the course of that year. I will always carry the memories and the lessons it taught me with me and look back on it as a turning point in the evolution of who I am as a person and as a fangirl.

    And onto the memory portion of this post 😉

    That final concert of the tour will always be a favorite memory of mine. The excitement during that cellcast and as video started to come out was something special. Kris coming out in Adam’s jacket during Don’t Stop Believing and the silly string everywhere and that incredibly bonding feeling of knowing they had been through something crazy together and so had we as a community is something I’ll never forget.

    And really I have no idea why this sticks out in my mind because it’s not at all important, but I distinctly remember walking through the living room while my mom was watching and noticed Kris and said that he was cute. And I think that is all the attention I gave him until the finale.

    • Appreciation Posts—especially Adam ones—were really what showed me the power of being vulnerable and open with other people in a fandom. I distinctly remember spending the night of my 21st birthday in an Adam Appreciation Post.

      Your memories made me smile. I re-watched that last Don’t Stop Believing performance yesterday while I was prepping for this post, and the sight of Kris in Adam’s jacket acting like he looked so cool still made me smile. Some things never change. 😉 And then I watched Kris’s version of Bright Lights and cried because that song was such a huge part of my identity on LiveJournal for so long.

      And your entire paragraph about being meant to find Idol at that time spoke to my soul. I firmly believe that we don’t choose our most beloved fandoms—they choose us. And they give us something we’re looking for a time when we need them. And what Idol gave us—more than anything else—was each other. ❤

  3. I loved reading this Katie! I was never that in to American Idol, but I remember the 1st season vividly, since it aired the summer before I moved away to college, and it was the only TV show I have ever seen my step dad get addicted to. He was HOOKED. You did not bother dad while American Idol was on, haha. Its one of the last shows I have memories of my family all watching together, if I happened to be home at the time.

    I too had a slight crush on Justin Guarini. I love boys with curly mops of hair, I cant deny it. Add in a singing voice and I am done for. Although even my love of Justin did not motivate me to watch ‘From Justin to Kelly’, which I assume was a smart decision.

    I love how you describe an old fandom as like you old house being demolished. Its the perfect description. There is some comfort knowing that something you loved is still being enjoyed by a new set of people, but when its gone, that comfort is gone too. With scripted shows there is always syndication and streaming, but competition shows just dont really work that well after the fact, haha.

    I am glad American Idol brought such wonderful people to your life! It makes me sad I didnt keep in better touch with people from my X-Files message board, but back in the late 90s it was a little harder to do without social media. Which makes me even more thankful to a certain pirate for bringing me back into the fandom experience and more specifically here to the NGN family. ❤

    • You bring up such a great point about staying in touch with fandom friends without social media. I have no idea how people did that. I’m so grateful that my closest friends from the Idol fandom followed me through multiple Twitter account changes and the decision to move from LiveJournal to Tumblr. (Although I really miss LiveJournal at times.)

      You also said something really smart about scripted shows vs. reality shows in terms of revisiting them. Syndication and Netflix makes it so much easier to return to scripted shows, so it often takes until a retrospective show or a random descent down a YouTube rabbit hole for me to even remember the moments I loved on reality TV. I think that also works as a kind of bonding agent for people in reality TV fandoms; we have a sense that what’s happening is something we won’t be able to recreate and people won’t be able to really join in after that season becomes the next. It’s different from a fandom for a scripted show, where people join in as they marathon different seasons.

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