A teen idol is a celebrity with a large teenage fan-base. Teen idols are generally young but not necessarily teenaged. Often teen idols are actors or musicians, like Demi Lovato and Niall Horan but some sports figures also have an appeal to teenagers. Some teen idols began their careers as child actors. The idol's popularity may be limited to teens, or may extend to all age groups. Many teen idols are targeted for adults for nostalgia purposes.
There were teen idols before there were teen magazines, but idols have always been a permanent feature in magazines such as 16 magazine, Tiger Beat and Right On! in the United States, and in similar magazines elsewhere. With the advent of television, teen idols were also promoted through programs such as American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, Soul Train and in the UK Top of the Pops. Today's teen idols have spawned an entire industry of gossip magazines, television shows, YouTube, and whole television channels such as E!.
Many American teen idols achieve "cross-over" success internationally; however, this list is not limited to American artists alone with some people such as German popstar Bill Kaulitz of the pop-rock band Tokio Hotel. In Asia, idols range from Japanese pop megastars Ayumi Hamasaki and Namie Amuro as well as Kana Nishino and Japanese music groups such as Momoiro Clover Z, Morning Musume, AKB48, and Perfume and Johnny & Associates boy bands Arashi, NEWS, KAT-TUN, and Hey! Say! JUMP among others while Chinese pop icon Jay Chou, music groups F4 and Lollipop F, and South Korean singers BoA and Rain and music groups TVXQ, 2PM, 2AM, Beast, Shinee, Super Junior, 2NE1, Big Bang, Wonder Girls, T-ara, Kara and Girls' Generation are examples. In Latin America, idols ranges from Mexican pop stars Timbiriche, Lynda Thomas, Magneto, Puerto Rican born Mexican Luis Miguel and the very popular Puerto Rican boy band Menudo in the 1980s and 1990s, and Paty Cantú, Anahi, Belinda. Ha^Ash and RBD in the 2000s and 2010s. Besides, former Menudo member Ricky Martin, their chief rivals Los Chicos and former member Chayanne, Venezuelan actor and singer Guillermo Davila and more, to Argentina, where telenovela, Chiquititas, ushered in a new era of teen-idols for that country, including actors Benjamin Rojas, Felipe Colombo, Luisana Lopilato and Camila Bordonaba, who went on to form teen band Erreway, precursors to Mexican band RBD. In Spain, La Oreja de Van Gogh, Miguel Bose, Mecano and Hombres G all enjoyed teen-idol status. Even in the classical music field, a British-Chinese violinist Vanessa-Mae became the first "teen idol" in that category.
In the past, young sports icons and Olympic athletes during their competitive times were considered teen idols such as Jean-Claude Killy, Peggy Fleming, Bruce Jenner, Joe Namath, Dorothy Hamill, Mark Spitz, Nadia Comăneci, Mary Lou Retton, Michael Jordan, Dominique Moceanu, Michelle Kwan, Carly Patterson, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Michelle Wie, Mia Hamm, Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky, Shaun White, Apolo Ohno, Tom Daley, McKayla Maroney, and Gabby Douglas.
Early teen idols
The teen idol is primarily a phenomenon of 20th century mass communication. Its first manifestation (often referred to as matinee idol) may have been Rudolph Valentino, whose good looks and winning way with women featured heavily in such silent films as The Sheik. Flapper favorite Rudy Vallée may have been the first singer to have been idolised by hundreds of teenaged girls at sold-out concerts. Frank Sinatra, whose early career is often linked to his appeal to bobby soxers, is also regarded as having been amongst the first teen idols.
The great success of young rock stars like Elvis Presley and Pat Boone, film stars like James Dean, Tab Hunter, and Sal Mineo in the 1950s, as well as the wider emergence of youth subcultures, led promoters to the deliberate creation of teen idols such as singers Frankie Avalon, Fabian Forte and Connie Stevens. Even crusty crooners like Dean Martin & Frank Sinatra were still considered idols and rather handsome. Actors Edd Byrnes and Troy Donahue; and to artists who deliberately cultivated a (safer) idol image, like Paul Anka.
Anka initially modelled himself on a particular generic type, the teen idol [who] carried on the process ... of changing the image of male youth ... from wild to mild, by providing a cleaner, more wholesome image of masculinity than that of the previous era's rebellious rockabilly heroes [and (working-class) so-called juvenile delinquents, like those in West Side Story]....—
Post-war teens were able to buy relatively inexpensive phonographs — including portable models that could be carried to friends' houses — and the new 45-rpm singles. Rock music played on 45s became the soundtrack to the 1960s as people bought what they heard on the radio. The great majority of the music being marketed to 1950s teens was being written by adults, but 1960s teens were increasingly appreciating and emulating artists closer to their own age, to teen fashion, and to lyrics which addressed their own concerns. Their parents worried about their attraction to artists (and DJs) who were edgy and rebellious. Faces on magazines fed fans; fans buy records, see films, watch TV and buy fashions.
Marketing of the teen idol generally focuses on the image.... The teen idol is structured to appeal to the pre-teen and young teen female pop audience member and children in general.... [They] are commodified in forms and images that are relatively non-threatening to this young audience and to the ancillary market of parents... The teen idol never appears to be autonomous and therefore never appears to be threatening as an adult; he remains, as long as he is popular, perpetually childlike and dependent.—
Some marketers turned to film and TV for fresh, attractive, 'safe' faces. Tommy Sands's debut in a television film about the phenomenon, The Idol, made a teen idol out of Sands himself. Ricky Nelson, a performer of rockabilly music, also became a teen idol through his parents' television series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Some young TV stars were being hustled into studios to make recordings; for example, ex-Mousketeer Annette Funicello became one of the first big female idols as well as The Lennon Sisters whom had cut out dolls and were always on the covers of the gossip magazines; another, Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman, had five Top-40 hits. In 1963, Luke Halpin made a big splash as a teen idol in the television program Flipper. After Bye Bye Birdie was released in 1963, Bobby Rydell became an instant teen tdol.
In the 1960s as situation comedies and dramas on television using child actors became more popular, actors Paul Petersen, Patty Petersen, and Shelley Fabares from The Donna Reed Show, Dwayne Hickman from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Sally Field of Gidget, Jon Provost of Lassie, Jay North from Dennis the Menace, Billy Mumy of Lost in Space (and later of novelty group Barnes and Barnes), Sajid Khan of Maya, and Keith and Kevin Schultz known as the "Schultz Twins" on The Monroes all became younger preteen idols and grew into being teen idols.
Likewise, Tommy Steele, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys were teen idols, especially during the earlier part of their careers, although they quickly grew out of that status. The Rolling Stones did it through a more rebellious image, the Beatles did it through their more developed (or "grown up") music. Similarly, Neil Sedaka had two distinct eras of his career, with about a decade in between: one as a teen idol in the 1960s (in which many of his songs note his attraction to 16-year-old girls), and a later career in adult contemporary music. From the family band the Cowsills, Susan Cowsill, John Cowsill and Barry Cowsill became teen idols and were on teen magazine covers for many years; the TV show The Partridge Family was written in their likeness. Many of the teen idols of the era were the sons of older, established stars; Dino, Desi & Billy were active as teen idols during the mid-sixties. The group included Desi Arnaz Jr (son of bandleader Desi Arnaz), Dean Paul Martin (son of singer Dean Martin), and Billy Hinsche (a mutual friend whose parents were not famous). Gary Lewis, son of comedian Jerry Lewis, fronted The Playboys during this era.
All of The Monkees became instant teen idols in the late 1960s after their TV show became an overnight success, especially for Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones. The British born member of the Monkees Davy Jones was regularly featured in all time teen idol lists. In 2008, Yahoo Music named Jones the number one teen idol of all time, and in 2009 he was ranked second in a list compiled by Fox News. Davy Jones still to this day tends to win many number one's and the top of the list in best teen idol contests.
After Davy Jones came Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, who held the title of Teen Idols from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s. Both Sherman and Cassidy were actors on television and chart topping musicians in the pop-rock category at the time. Sherman was on hit TV shows Shindig! and Here Come the Brides among many others. Musical series such as Cassidy's The Partridge Family, the animated series The Archie Show, and (to a lesser extent) The Brady Bunch integrated television and teen-pop music to significant success during this time frame. The Brady Bunch's Barry Williams and Christopher Knight, as was tennis pro/actor Vincent Van Patten all were constantly in the fan magazines at the time. Actors Richard Thomas, Robby Benson, Peter Barton, Leif Garrett, Mark Lester, Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, and Jack Wild were the talk of the teenagers in the 1970s as well. Musicians The Hudson Brothers were on many teen magazine covers for a number of years as teen idols. They had two shows on TV during the 1970s and recorded many albums.
One of the features of many teen idols is that their fans (and, in some cases, the musicians themselves) tend to develop a distaste for the music once they became adults, and it is not much listened to by adults, except for nostalgia: the legacy of bubblegum pop. Teen idol performers in this category would include Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, The Osmond Brothers (particularly Donny Osmond and their teen idol sister Marie Osmond), Andy Gibb, Tony DeFranco, and The Bay City Rollers. Even modern classic hits and oldies outlets, which cover this time period, rarely play cuts from the teen idols of the era. Notable exceptions are Michael Jackson of The Jackson Five, who began his career as a teen idol along with his brothers, but whose individual career eventually evolved far beyond the limitations of that description and into superstardom.
In the mid-1980s there was a group of young actors called The Brat Pack; the whole group collectively and separately became teen idols. They were Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. They starred in many coming of age films together in some fashion and became incredibly popular without being musicians.
Actors Corey Feldman and Corey Haim also became teen idols during the later part of the 1980s with films The Goonies and together The Lost Boys, Dream a Little dream and License to Drive among other films. They were dubbed "the two Coreys". Before Corey Haim's death in 2010, they did a reality TV show for two seasons (2007–08) on A&E named The Two Coreys after their 1980s moniker.
Australian-American singer-actor Rick Springfield was regarded as the teen idol in the 1980s with such hits as "Jessie's Girl" and "Don't Talk to Strangers". The Grammy Award-winning musician Springfield was known for playing Dr. Noah Drake on the daytime drama General Hospital. He originated the character from 1981 to 1983. He left acting after his music career took off.
At the end of the 1980s, actor Kirk Cameron became a major teen idol teenage heartthrob. Cameron was best known for his role as Mike Seaver on the television situation comedy Growing Pains from 1985 to 1992. Also Scott Baio and Willie Aames of Charles in Charge fame found themselves regulars in teen magazines.
In popular music, the late 1980s was the boom of teenagers dominating the music charts. Debbie Gibson became the youngest person to write, perform and produce a number-one single, "Foolish Beat", and also had many hits from her first two albums. Tiffany, another teen icon, became a pop sensation at 15 years old thanks to an aggressive marketing strategy. She promoted her debut album in shopping malls of the US. She is also the youngest person to have a debut album hit number one and have multiple number one singles from that album ("I Think We're Alone Now" and "Could've Been"). Having become a household name, she had then-unknown band New Kids on the Block as an opening act for her shows. However, the sudden popularity of the New Kids caused their roles to be reversed. Gibson and Tiffany's careers had stalled by the early 1990s; so had NKOTB by the mid-nineties. The other Boy Band from Boston, New Edition was very popular with the teen set by the end of the 1980s as well.
The most popular singer of the 1980s was the Queen of Pop Madonna. With songs "Like a Prayer" and "Like a Virgin" in the '80s toplists throughout the decade. She became a teen idol through her music, and her unique fashion at the time.
The manufacturing of teen idols has been marketed more aggressively and with greater sophistication since the 1980s. The rise of MTV in the 1980s and the success of the boy bands of the 1990s and 2000s has continued to fuel the phenomenon. Besides a combination of good, clean-cut looks and a ubiquitous marketing campaign, such bands typically include a variety of personality types (e.g. "the shy one", "the smart one", etc.) Classic examples of "boy bands" include Menudo, New Kids on the Block, Take That, Backstreet Boys, and 'NSYNC, all becoming the best selling pop groups of the decade. Hanson was initially marketed as such a band, but eventually outgrew this label to become a successful indie band. Female teen pop stars such as Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson, and Britney Spears alongside mega girl groups the Spice Girls and Destiny's Child, whom also became very popular at the end of the decade. Other notable examples from the 1990s are female R&B singers Aaliyah, Monica, and Brandy. After Brandy's television show Moesha went on the air, it brought her many teen fans and she was always on the cover or in the teen magazines for many years. Brothers Nick Carter from Backstreet Boys and pop star Aaron Carter were both teen idols in their heyday, as was, to a much lesser extent, sister Leslie. Robbie Williams of boy band Take That had teen idol status as did Ricky Martin during the Latin music explosion of the late 1990s.
Many of the major teen idols in the 1990s were from boy bands and musical acts. One major exception was the situation comedy Home Improvement 's Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played Randy Taylor from 1991–1998; "JTT" (as he would come to be known during this time), uncomfortable with his teen idol status, left the show (and, for the most part, the entire acting scene) one year shy of the show's last year on the air. Another major teen idol was Freddie Prinze, Jr. who skyrocketed to teen heartthrob status after starring in successful teen horror films. Other teen idols from TV at around the same time were most of the cast of Saved by the Bell, Joshua Jackson and James Van Der Beek of Dawson's Creek, Ben Savage and Rider Strong of Boy Meets World, Joseph Gordon-Levitt of 3rd Rock From the Sun, Jonathan Brandis of seaQuest DSV, Jared Leto of My So-Called Life, Joey Lawrence of Blossom (and to a lesser extent, Joey's brothers, Matthew and Andrew), Jason Priestley and Luke Perry of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame, and Erik Von Detten of various TGIF shows. These actors were often found on the covers and pages of teen magazines during the 1990s as teen idols as well. Sarah Michelle Gellar was a major teen idol in the late 90s, as a result of her lead role in the popular television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fraternal twin sisters and TV actresses Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen were major tween idols and as they grew up they later became teen idols during the 1990s. After the movie Clueless, Alicia Silverstone found herself a teen idol. The comedy duo of Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were major teen idols in the 1990s, due to their fame on Nickelodeon they were known for starring in the sketch comedy series All That, their own comedy sitcom Kenan & Kel and their movie Good Burger. Nickelodeon also produced The Amanda Show which featured Amanda Bynes as well.
The Walt Disney Company and its numerous outlets (e.g. Disney Channel, Radio Disney and Walt Disney Pictures) have successfully developed a new generation of teen idols. In the early 2000s, the company developed the careers of Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan, initially targeting youth and female teen audiences. The success of this marketing led to further development of the genre, including new teen idols such as Demi Lovato, Raven-Symoné, Dylan and Cole Sprouse, Zac Efron, Jesse McCartney, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez. Disney has also used the acquisition of ABC Family to develop shows and stars popular among teen girls. Another similar corporation, Nickelodeon, began developing its own slate of stars for its television shows in 2004, including Drake Bell, Josh Peck, Emma Roberts, Miranda Cosgrove, Jennette McCurdy, Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice, and the group Big Time Rush, all of whom have not only starred in TV shows, but recorded songs as well. Of note is that many of the modern-day teen idols are females marketed as "role-models" to teen and tween girls, a departure from the traditional role of the male teen idol marketed as the idolized teen "heart-throb".
The 2000s saw many new teen idols emerge from popular feature films such as the casts of Harry Potter (e.g. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) and The Twilight Saga (e.g. Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner).
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Unlike in the 2000s when Disney and Nickelodeon had a more manufactured teen stars/idols, a new kind of teen idol was emerging from the YouTube generation called YouTubers. These teen idols come from their personal online music and video channels. A few noted names are: Rebecca Black, Greyson Chance, Shane Dawson, Troye Sivan, Grace Helbig, Jack Harries, Finn Harries, Bethany Mota, Jenna Mourey, Felix Kjellberg, Tyler Oakley, Our 2nd Life, or O2L, the comedy duo Smosh, Zoe Sugg, Troye Sivan, and Sam Pepper. They exert control over their content, catering to the teen fan base on their channels. These "YouTubers" show a generation divide of how people are exposed to popular culture; the younger generation will receive their entertainment and influence from the internet where as the older generations used traditional media such as music albums, movies, magazines, and television.
Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner of Keeping up with the Kardashians have become big teen idols, two of the few to have earned their fame from reality television. Disney Channel star Ross Lynch and X Factor alumni Fifth Harmony have come to be teen idols. Ariana Grande has gone from the 2000s child actress to the 2010s as a music superstar and teen idol.
In Japan, more and more "idol groups" have appeared. In Japanese culture, persons called "idols" are media personalities in their teens and early twenties who are considered particularly attractive or cute and who will, for a period ranging from several months to a few years, regularly appear in the mass media, e.g. as singers for pop groups, bit-part actors, TV personalities, models in photo spreads published in magazines, advertisements, etc. One of the most successful groups is Momoiro Clover Z. Their performances incorporate elements of ballet, gymnastics, and action movies.
Since their rise to fame in recent years, pop singer and YouTube sensation Justin Bieber, country-pop musician Taylor Swift, boy band One Direction have become examples of modern-day mega teen idols who have achieved international success, known for their devoted female and male teen fans, and a very large tween fan base, as well as an adults fan base making them all international superstars as well as teen idols.
- K-Pop idol
- Matinee idol
- Sex symbol
- Celebrity Worship Syndrome
- Boy band
- Girl group
- Junior idol
- Japanese idol
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