Did Claudia Conway Deserve a Golden Ticket on ‘American Idol’?

Justin Jenkins
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On the hit show American Idol, contestants who audition dream of hearing the magic words “you’re going to Hollywood.” Receiving the coveted Golden Ticket means the amature singer was impressive enough to score a shot at becoming the next American Idol.


Introduced during the reiteration of Idol on ABC, judges Katy Perry, Lionel Ritchie, and Luke Bryan decide if a particular singer has what it takes. Sometimes the judges do not agree on who should advance and who shouldn’t, but majority rules. After countless seasons there is one thing to wonder, what makes a contestant Golden Ticket worthy? 

I know the easy answer is to say that a contestant needs to be good, but is that enough? As social media and vanity continue to dictate and disrupt industries, talent shows are no different. Everything is a spectacle and producers know that in order to stay relevant they must create a scene. Audiences are no longer watching shows like American Idol in the way past audiences did.

Let’s look at Season 19. Idol was gearing up for their premiere episode. For one of their promotions, one specific singer was spotlighted. Usually promotion for a new season is heartwarming and uses quick soundbites to gain attention. More often than not, the promotion focused on past seasons that showed winners and moments of triumph.


But for Season 19, during the height of unparalleled political tension, Idol chose to focus on viral star Claudia Conway’s audition for a chance to become the latest champion. Who is Claudia Conway? At the time, her family dominated the news cycle as her mother worked for former President Donald Trump. For months, the Conways embattled public disputes. What did Idol do? They banked on the attention, even allowing Conway to announce that she was in the audition room in real time on her TikTok. 

What Makes a Contestant Worthy of a Golden Ticket?

Before performing, producers dedicated a much longer segment to introduce Claudia. They focused on the story that continuously played out in the news cycle. After getting the chance to sing two songs, the judges all looked to be on the fence. Eventually with a yes from Perry and Ritchie, Claudia received her Golden Ticket. Many viewers attributed Claudia’s infamous family as the only reason she was given the chance to advance. 

When promoting Idol, there are stories that lean on scandal which helps make the headlines such as the Conways. Then there are stories that the judges and producers know will shock audiences. Stories such as Season 18 contestant Doug Kiker, known as Doug the Garbage Man. Doug’s story of wanting to show his daughter that he was somebody and that she could do anything that she puts her mind to brought the judges to tears.  


Like Claudia, Doug also had an unconventional audition. He was nervous and was allowed to warm up and come back to the audition room. When he did not know much about the technicalities of singing, judge Luke Bryan jumped on the piano to help him showcase his voice. In the end, Doug received his Golden Ticket.

When it is all said and done, whether you agree or not, what gets a contestant that Golden Ticket is the story that the producers want to convey. It can be a story that the public has interests in knowingly, or a personal story that viewers did not know they needed to watch for a good cry or inspiration. Talent is great, but what is your story?

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