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Talent Shows and their Significance for Children and Adolescents (2009)

For years, formats such as Germany’s Next Topmodel (GNTM) (a format based on America’s Next Top Model) or Deutschland sucht den Superstar (DSDS) (“Germany Seeks a Superstar”, a spin-off from the British format Pop Idol) have dominated the list of children’s and adolescents’ favourite television programmes, reaching a market share of up to 70 %. In this study the IZI asked what children and adolescents like about talent shows, and what they take from them, both consciously and unconsciously. In total, 1,303 pupils between the ages of nine and 22 took part in the qualitative and quantitative studies.

Results: Children and adolescents have a lot of empathy with the contestants. Children and adolescents can relate to the young protagonists, for they see themselves and their own issues and fantasies reflected in them. Whereas in GNTM the focus is on the aesthetic components, the staging of the photo shoots, and the enjoyment of watching how beautiful people stage themselves for the camera, in DSDS it is also on “bitching” about the contestants and Dieter Bohlen’s comments.  
Talent shows are “in” and are the subject of conversations in the playground the next day. 75 % of regular viewers of GNTM and 82 % of DSDS viewers talk about the show the next day in the playground. Talent shows are therefore by far the number one topic of conversation at break time. Even though older adolescents, in particular, do not like to admit it, they simply “must” watch DSDS and GNTM so that they can join in the conversations the next day. 
But adolescents also derive values from talent shows. As one of these values, they identify the considerable will to conform to the performance requirements of Dieter Bohlen and Heidi Klum. Positive orientations such as “Doing everything you can to achieve your dream, and always believing in yourself“ (girl, 12 years old) are accompanied by not unproblematic perceptions such as “Never contradict Dieter Bohlen” (girl, 13 years old). But there are other influences at work here, influences of which the children and adolescents are not aware: the results suggest that Dieter Bohlen has promoted a culture of criticism, among boys in particular, that is designed to cause personal offence. 70 % of regular DSDS viewers agree with the statement “I watch the show because I like it when Dieter Bohlen criticizes people harshly, even if he sometimes personally offends the contestants when he does so”. Among 18 to 19 year-olds, in fact, the proportion of those who agree rises to 83 %.

Among regular GNTM viewers we see a significant change in the ideal of beauty. 1,166 children and adolescents in a representative sample were shown nine images of women’s bodies. They were asked: “On this sheet you can see different women’s bodies. In your opinion, which is the most beautiful?” Regular GNTM viewers develop a more professional gaze. They prefer slim, toned bodies; the “normal“ body of a young girl, however, is less frequently perceived as beautiful.

Götz, Maya: “To See How they Progress and Develop”. The Fascination with Germany’s Next Topmodel. In: Götz, Maya, TV-Hero(in)es of boys and girls. Reception studies of favorite characters (pp. 379-413). Frankfurt, Main: Lang 2014.