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A teen idol is a celebrity who is widely idolized by teenagers; he or she is often young but not necessarily teenaged. Often teen idols are actors or pop singers, but some sports figures have an appeal to teenagers. Some teen idols are child actors. The idol's popularity may be limited to teens, or may extend to all age groups.
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, and Soul Train. Some contemporary teen idols include Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. This list, however, is not limited to American artists alone with some people like Japanese pop megastar Ayumi Hamasaki and Chinese pop icon Jay Chou as excellent examples  .
It is the essence of the teen idol to appeal to the burgeoning sexuality of the young without in any way threatening it. As recently as the 1970s, some stars were asked to shave their chests because it was perceived that chest hair was threatening to young girls. In previous eras, because teen idols were supposed to have an aura of approachability, they often needed to keep their romantic relationships and marriages a secret for fear of decreased popularity. In recent times, the concept of a teen idol has changed. Today's idols include movie and television stars, pop singers, and supermodels. Celebrities' private lives are no longer taboo; to the contrary, they have spawned an entire industry of gossip magazines, television shows, and whole television channels such as E!. Young sports icons are considered teen idols like Mary Lou Retton, Shawn Johnson and Michael Phelps.
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. Valentino was so popular with young women, many of them went into mass hysteria after he died at the age of 31 in 1926. Judy Garland's pin-ups adorned many a high school male's locker after her sudden rise to fame. But it was probably Frank Sinatra, whose early career is often linked to his appeal to bobby soxers, who is generally regarded as being the first true 'teen idol'.
The great success of young rock stars like Elvis Presley and film stars like James Dean in the 1950s, as well as the wider emergence of youth subcultures, led promoters to the deliberate creation of teen idols such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian — 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 deliquents, 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 50s teens was being written by adults, but 60s 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 movie 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 show, 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; another, Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman, had five Top-40 hits.
The difference between 'natural' and 'manufactured' is graphically illustrated by the early career of Presley, who started out playing hard rhythm and blues and jazzed-up country music until he was retrofitted as a teen idol by his management. The lyrics of his "Teddy Bear" explicitly document the change:
- Don't wanna be your tiger, 'cause tigers play too rough,
- Don't wanna be your lion, 'cause lions aren't the kind you love enough;
- I just wanna be your teddy bear.
Likewise, Tommy Steele, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones 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.
One of the features of many teen idols is that their fans grow out of their music, and it is not much listened to by adults, except for nostalgia: the legacy of bubblegum pop. Performers in this category would include Shaun Cassidy and The Bay City Rollers.
Since the 1980s
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 the obvious combination of what are perceived to be good, clean-cut looks and a ubiquitous, almost invasive marketing campaign, one of the key selling points of the "manufactured band" is the "something for everyone" approach, although this strategy has been criticized for being more along the lines of "something for everyone who hasn't had much exposure to music". Each band member can be promoted separately for a unique look and one-note personality: the "shy one", the "intelligent one", "the rebel", and so on. Classic examples of boy bands include New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync.
Now teen idol is young celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift, Jonas Brothers, Ashley Tisdale, Taylor Momsen, Hilary Duff, Dakota Fanning, Abigail Breslin and the others...
- Junior idol - This is a contrast to young children which is compared to teens.
- American Idol
- Boy band
- Girl group
- Sex symbol
- Matinee idol
- Role model
- Celebrity crush
- "Teen Idol". All Music Guide. Retrieved 2009-10-13.
- Unterberger, Richie. "Essay: Teen Idol". All Music Guide. Retrieved 2009-10-13.
- Bogdanov, Vladimir; Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine (2002). All music guide to rock: the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 1309–10. ISBN 087930653X. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Jim Leach, Jeannette Sloniowski, Candid eyes: essays on Canadian documentaries. University of Toronto Press, 2003, pp.50-60. [Emphasis mine]
- P. David Marshall, Celebrity and power: fame in contemporary culture. U of Minnesota Press, 1997 p.168ff. ISBN 0816627258
- "Teen Pop". All Music Guide. Retrieved 2009-10-13.
- "MTV Teen Idol". Iomusic News. Retrieved 2008-01-25.[dead link]
- The Top 25 Teen Idols of All-Time at Yahoo.com