A teen idol is a famous person who generates attention from large numbers of teenagers, who follow their every move. The term means idol for teens; a teen idol is often young, but in many cases no longer a teen. Some teen idols are child actors. The idol's popularity may be limited to teens, or extend to all age groups.
Teen idols are usually actors or pop singers. The category includes some of the greatest performers of all time and some of the most inconsequential. Although performers have been attracting young people since the serpent caught Eve's attention, the teen idol is primarily a phenomenon of mass communications.
The earliest manifestation of the teen idol in something resembling the current sense may have been Rudolph Valentino with his slick good looks and winning way with women in such silent movies as The Sheik, but it was probably Frank Sinatra's appeal to the bobby socks ers that made the category a permanent part of show business. Eddie Fisher also had a huge following of screaming and swooning teen-aged fans, but many of them turned against him when he divorced Debbie Reynolds in 1959 to marry Elizabeth Taylor. Brenda Lee was the first female teen idol to achieve widespread popularity.
The great success of Elvis Presley in the 1950s led clever promoters to the deliberate creation of teen idols such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian. His debut in a television movie about the phenomenon, The Idol, made a teen idol out of Tommy Sands . Ricky Nelson, a performer of rockabilly music also became a teen idol via televison.
It is the essence of the teen idol to appeal to the burgeoning sexuality of the young without in any way threatening it. The difference 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, The Beatles were teen idols, especially during the earlier part of their careers; the Rolling Stones, despite millions of young fans, were too rowdy and threatening to gain genuine idol status.
The manufacture of idols has been greatly improved over the years since, with The Monkees another notable success in the art. The rise of MTV in the 1980s and the success of the boy bands of the 1990s are part of the same cavalcade. Besides the obvious combination of good looks and a slick marketing campaign, one of the key selling points of the manufactured band is the "something for everyone" approach. 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. Teen idols are also usually commonly read about in such publications as Tiger Beat, Right On! and other teen magazines in the United States, and similar ones everywhere else.
For many examples, see the List of teen idols.