We asked our critics and our readers to vote for the 10 most important works of the decade. We count down to No. 1 as we approach Dec. 31.
I asked Kris Allen, the 2009 American Idol, why people like the show so much.
"I think the beauty about American Idol is that it takes people that they can relate to, that maybe acts like a friend of theirs, or has the same job or something like that, and makes them into rock stars or country stars or pop stars," said the 24-year-old from Conway, Ark.
The man's bang on. The rags-to-riches story, after all, is a persistent cultural cliché. But instead of commoners rising to royalty, we have a farm girl from Oklahoma becoming a country mega-star (Carrie Underwood), or the girl from a small Texas town who used to sing in bars and now sells millions of pop records (Kelly Clarkson), or the Arkansas church music director who got to play on the same New York stage The Beatles once rocked (Allen).
You don't even have to win the reality singing competition to become famous: think Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, rocker Chris Daughtry, Broadway lead Constantine Maroulis or glam pop-rock sensation Adam Lambert.
Idol contestants come in all shapes, sizes, races, sexual orientations, ages (from 16 to 30), abilities (contestant Scott MacIntyre was blind); they're from small towns and big cities; they're a little bit country or a little bit rock 'n' roll, and everything in between.
Of course, the same could be said of plenty of U.S. reality shows that don't pull anywhere near Idol's viewership.
Its ratings are down, as are most network TV shows', but Idol still beats the competition every Tuesday and Wednesday that it airs. Just under 29 million watched Allen win over Lambert on the May finale.
But Idol's not just about numbers. It has become part of the zeitgeist since it debuted in June 2002 as a spinoff of the British show Pop Idol.
Idol's genius, in an era in which we simultaneously adulate and denigrate our celebrities, lies in combining the mythology of the American dream with a healthy dose of schadenfreude.
It starts with the audition shows, when just enough delusional, tone-deaf applicants are mixed in with the true talents to give the viewers something to laugh at.
As some are knocked down, others get built up.
By the time contestants have made it through the pressure cooker of Hollywood Week, when a couple of hundred wannabes are cut to 36 semi-finalists or less, viewers are finding their favorites: the people they'll cheer on and vote for.
And therein lies one of Idol's main attractions: viewers' ability not only to watch stars being born but to take an active part in the transition.
Throw renditions of hit songs into the mix, and the interplay between contestants, judges and host Ryan Seacrest, and you've got a hit.
Challenges lie ahead, however. The show has already lost popular judge Paula Abdul although replacement Ellen DeGeneres should maintain viewers' interest.
But will it survive the reputed departure of the most popular judge, bitingly honest Brit Simon Cowell?