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The Idol: How A Zoom About Cults Inspired Sam Levinson & Abel Tesfaye's Team-Up

HBO's "The Idol" brings the creative team-up of "Euphoria" creator Sam Levinson and musical artist Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye. Their series centers on pop star Jocelyn's (Lily-Rose Depp) attempt at a comeback after suffering a nervous breakdown and her complex relationship with a self-help guru and cult leader named Tedros, played by Tesfaye. With its dark look into the power of celebrity culture and modern-day cults, the story of "The Idol" feels like it was pulled from a combination of newspaper headlines about the shady side of the entertainment industry and a few compelling true crime documentaries. But according to Levinson and Tesfaye, the initial idea for "The Idol" sparked from a Zoom conversation between the two and their eagerness to work together creatively.

Levinson told the New York Times, "Abel and I have known each other for quite a few years, and we've always wanted to work together. We got on a Zoom because I'd heard he has this project. The genesis was he said, 'Look, if I wanted to start a cult, I could. And I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing.'" 

In the same interview, Tesfaye later added his recollection of their Zoom call, noting that while he doesn't remember saying those exact words to Levinson, his focus was on his fascination with the immense power celebrities have on their fans. In any case, while "The Idol" had a simple origin from Levinson and Tesfaye's conversation, its path to finally debut was anything but smooth sailing.

The Idol has traveled a challenging road toward its debut

Even before HBO dropped the first episode on June 4, 2023, "The Idol" roused immense controversy. Much of the negative buzz surrounding the series resulted from a Rolling Stone piece that noted numerous allegations, including some possible and concerning reasons as to why the director Amy Seimetz suddenly left the project, millions of dollars lost due to delays, and dire on-set problems that Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye has publicly disputed. In addition, during its two-episode screening for the Cannes Film Festival, critics weren't particularly kind to the series, despite it receiving a standing ovation.

Currently, "The Idol" holds an audience score of 58 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is undoubtedly better than its critic score, but not quite the same acclaimed reception Sam Levinson's hit show, "Euphoria," received. Still, while "The Idol" has experienced a rough start, it is possible the show could experience a surprising turnaround by the time it wraps up. It looks like the season will contain six episodes, so as it continues its run, more folks could potentially warm up toward the controversial show.