“The Idol” Isn’t a True Story, but Real-Life Cults May Have Inspired It


If you love the edgy, raw, and unfiltered “Euphoria,” buckle up for another thrilling ride with HBO’s newest series “The Idol.” The masterminds behind the series are none other than “Euphoria” director, writer, and producer Sam Levinson, as well as Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name, The Weeknd. In addition to creating and coproducing the series, the “Out of Time” singer will also share the screen with a handful of talented actors, including Lily-Rose Depp, Troye Sivan, and Debby Ryan.

“The Idol” focuses on several heavy themes, ranging from drug use and excessive partying to Hollywood cults, which has many wondering if the realistic and intense storyline draws any influence from reality. While the series is not based on a singular true story, it’s hard to imagine this show wasn’t inspired by the dark underbelly of the entertainment industry.

Read on to learn more about the inspiration behind “The Idol.”

What Is “The Idol” About?

The upcoming series centers around a rising pop star named Jocelyn (Depp) who gets swept into the charm and deception of a self-help guru and cult leader (The Weeknd) as she works to break into the music industry. Along the way, Jocelyn forms a relationship with the enigmatic, eccentric guru, which leads her to a debauchery-filled life, but at a cost. While information about “The Idol” is limited, the trailer highlights several sequences that involve heavy drug use, partying, reckless driving, guns, and sex, making for an intense, exhilarating watch similar to that of “Euphoria.”

Is “The Idol” Based on a True Story?

While it appears to be drawn from realistic elements, “The Idol” is not based on a true story. Regarding the show’s storyline, executive producer Francesca Orsi said in a statement (via Entertainment Weekly), “When the multi-talented Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye, Reza Fahim, and Sam Levinson brought us ‘The Idol,’ it was clear their subversive, revelatory take on the cult of the music industry was unlike anything HBO had ever done before.”

The US music industry, and the entertainment industry at large, is notoriously plagued by cult-like activity, sexual harassment, and emotional abuse at the hands of those in high-power positions like producers and executives, according to a report by The BBC.

In 2014, singer Kesha sued her producer Dr. Luke for sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, and emotional abuse while signed to his label, Kemosabe Records. (The abuse claims filed in New York were ultimately dismissed because the specific incidents of alleged abuse fell outside of the state’s statute of limitations.) In June 2022, famed singer-songwriter R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted on racketeering and sex-trafficking charges for using his fame and influence to sexually abuse girls, boys, and women over the span of 25 years. Docuseries like “The Vow,” which explores the NXIVM cult, and Leah Rimini’s “Scientology and the Aftermath” also document how these groups target Hollywood stars to recruit into their organizations.

So while “The Idol” isn’t based on one artist’s experience in the music industry, it does appear to be inspired by the dark stories of some of the leaders who control it.

“The Idol” is set to wow viewers with its star-studded cast and intriguing storyline, so be sure to tune in when it premieres June 4 at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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