Hi, and Welcome to this meeting of the newly formed A.I.A. (American Idol Anonymous)
My name is Lee, and I admit it. I am an American Idol-aholic.
Season 7 started this week, and once again I'm horrified... and glued to the show.
To help me, to help you, to help us all, I offer you not 12, but 4 steps to understanding the phenomenon and full recovery.
Step 1: American Idol plays into our collective Cinderella Complex
A talent show where the winner is catapulted to stardom, seemingly overnight. You've got the tight video packages showing how hard their day-to-day lives are (Cinderella sweeping the ashes from the fireplace...), and how they dream of fame and fortune (going to the ball...) and how maybe, with their gifts and talent, they can fit their honkin' big toes into the glass slipper and BE the next "American Idol." And the harder their sob story, the more we want them to be wonderful, to blow us and the judges away when they open their mouths to sing. And when they ARE great, we breathe a sigh of relief, our moment of Cinderella Catharsis shimmering like a fairy godmother's wand before us.
But, uh... wait.
Some of these people can't sing. At all. And I'm not talking about your run of the mill tone-deafness...
Step 2: American Idol gives us the chance to feel SUPERIOR.
They sing their almost frightening renditions of songs. Randy bursts into laughter behind his stack of papers. Paula spins in her seat and unsuccessfully tries to hide her giggles in Randy's shoulder. And Simon gnaws on his pen, eyes wide in horror, playing up his disbelief for the cameras.
And we at home turn to our partners/friends/parents and go "Huh? They suck! I can sing better than that!"
Which leads, unfortunately, to MORE people showing up to audition next year. (See step 1)
There's also the whole Schadenfreude thing, (Happiness at the Misfortune of Others) which plays into the emotions of watching the truly bad (especially if they're mean) fail. Sometimes seeing others put down makes us feel bigger (which is the lever behind most bullying, actually.) It's not pretty, but it's a real emotional current at work, and we should acknowledge it.
Step 2 is also why every season seems to have it's slim-on-singing-talent contender (Sanjaya last year, and the guy with the glasses who looked like a 12 year old the year before come to mind...)
Step 3: American Idol reminds us that we have lost the Art of Self-Perception
Here at the start of year 8 of President George W. Bush, have we, as a culture, LOST the ability to be honest? Even with ourselves?
The answer is YES.
Watching a President so insulated from dissent and surrounded by "yes" men and women has helped us forget the benefits of telling the truth. (To be honest, President Clinton wasn't so great with the truth, either...) In fact, I'm sure our current President thinks he's doing a GREAT job. (After all, 34% of the country agree with him on that. Never mind the rest of us.)
And okay, part of our journey is figuring out what we're good at. So I don't blame the 16 year olds who think they can sing when they are truly keep-it-in-the-shower singers.
I blame their families and friends.
If my friend, or kid, or partner, was tone deaf, I wouldn't be encouraging them to go embarrass themselves auditioning - it's such a set-up for pain.
Oh, the look on the auditioners' faces - crestfallen, the slipper shattered, the tears, the anger... Here's the HORRIFYING TRUTH: Most of these terrible singers thought they were good. Really good. In fact, they are shocked to be told they don't have any future singing. Where are their friends? Can't anyone be honest with them?
And Simon gets a bad rap because no one in these people's lives was brave enough to say "I love you but you need a different dream, one that builds from your strengths! You're not a good enough singer to be on American Idol and make it. But you'll always be a superstar to me." Or something like that. That, but not that.
So Simon tells it like it is, and he's the evil villain.
Then again, would that be all Edna Turnblatt from "Hairspray" telling her daughter Tracy she can't go audition for the Corny Collins show because Edna's so afraid they'll make fun of Tracy for being overweight? And Tracy DOES get on the show, because of her amazing dancing talent and her zest for life...
Hmmm, NO. Edna could see that Tracy was a great dancer. It was a dancing show. American Idol is a singing show. You should be able to judge if your kid has a real chance or not based on their voice alone, shouldn't you?
And come on, Paula, it's season 7. There must be one or two polite things you could prepare to say to someone who can't sing and still come off being kind. And really, at this stage in their attempt, the truth IS kind! Otherwise, you're going to give them false hope (like you gave the guy in Philadelphia who went to get his chest hair waxed!) They'll go home, sell their pickup and trailer that they need for their llama-walking job, and use up all the money for a vocal coach and a one-way ticket to audition for you NEXT year. Pull the band-aid off and let them move on to what they're actually good at - because everyone is good at something. They should spend their time figuring out what theirs is - mud wrestling, tiddlywinks, auto repair, swing dancing, whatever, but please... not singing.
4. Understand that American Idol is a "reality" show. And "reality" had better be in quotes.
Reality shows, with all their editing, the camera crews in everyone's faces, the show-offy knowledge while you're being filmed that if you act up enough and really stand out you might just end up on national TV gives us a very SLIM slice of "reality."
How else to explain the ones who show up in costumes?
Who agree to wax off their chest hair for the camera crews?
Who throw tantrums like a 3 year old?
It all makes for fun television, but let's be REAL when we call it "reality."
Now, little grasshoppers, once you have mastered these 4 steps, you are ready...
Honestly, can't you imagine Ursula from "The Little Mermaid" yelling out "Keep
Singing!" as Ariel does her vocal scales...
Keep singing (uh, in the shower I mean) and have fun watching...