Friday, February 20, 2009

They're Back! American Idol Wannabes

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Something ain't right in American Idol land. My family likes the “try-out”shows of AI. I hate them. My husband says they’re staged.

“But that guy is crying.” I reach for my stomach. It hurts. “He thinks he can sing.”

My husband laughs. “They have to be acting. They have to be. Listen to that guy.”

Research tells me some of the performers are for real. My question is why so many hopefuls believe they are the next American Idol. All I can believe is that they’re tone deaf.

Are their parents, cousins, co-workers and friends tone deaf, too?

According to a recent poll thirty-one percent of American teenagers believe one day they will be famous. Author Jake Halpern tells us in Fame Junkies that 43.4 percent of teenage girls want to be a celebrity assistant. Why? If they can't be famous themselves, they can at least “smell the red carpet.”

Haplern cites Sycracuse University Pop Culture Professor Robert Thompson who is bothered by “the disconnect from reality.” It’s also troublesome that so many of our “famous” people right now don’t necessarily have something of value to give audiences. Simply being on a reality-based TV show can bring a person recognition, and thus some degree of fame.

CNN journalist Todd Leopold says, “Put these wildly popular shows in the context of an individualistic youth culture with an increasing sense of personal entitlement, and fame almost becomes a birthright.” He also quotes Halpern: “In fact, results of high school and college student personality studies indicate both narcissism and a sense of entitlement have risen in recent years.”

Steven Pressfield, author of Baggar Vance, makes a differing point: “We are not born with unlimited choices. We can't be anything we want to be.”

After listening to hours and hours of people who don't know otherwise, I have no doubt American Idol judge Simon Cowell would agree.

Fact: I cannot be a professional quarterback. For beginners, I'm female and throw like a girl. There are plenty more reasons why I’ll never be Eli or Peyton Manning. But at least I get it. At least I have no delusions of grandeur.

Something else I will never be is an American Idol. Forget that I'm too old. I'm neither tone deaf nor delusional. Even though I can carry a tune, I am not Carrie Underwood or Fantasia. This I know.

Pressfield says something else important, “We must do ‘our’ work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.” It's the key ingredient AI contestants are missing. It’s the key we want our children to have while they are reaching for their dreams.

Overnight IA sensation William Hung’s off-key rendition of Ricky Martin's “She Bang” in 2004 made him a pop culture oddity.

Audiences paid to see him and a record company signed him on the dotted line.

During the audition Simon told him: “You can't sing, you can't dance, so what do you want me to say?”

Even though the AI judges said no, Hung got the attention, applause and money anyway, but most AI wannabes haven't been as lucky.

Fact: The participants aren’t doing it for the money because usually there is no money. Even a tone-deaf observer will eventually stop clapping. In time the attention and applause will go away.

All in all, American Idol can be seen as just plain fun, but what can parents do to encourage their children to turn their efforts toward developing real skills and talents, and to recognize and utilize value in our culture? That will be an issue we will explore through-out the year.

Allyn Evans
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