Thursday, January 18, 2007

Analyzing American Idol

Please don't hate me. I watch American Idol. And I like it.

Lots of reasons:
  • It's devoid of sexual exploitation and physical violence. I can watch it without blushing or getting nauseated from seeing the autopsy from inside the cadaver.
  • It offers an amazing picture of our culture, for good or bad.
  • It is generally good music. Taylor Hicks and Catherine McPhee made me smile just to hear them sing.
  • It is a study in human interaction and relationships.

However, it amazes me more every year how deluded so many people are concerning their abilities. Ten thousand singers showed up in Minnesota to try to get one of a handful of golden tickets moving them on to the next round of competition in Hollywood. Out of those, how many really had a chance?

Simon Cowell and the other judges can be ruthless and rude. But more often than not they are simply saying what should have been said by someone else. I get angry listening and watching the train-wrecks. It is sad, and it could have been prevented. Instead of Cowell being the one to put up a wall in front of the careening engine of a contestant's false hopes, it ought to have been someone who knows them, loves them, and from whom they can hear the truth. I get angry at parents and family members who have lied to these people.

The very obvious truth screams out from the screeches and a-tonal "music" of aspiring Idols: the people in their lives who should have yelled "STOP!" were instead shouting praises and compliments and cheering the doomed singer on along the route to catastrophe.

Why? Here are some thoughts:

  1. We have misinterpreted encouragement. To encourage does not mean boosting confidence where there is no foundation. If you don't have wings, it doesn't matter how much I tell you, "You can do it! I just know you can fly! Don't be afraid. It's really not as high as it looks. You've got what it takes." Without some ability to fly, you're still coming in for a rough landing, with lots of pain and suffering that could have been avoided if I'd just said, "Maybe we need to stop and think about this."
  2. We have decided to be nice instead of being honest. American Idol has been around for a while now. It doesn't take a whole lot of smarts to know that average singers don't have a chance, much less someone who can't carry a tune in a bucket. But for many of these sorry contestants, there was no one in their lives who loved them enough to be honest. They just wanted to be nice, and they continued to lie to their faces so as not to make them sad. So they let their karaoke friends, or brothers and sisters, or children run headlong into Simon Cowell, who is forced to do the dirty work for them, with ugly results.
  3. We have lost the fine art of giving rebuke. We just don't know how to do it anymore. Even when I use the word "rebuke," images of yelling and berating and verbal abuse come to mind. But that's not what rebuke really is. Rebuke, in the Biblical sense, is correction conducted within a loving, grace-filled environment for the building-up of the other person. When's the last time someone rebuked you? When's the last time you offered rebuke? How'd that go?
  4. We have lost the willingness to receive rebuke. Even if we knew how to give it out, it is questionable if we could find anyone willing to listen. Rebuke is not seen as a loving act; it is considered rude and socially inept. In our culture, rebuke doesn't share the same characteristics as encouragement. But it should.

So the trains keep on rolling down the tracks, and we grimace at the carnage we can envision as the speed picks up and the wall looms close.

Garrison Keillor tells the story of his mother catching him pretending to be Buddy Holly in his bedroom. He asks his mom, "Am I a good singer?" She answers, "You're a good enough singer." Keillor sings regularly on his Prairie Home Companion show, but he's still just a "good enough" singer, and he knows it. He didn't get where he's at because of his singing prowess. He'd be Simonized on American Idol.

Trains need brakemen who are wise and can stop the engine before the wreck. If you love someone, it's OK to stop them. Dreams, aspirations, goals - all of that is good. But don't let someone you care about dream themselves into a nightmare.

1 comment:

gmc said...

Good point regarding false encouragement and 'rebuke.' At the other side of the coin are all the many who never will find out what they are capable of because someone 'shut them down' with mis-guided, unfair criticism way before the individual had a chance to try.

And as someone once said, you don't have to be a good singer to be successful - you have to be an interesting singer. No one would accuse Bob Dylan of having a great voice - but he sure is an interesting singer. Leonard Cohen, upon being honored as Canada's male vocalist of the year a while back, shook his head self-deprecatingly and said something about "only in Canada..."

But Simon Cowl would certainly have "Simonized" them - ha ha!