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WHAT AMERICAN IDOL CAN TEACH US ABOUT CAREERS

on Thursday, July 14, 2011

Originally published: WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 14, 2007

Okay, I admit

it, I've become an American Idol fan.  I didn't mean to, it just slowly crept up on me the last few seasons.  The clincher is the DVR (aka the PVR aka the TIVO etc.) which allows me to fast forward through bad performances and endless results shows which used to kill the buzz for me eventually.  I find myself fascinated, I suppose like the rest of America, in the ethereal question of "What makes a star?"

I also find American Idol interesting to watch from a psychological viewpoint.  So many of the auditioners, whether they have discernable talent or not, are singularly fixated on winning American Idol as their only ticket to perceived success (as that one young man wailed unattractively to his parents after not making it through to Hollywood, "I wanted to start out famous!").  Watching people's dreams of singing, stardom, performance, parent-pleasing and "making all those doubters eat their words" clash for dominance while auditioning for a scant 30 seconds is a good reminder of why it is essential to feel clear and grounded before putting yourself forward to be judged and assessed.

So herewith are some of my other American Idol life/career lessons:

1) Don't let Simon be the one to tell you this isn't the path for you.  It makes me angry to think of all the petty office co-workers who encouraged bad singers to make fools of themselves on television.  Don't make yourself vulnerable by eating up praise without a cool, level-headed assessment from an objective source.  Your mother loves you.  She thinks you're amazing.  She's not the source from which to find out whether you have talent or not.  Your co-workers (particularly if they seem to be sneezing in their sleeves or not looking you in the eye when praising you or calling it 'interesting' when you sing) are also not the right source.  Find someone who isn't afraid of telling the truth and doesn't have any money riding on telling you yes or no.  Actually, Simon is a pretty good source given those parameters, just not on television.  If you're not sure get three assessments. 
And remember, people like Huey Lewis were told they had mediocre voices and still had great careers - just not as singing competition winners.  Find your unique voice and then find out where it really belongs.


2) Just because you have "talent" doesn't mean you're going to win the competition.  A lot of people get angry because they have the talent (they say) to win, but in this case, there are a lot of other undefinables (and very definables) about who this competition is for and what's required.  People debate a lot about it all being about looks, but I don't think that's exactly true or Taylor Hicks or little Chicken Little Kevin from last season would not have been Top 10.  There's TV-Q. charisma and personality, there's the ability to harmonize and find your pitch, there's being able to deliver under stressful circumstances. 

I notice that often the people who "get through" to Hollywood are often quite modest about their talents.  They know that they can sing, but they are grounded and self-aware enough to know that lots of people sing well.  They are confident without being arrogant.  It's a hugely attractive quality I would like to find a way to better describe, because it's so essential.  It's what makes a really attractive job interview - someone who is confident in talking about themselves, but who are also clear that they may not be what you're looking for...and that's okay.

And in Hollywood week, we learn that talent and charisma won't work if you don't remember any lyrics (looking at you Baylie) unless you're Sundance who I believe stayed on by the (sweaty) skin of his teeth with charisma, a great first audition and that same grounded attitude - I love how that dude knew the moment he made it through that his performance wasn't good enough to actually rate the honour.  That truthful self-awareness is what keeps his popularity high.

3) If this is about pleasing your parents, your parent issues are eventually going to get in the way.  Good lord Hollywood week was dominated by Matt Sato and his mother issues and Nicole Turner and her actual mother issue.  I thought Nicole Turner's issue ("I sang the song for my mama and not for me") would be one of those hard-but-worth-it-if-you-learned-something moments.  You cannot gracefully combine other-people-pleasing and your own pure vision and intention.  If you please others along the way, all very nice, but it's only an added bonus, not the intention.  Nicole learned this the hard way, and then couldn't hear Simon say her voice wasn't up to it anyway.  She'll never know because she didn't sing the song she wanted to sing because she let her relatives get under her boundaries and chose to sing something to please them instead of going with her gut.  Ouch.

Trying to win the world's largest talent competition to get your mother or father to love you, or understand you, or any of that stuff (no matter how compelling for TV) is a black hole.  If you succeed without developing the ability to nurture and love yourself, you are ripe for becoming a Britney or a Lindsay or an Anna Nicole or Robbie Williams - needing endless outward gratification and attention of any kind to feel wanted and loved.  If you don't succeed, you've set yourself up to "fail" at being loved. 

Neither scenario bring you joy.  The only true joy comes from loving yourself and loving what you do, letting each of these things take you as far along as it may, and realizing that there are always, always other opportunties and paths in life.

Happy Valentine's!  Send yourself the most loving Valentine of all this year - you deserve it.
Karen


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