Today I want to start a short series on observations from American Idol. I realize this might seem like a stretch to many of you, but stay with me and lets see where this goes.
I watch American Idol.
Not every time it’s on (because it seems to be on ALL the time.) I can’t tell you who the names of all the winners of past seasons and I have never called or texted a vote. But I do watch it.
The truth be told, I have looked in at more “reality” T.V. shows than I care to admit. My sister used to watch The Bachelor and before it got boring, I used to tune in “The Apprentice.” But currently American Idol is the show that I find both entertaining (some of those cats can sing) and, I also think that it is right up there with “Deal or No Deal” and “The Sopranos” (I now watch a non-“R” rated version on A & E) for revealing interesting glimpses on our culture.
So, for the next few posts I want to offer some thoughts on America drawn from American Idol. And since I am a pastor and this is a blog about Christian faith, church life and “missional” ideas, I’ll eventually get around to trying to draw some of the implications for those of us who still think of the American culture as a “mission field”. So, here goes the first one.
It’s probably the most obvious and it certainly is part of the whole American Idol shtick. But the first observation about American from American Idol is:
Deep down we are all really attracted to the brutal truth. Or to put it another way, Everybody needs more candid feedback not less. (And not everybody needs to be encouraged to do everything.)
Of course, all one has to do is watch an episode of “House” (my actual favorite current show) to realize just how refreshing it is to hear someone who just bluntly speaks his mind—when he actually has something to say.
Indeed, the most famous of the three judges, Simon Cowell, is most famous because he is about as subtle as a mugging when he dislikes someone. He is blunt, brash and often borders on rude. Some famous Simon lines:
"That was terrible, I mean just awful."
"Did you really believe you could become the American Idol? Well, then, you're deaf."
"I thought it was horrible, just horrible. I thought it was like some ghastly high-school musical performance."
"It was like some ghastly lunch where after lunch your parents have asked the children to dress up and sing."
Now Simon believes that his blunt assessment of those who show up to audition is not only necessary but actually a caring thing to do: "I met someone the other night who's 28 years old, and he hasn't worked a day since he left college because he's pursuing a dream he'll never, ever realize: He thinks he's a great singer. Actually, he's crap. But nobody has said to him, 'Why have you been wasting your time for eight years?'
But, here is the thing. He’s usually right. Personally, while I find the WAY he says what he says far too ham-handed and insensitive, I rarely if ever disagree with him. While most of those who are the recipients of his barbed criticisms and rolled eyes become defensive and even hostile, it is very interesting that this season’s 12 finalists name him as their favorite judge hands down because “he is honest” and “he is right.” (okay, some cynic will say that they were trying to curry favor with him, but let’s take them at face value for a minute anyway.)
And there is another side of Simon that is often overlooked. When he likes someone, he lavishes on the praise:
"You are a phenomenally good singer. I think at this stage you can afford to believe that you are going to be a big star." --To LaKisha, Feb. 28
“..you have this fantastic talent, great voice, and you don't know how good you are." -To Melinda, Feb. 28
In a world of so much “spin”, I believe that deep down many of us (not all, mind you and that will be the subject of the next post) are looking for true honest assessments to help us truly understand our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. And far too many of us fear that we have had far too many well-intended people who told us what we think we wanted to hear than what we really needed to hear. Then when the praise comes, it will really mean something.
It’s not that I want to have critics like Simon in my life all the time. But something within me knows that I need at least one or two utterly and completely candid voices in my life to help me get a proper perspective on my self.
And maybe when we watch Simon tear apart some poor off-key diva, a small part of us wishes we had someone to do the same thing for us.