A young, charismatic, talented singer belts out a song from the top of the charts. A great moment, right? More often than not, no.
American Idol host Ryan Seacrest turns to the judges and starts with the record producer and former Journey bass player, Randy Jackson. Jackson: “Song choice, song choice, song choice, dawg. I mean it was all right, but I just don’t think that song is you, man.”
Very often the difference between a great entertainment moment and a forgettable one is determined long before the singer takes the stage. A male vocalist with great falsettos and tenor ranges picks a song that would have made Barry White drool. A talented teenager steps up the microphone and belts out an easy listening tune that would make her momma proud but leaves the teeny boppers in the audience yawning. A woman with a sweet personality and attractive looks decides to sing an angry song made famous by the Dixie Chicks.
In every case, the judges just shake their heads. Over and over again, the judges would say, “You know that song wasn’t good for you, for (x, y, z) reasons” and the contestant would shrug and say, “But I love that song and I just wanted to sing it…”
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins says that the key to a company (or a person) finding their “core purpose” (what he calls their “hedgehog concept”) is by determining the intersection of three things:
- What pays the bills?
- What are you passionate about?
- What do you have the potential to be the best at?
For most of these singers trying to figure out how to make a career of singing (“pay the bills”) the stumbling block is not their passion (“I just love that song.” “I really wanted to sing that song.” “I just wanted to have fun out there”), it’s that they don’t know what kind of song they have the potential to sing better than other people.
It was good advice for Polonius to give his son (in Hamlet, of course) and it is good advice for us "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." But unfortunately most of us think of that saying as meaning, “To what you wish were true of your self be true…”
Perhaps we need to go even further back in the pantheon of literature to the Greeks at Delphi where the inscription, “Know thyself” is carved.
What becomes apparent, especially in a talent contest where every person is so talented, has been well coached and has a tremendous amount of experience, is that most of the performers really have no idea what “fits” them.
If nothing else, American Idol should make each of us ask, “What song was I made to sing?” And then, sing THAT song with all the passion and joy we can muster.