for those who wander, wonder & define life on their own terms

Hard Work and the American Idol Affliction

Picture 049Singing is great.  Music has a profound impact on people and the way they maneuver through life.  It attaches itself to memories.  Case in point-I cannot listen to Depeche Mode because it will forever be an intrinsic part of the relationship I had with my ex-husband before I realized that my idealism about marriage and love were illusions.  I just have to hear the words

she’s dressed in black again
And I’m falling down again
Down to the floor again
I’m begging for more again
But oh what can you do
When she’s dressed in black

and I feel the pain of that loss.  If I could have died from broken heart it would have happened then.  The same can be said for the lyrics to Alabama by Cross Canadian Ragweed.  They were from my indie country phase and belong to the boy I always wished had stayed…but he didn’t.  How many nights I stayed awake singing those words to myself wishing he were singing them to me, knowing that he loved me and I him, but the barrier between us was too big for him to hurdle.  But, there is joy too.  I remember my dad wiggling his arm like it had a mind of its own when the song One Night in Bangkok came on the radio.  And my mother singing Huey Lewis and the News Heart and Soul in the car when we went on shopping outings.

Every paradigm shift in history has music attached.  If there were no words and we could only listen, a historical playlist would tell the story of past triumps, trials and terrors.  The Roaring Twenties…check, there’s a musical score.  The Holocaust…check (have you seen The Pianist?), the Civil Rights Movement, the fall of Communism in so many places, the dot com boom and bust, they all have their soundtrack.

So let me just say, I’m a fan of music.  Huge, huge fan.  And American Idol is about music.  Sure, it’s a cheesy, highly stylized, shallow reality show, but it has people, and they sing.  I like people.  I like singing.  Oh, and my daughter is fifteen.  Therein lies the problem.  American Idol does a huge disservice to our youth.  Let’s call it the American Idol Affliction.  I’m beginning to realize that it isn’t about music at all.  It’s about profit but disguised as a a dream maker, even though it’s really a dream destroyer.  Harsh words from someone who watches every week, but I watch it now with a keen eye and a lesson to teach.

The trouble is this.  Kids watch this show and think that becoming a success is easy. That there isn’t any work involved.  They see some unknown talented soul show up at an audition, succeed, and make it to the top by votes of listeners who like their voice.  Oh sure, sometimes they see a singer or two fail, but it’s the comic relief, not the norm.  What they don’t see is the hours upon hours these performers spend honing their craft, even the sixteen year olds.  And by “honing their craft” I don’t mean singing in the shower every night.  I mean singing in church, in coffee shops, at friend’s birthdays, at barmitzvahs, weddings, and in the backyard at a friend’s party, or on street corners where the audience is much less forgiving and much more frugal with their dollars.  And those singers who fail?  They are the truth.  They must trudge back to their homes and keep working on the details.  Pitch, and tempo, poise and polish, depth and emotion.  Great pieces of art take work.  Hard work.  The do-it-over- and-over-again-until-it-hurts kind of hard work.Archives_of_American_Art_-_Francisco_P__Lord_-_2242 (640x509)

And now, there’s a generation of kids who think success happens overnight and they don’t want to try because “it” will come if they´re talented.  Talent is a nothing.  Well, a nothing if there is no drive, no willingness to fail and get back up just to try the same damned thing over again.  I’m not saying we should all turn American Idol off the tube and tune in to something real, but that’s an option.  Yet, I still like the singing.  There is an alternative.  Have a conversation with your kids and then take them to a symphony and the rehearsal beforehand.  Take them to a coffeeshop with a musician and ask him to explain the path.  Give them lessons and laud their small successes and urge them to take the next baby step or alternately, urge them to leap those hurdles even if there are a bunch and they’re tiring.  That’s the whole point.  It’s the journey that makes success so sweet.


  • Wil Hardiman

    I think this is a great piece, I loved it. I'm glad that after all these years you have finally realized where your talent lies. To this day I still hate Debbie Allen…

  • What I dislike about today’s “artists” is that it’s so much about dancing, appearance, looks and just being “right” instead of making music. There are so many fantastic singers who never make it to the big stage because they are “just ordinary”, although they sing heavenly. But I like how you focus on the hard work to become an artist, not at the looks or knowing the right people.

    • stellanuova stellanuova

      You totally read my mind! I almost wrote about the preferance of appearance over artistry and talent. It is a huge part of the problem. I’m so glad you wrote about it in this comment. And those “just ordinary” folks who do achieve have been turned down more times than they have been accepted but they never stop. Thanks for reading! I really appreciate your commentary.

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