Thursday, February 18, 2010

American Idol Syndrome

For the last six years, like millions of other Americans, I've been captivated by the cultural phenomenon known as American Idol. I didn't start watching it faithfully until season 3 (the success of Kelly Clarkson and the talent of Rueben Studdard and Clay Aiken - yes, I think Clay Aiken is talented) got me interested, but the sheer brilliance of Fantasia got me hooked. I've watched the show since then, and now own CDs from Chris Daughtry, Jordin Sparks and David Cook. My daughter has Adam Lambert's new disc and has generously put some of my favorite of his tunes on my ipod for me. Last year I even downloaded some American Idol performance videos and songs. When AI had their contest in Daughtry's year to see who could pick the next singer to go home, my guesses had me in the top 50 - of the whole country!!! (That year I also went to an AI concert and watched as these musicians performed with an enthusiasm and joy that I've never seen from any of the other concerts I'd ever attended. It was as if they also couldn't believe they were actually on stage singing to thousands of screaming people, and this was absolutely the most fun they've ever had in their lives.) So I guess I qualify as a core fan.

I think AI shows America an incredible thing - a close-up view of what it's like to pursue a dream, and then the actual dream happening for someone (and as we've seen, you don't have to win it all to have your dream come true). We journey with these dreamers from their initial audition to the finale (if AI deigns to show us the audition - shame on you Idol for not including Adam Lambert's audition during the regular season), we pick our favorites and invest ourselves in their hopes and dreams as week after week (if we let them) they show us more of who they are and what they can do. And except for a few strange outcomes (Taylor Hicks!?) the cream rises to the top. It's inspiring, uplifting, and usually very entertaining.

The only downside for me in the show - the part that I hate to watch - are the beginning auditions. I watch them now to find my early favorites. And I don't mind the people who come on and know they're not good singers. They are just there to see if they can be outrageous enough to get on TV. Those aren't painful (just highly annoying, and only rarely entertaining). It's the ones who THINK they can sing and clearly cannot that are painful. First, it's not fun hearing them sing, 'cause they're lousy. Second, the judges have body language and make faces at these kids that remind me of middle schoolers. (Thank goodness Ellen DeGeneres avoided that this season - I hope she can get away with it again next year, although since Simon will be gone who knows if I'll even watch it anymore.) No, the worst part of these scenes is that we witness how much people can be deluded about their own capabilities. Sometimes after a particularly pitchy performance, I wonder how it's possible that the person can't realize that they cannot sing. And you can tell - usually - when the person really thought they had a chance and are bewildered and stung by the judges' reactions. Some are crushed. Others go right on deluding themselves. They vow to come back next year, or they say the judges are wrong, or they say something so colorful that the AI logo gets patched over their mouths - over and over again. How can someone be so blind about themselves? I just don't get it. And it worries me a little.

See, as an "emerging artist" I wonder where I would fall on the AI continuum. Would I be the equivalent of an undiscovered "Fantasia" or am I more like one of the Hollywood hopefuls that gets cut before the final pick of the top 24? Or worse yet - maybe I'm not good enough to make it to Hollywood. There are times when I feel that absolutely I am destined to make it as an artist. Lot's of people have put their faith in me. I've invested thousands of hours and thousands of dollars in pursuit of this dream. And I've sold some paintings, at good prices, to people who have discerning taste in art. I've had some paintings accepted to juried shows (and some rejected), and one solo show. When I went to the opening I did feel like my work belonged on those gallery walls. So I suppose I'm not in the category of contestants that are blind to their real lack of capability. I just worry sometimes if I'm the kind of artist that can make it past "Hollywood Week."

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