Idol Worship

So, let me just start that I am not an American Idol fan. Having dabbled in vocal performance way back in my high school days, the concept was originally intriguing, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly for me. The good ones didn’t seem to get as far as they should have, and then a big part of it became all about the crazy. From the few performances I’ve seen over the last few years (because my mom’s been into it from the get-go), I’ve seen a lot of mediocre performers make it to the final competition. And part of it seems like these kids are there just because they’re a “token” combination of race or gender or style of singer or body type. At least that’s the impression I get.

But as I sat there watching the recorded show with my mom last week, as she dozed off between performances and skipped over the commercials and the “training” videos, I noticed a huge part of what made Idol bearable (for me) was completely absent.

I would think that with a panel of professionals like Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler, they would talk more about actual technique, offer notes for improvement and point out the flaws that are so apparent to this viewer at home. But after every performance from these kids, it was, “you’re awesome,” or “you made it your own,” “that’s what we’re talking about, dog” or “you can sing, so sing something that shows off more.” The last note there being about the closest that any of the three comes to saying anything negative about the contestant. You can pretty much fast-forward through the judges commentary, too, for all it’s actually worth.

And that’s something that’s been bothering me about the world in general, lately, too. The lack of honest criticism. We’re so afraid of hurting feelings or damaging someone’s overinflated sense of self that we tiptoe around subjects of substance. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be considerate of how others feel, but in a setting that invites honest critique, why not offer up some actual HONEST CRITIQUE?

Back in the day when I was taking art classes, participating in writing workshops and paying for voice lessons, the only reason I was able to grow as an artist and improve on my abilities was because someone would tell me when what I was doing wasn’t working, when intentions didn’t come through, when I fell short, when I wasn’t perfect. Because while it’s always nice to hear that someone thinks you’re amazing, and there will always be certain friends or family members who will truly think that about you, where do you go from there if that’s all you get? The benefit of surrounding yourself with others who know your chosen craft is that you can learn from their expertise, experience and perspective and be challenged to improve.

Now, it doesn’t do anyone any good to be constantly critical. But it’s equally important not to go overboard with heaps of praise. In workshops and critique, usually there is a discussion of what the aim of the piece or portfolio is, where the artist is succeeding, and then, where there is room for improvement. Some critics can be tough, but the thing about people is that we all have different tastes and different talents. Each artist can take or leave the criticism they get, but without hearing it, growth and improvement can be more difficult to come by.

What does it say about our culture if even our “critical” shows don’t actually criticize anymore? Is it because the contestants can’t handle it? I doubt it. Is it because none of the judges wants to be “that guy?” Perhaps. But you know what? Someone has to be. Or they’ll  never learn. And just on a side note, Ryan Seacrest made it even worse. He reminded me of the defensive, overindulgent, helicopter parent standing up there deflecting every little bit of negativity heading in the direction of his precious flower of a genius contestant. At least in the fraction of rehearsal scenes my mom was too sleepy to skip over, it seemed like the Idol contestants were getting a few bits of productive feedback from their coaches.

So yeah, I probably still won’t be following this show’s present and future seasons if it continues. Not because the contestants aren’t talented, but because I’d rather not spend my free time watching more grown professionals tongue kiss the perky behinds of America’s youth.

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