Here’s a little confession: I like American Idol.
This is weird for me, because I dislike–despise, even–most reality TV. I can watch some home improvement shows, but for the most part, reality TV does nothing for me. So why is American Idol different?
For a long time I wasn’t sure. The first fourteen seasons, in fact, I kind of watched it and only talked about it with my family, like it was some sort of addiction I was afraid to admit I had or some personality flaw I kept hidden in polite company.
I don’t watch it for the bloopers/terrible auditions in the opening weeks, either. That’s the part that draws in many watchers, the typical reality TV allure of watching people look stupider than we do. It makes us feel better about ourselves to watch someone on TV prove that our lives really aren’t as bad as we think, even if it means they’ve embarrassed themselves auditioning for a singing competition with a voice that sounds like Phyllis Diller as a zombie from the Walking Dead (which comes back on Sunday…yay!)
I find myself most engrossed in the truly good singers, the ones who have a ton of talent and need to sharpen it or the ones with more modest natural gifts, but who work their asses off to make the top twenty-four, top twelve, or to win the whole damned thing. I get into the struggles of each one, following their development (or degeneration) as an artist, and often end up rooting for one or two like I do my favorite football team (the Buffalo Bills, hold your snickering) on Sundays.
It’s not like I’m a singer, or even a musician. I played trumpet in High School, and sang in a choir for awhile, but my dulcet tones have been known to make dogs howl and babies cry. So for a long time, it was a mystery even to me why I enjoyed Idol.
Then this season–the show’s finale–came along, and one of the contestants said something that rang true to me, that resonated with the writer inside and told me why I love the show.
During an interview, contestant Dalton Rappatoni said, “I just want to entertain America.” That’s it. One simple, six-word sentence that summed up for me why I watch this show.
See, I might not be a musician, but I’m a writer, an artist lust like all the kids appearing on that show. Just like every painter, sculptor, dancer, poet, novelist, guitarist, and so on, we all want the same thing: to entertain America. To have our art move someone. And on a show like American Idol, I get to see a group of young people dedicated to that aim. I get to watch a condensed version of what happens in the writing world, only on AI it takes a few weeks instead of years. People throw themselves into their chosen art form and try to touch as many people as possible. Hopefully enough people that they can make a living of it, dropping the day jobs that pay the bills for most of us, but simultaneously hold us back where our art is concerned.
So I guess I’m living my artist’s life vicariously through the show for now, immersing myself in someone else’s art form and watching them succeed at it. I get to watch young artists grow, and they inevitably do that during the show’s duration, often finding their own style and brand of music in the process. It’s like watching a writer develop, only accelerated and with actual money involved.
I don’t suppose there’ll ever be a reality show called “Great American Novelist.” It’d probably be the most boring show ever produced. Ryan Seacrest’s socially awkward counterpart would give the writers their task for the week and they’d all shuffle off to their tiny writing dens and not come out for days or weeks or however long it took to produce the piece of writing required. Maybe Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, and Nora Roberts could be superstar judges–that might liven up the elimination rounds–but even then, would the audience really want to READ each week’s entry? Or would each contestant do a public reading from their work before the judges shred it and send them back to their keyboards with phrases like, “Sorry, doesn’t really meet our needs” and “Didn’t quite work for me, sorry?”
Writing doesn’t lend itself to that kind of showmanship and drama, at least not the production phase of the process. So we’ll likely never see that reality show. No one wants to see me sitting around in my boxers typing and drinking vodka, anyway. That’s a different kind of reality show.
So I guess when Idol goes off the air, I’ll have to find some other program to through which to watch young artists “make it” in the business. Maybe they’ll come up with “The Sculpt Off” or “Water Color Idol” or some such ridiculousness. They already have dance shows, so maybe I’ll DVR one of those.
Or maybe I’ll just use the spare time to write more. Create my own reality and put it out there to entertain America. Or the world.