Monday, February 1, 2010

Why American Idol Makes Me Sad

My yearly ode to American Idol….

american idol audition 01 2008 01 15 300x214 Why American Idol Makes Me Sad

Some would look at “American Idol” and think it was the living and breathing personification of the American dream. Nobodies getting a chance to be international superstars; it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance at fame and fortune. Only in America! But somehow I don’t see it as a great testimony to hope and the American dream. In my eyes, it shows just how hope-less so many of us have become.

Celebrity is our new religion. You don’t want to be the best, or the smartest or the most honest or the person who worked the hardest. You just want to be the most famous. However you get there, it’s fame that counts now. Those poor schmucks just want a chance to be somebody, anybody. America has taught us that celebrity is really the only thing that really counts. The only time YOU count.

I watch the auditions and see a little smiling boy looking into the camera as he waits for his father to complete his audition, saying “Daddy gon’ to Hollywood!” He’s probably not old enough to read, but he’s old enough to know that going to Hollywood is the most important thing. Another woman breaks down crying into the chest of clearly uncomfortable Ryan Seacrest after an unsuccessful audition.

It’s no wonder that so many of those young people are devastated. To them, they missed their chance. Not their chance to be on a TV show, but a chance to be somebody for once in their lives. Our obsession with celebrity and money has made us all feel inadequate in our daily lives. Compared to the lives of Beyonce and Paris Hilton and Diddy and Jay-Z, it would seem that our lives totally suck. Nothing in our lives is valuable or important. It cant be because we’re not famous and thats what really counts.

And we, the viewing public, are ever so happy to participate in this process. We vicariously feel their excitement when they exit the audition room with their gold ticket and everyone screams with joy and envelopes them in hugs. Nevertheless, something portends disaster. It’s strangely similar to watching someone who won the lottery and being happy for them, but secretly knowing that its more likely than not that they will be broke in five years. We know the story so well. It happens every year. For 99 percent of them, the dream will be over in weeks. They will leave the show and the spotlight, and then what?

It’s the “then what” part that is so disturbing. How we have come to measure success has become so distorted and myopic. We have young people who are so starved for “fame” and “celebrity” and “easy riches” that their lives become solely a quest for what will make them a star. From Youtube to “Idol,” we are raising a generation whose only barometer for achievement is a lifestyle of celebrity and easy wealth. Fuck a job.

Whereas a generation ago, men and women were happy if they just achieved more than their parents: if they got to college or got a good job and had a family. That was success to them. Now, we deem ourselves failures if we’re not millionaires by 30. We are lost in what we see, what others have, what we don’t have, what we’re not. We don’t feel like somebody in our personal lives, so we go audition for “American Idol,” hoping someone will deem us worthy. Will make us feel as if we matter. Famous people matter, so we want to be them. By any means necessary.

If there was any doubt that the hope of overnight celebrity has indeed overshadowed the hope of achieving something substantive in life, then “American Idol” is proof positive. Is there such a void of hope in this country that “American Idol” has replaced Jesus as savior to the downtrodden? I mean, let’s face it, Jesus won’t get you on the cover of People or a reality show.

And those poor people who are so angry or sob uncontrollably. I bet it’s not only because they didn’t move through to the next round. A woman cried in to her cell phone after being rejected, “They crushed my dream.” For some of them, this is all they believe they can do. It’s like in the movie “Precious,” when the teacher asked her what she was good at, and she said, “Nothing.” Many believe that this made-up, marketing machine of a TV show holds the only key to their happiness.

No one has told them that they are smart and beautiful and courageous and have something unique and important to offer the world. Somewhere along the line, we decided that being a star was more important then being smart, being honest, having a career and working hard. In too many cases, no one has told them that education is what matters. An education will never reject you or tell you you’re dreadful. You don’t need a gold ticket if you OWN the show. The key to success is education and hard work. Period.

No one emphasizes that far more people don’t make it than do, and the biggest stars aren’t where they are because a panel of judges deemed them talented. They worked and scratched and hustled for years.

No one has told these young people that they have unique skills in geometry or a foreign language and can be an astronaut or an ambassador one day. No one tells them they can build bridges or fly airplanes or sit on the Supreme Court. Whatever happened to real American Dreams?

If you ask 20 elementary school students what they want to be when they grow up, the standard doctor-lawyer answer that has been around for a generation, has been replaced by entertainer-athlete. Anytime I hear a young person say they want to be an entertainer, I ask, Well, what exactly do you want to do? They NEVER have an answer. And it scares the shit out of me. If I meet one more 30-year-old who’s working on a record deal….

Just as Barack Obama brings a message of hope to his presidency, I can’t help but watch “American Idol” and lament that this is the extent of hope for so many. We have lost those dreams of peace on earth and good will to men. Of family, of achievement, of community, of ending world hunger. To hell with all that. That stuff is hard.

We just want to go to Hollywood.

56 Responses to “Why American Idol Makes Me Sad”

  1. Saitek on 28 Jan 2008 at 4:52 pm #

    with each post of yours, after reading im left with the feelings of “o my damn” its nice to know that the world isnt full of idiots.

    Your mind is SEXY AS HELL!!!!
    u bout to cause some mental fornication round here!!

  2. Pigskin Loving Lady on 28 Jan 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    The picture really makes the point your going for with this entry. I kid you not. Self esteem and self love is mofo!

  3. StraightFromTheA on 28 Jan 2008 at 8:48 pm #

    You are so on point! It’s sad that the minds of today’s children are saturated with materialistic things and fast money. We need to find a way to go back to simpler times…how…i dunno? but we need to find a way!

  4. Alexis on 28 Jan 2008 at 11:34 pm #

    I agree with much more than the American Idol part. I can really relate to the “gotta be millionaires by the time we are 30.” Part of me still really wants to join the Peace Corps, like I did when I was a child. However, now that I’m 22 and out of college, I’m afraid of falling “behind” my peers, socially and financially. I try to remind myself that there are more important things in the world, but this culture drowns out the message, if you let it.

  5. Robert Reece on 29 Jan 2008 at 6:14 pm #

    This is all so true. I remember hearing someone say that at one point people were famous for being special, now people are special simply for being famous.

  6. Jefferson Sergeant on 30 Jan 2008 at 5:55 am #

    There has always been a cult of celebrity that was unique to America but it was never as pervasive as it is now. Given the changes in media where the nightly news resembles Access Hollywood and everyone has a reality TV show, its hard not to become obsessed with fame.

    I rarely watch American Idol but I ALWAYS watch the auditions. Its not right but I can’t stop laughing at the people who would make a deaf man ready to kick some ass to stop their singing.

    In short, media is too pervasive to escape and fame will always be at the forefront of it.

    Now, excuse me while I work on my reality TV show Sarge Is King.

  7. isitmsbrklyn on 31 Jan 2008 at 7:17 am #

    Thank you for this posting. I came upon your site by accident, or perhaps by God’s will. I am inclined to believe the latter as He works in mysterious ways. This was so on point and so relevant.

  8. "ME" on 01 Feb 2008 at 8:25 am #

    I agree completely!!

  9. FunkyBlackChick on 06 Feb 2008 at 11:44 am #

    It goes along with ‘instant gratification’…being famous doesn’t take effort. Being a lawyer, doctor, teacher, astronaut, takes hard and years of work.

    Those celebrities that are out there with nothing but a high-school/elementary school education (i.e Beyonce & them), can they really balance a check book? They they really know what’s going on in the world when it comes to politics, crisies, etc..etc…besides Project Red & anything Bono has his name on?

    They truly do not live the reality 90% of the rest of the world does.

    Children need to be taught reality not reality tv shows and it’s up their parents to do it! It may take a village to raise a child, but it all starts at home!

  10. Anonymous on 06 Feb 2008 at 6:29 pm #

    Totally with you, except where you shoehorned Obama at the end. Went through the guard rail there.

  11. Anonymous on 06 Feb 2008 at 8:21 pm #

    I first discovered your site because of an email of some of the ghetto pictures on your site. I had no idea that I’d find someone that saying all the things I’ve wanted to say for so long. Your voice needs to be heard, on larger level. Keep pushing on, you have something to say, that our people really need to hear!

    Ashburn, VA

  12. Linsay on 07 Feb 2008 at 3:02 pm #


  13. Anonymous on 10 Feb 2008 at 2:10 pm #

    Paris Hilton started all this crap. Being famous and wealthy thru no effort of your own.

  14. Anonymous on 14 Feb 2008 at 8:37 pm #

    jam, can you take all the ads off…keeps messin up my readin :)

  15. Anonymous on 12 Mar 2008 at 1:49 am #

    man, you are so right. lol @ mental fornication. my mind just orgasmed then. lol but seriously, we can’t blame the media. we must blame ourselves too. many things we do encourage what has been going on in society for so long. from since children are young they are encouraged towards entertainment. they dance, they sing, they act…its a perpetual cycle

  16. Ben on 14 Mar 2008 at 8:44 pm #

    I came across your blog after hearing about your site. You make a really good point, and I can’t help but feel slightly jealous. I’m from the uk, we have all the same problems, just not an Obama to believe in or even our own Hollywood to go to.

  17. MarieNo Gravatar on 06 Sep 2008 at 1:12 am #

    I have said many times that too many people are obsessed with wordly, fleshly, carnal things of this earth. When people begin to accept Jesus into their hearts, minds, and souls, they will finally understand that only He can fulfill their spirits and lives. We put waaaay too much trust in the world. Too much trust. Too much trust in the ways of the world (to quote Earth, Wind & Fire, one of my FAVORITE r&b groups of all time), too much trust in each other, too much trust in ourselves, and not enough trust in Jesus Christ. We have to first believe that we are not of this world in order to receive God’s eternal blessings. Your blog is brilliant, Jam. I am an educated Latina living in Texas and I always admire educated people who are also shameless believers in Christ.

  18. Q.DeonNo Gravatar on 14 Jan 2009 at 12:45 am #

    whenever u do grace us with a post…it always touches somethin within me

    y haven’t u written a “self-help” book & had it published yet?

  19. Robert ReeceNo Gravatar on 14 Jan 2009 at 1:07 am #

    So true. It’s sad how Americans worship celebrities and how people are always looking for their “big break,” often unwilling to work and without any serious talent. And yet, we cater to these people and make them famous for simply being the person who can act the most foolish on national television.

    Robert Reece’s last blog post..Barack Obama Isn’t The Black “Cure-All”

  20. ASmithNo Gravatar on 14 Jan 2009 at 10:57 am #

    “If you ask 20 elementary school students what they want to be when they grow up, the standard doctor-lawyer answer that has been around for a generation, has been replaced by entertainer-athlete. And it scares the shit out of me.”

    AMEN!! I feel the same way. It’s not so much that they don’t want to be doctors and lawyers, but it’s that they think the only way to be successful is to be an entertainer or athlete. That’s probably because that’s all the mainstream media shows us in terms of successful and that’s all MSM shows us because that’s all we want to see. If only for our kids, we need to expect and show more of ourselves and our society.

    ASmith’s last blog post..Gotta Go, Gotta Leave

  21. Mr. ShabazzNo Gravatar on 14 Jan 2009 at 1:49 pm #

    Yes, I know the type. My nephew for example. If he gets a full time job they won’t be able to devote their full energies to their rap career.

    Why get an education? A bachelor’s degree isn’t necessary to be in show business. When I say to finish his education as a back up plan if the rap thing doesn’t work. He feels that setting up a plan B is just setting yourself up for failure.

  22. Ms. MNo Gravatar on 14 Jan 2009 at 3:26 pm #

    Jam, I couldn’t agree more. This also relates to your post about young people wanting to be famous or rich as a profession with no thought on how to accomplish it. It is unfortunate that the measurement for success has changed so drastically over the years. Great post.

  23. MichelleNo Gravatar on 14 Jan 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    Your posts always touches me and reminds me that I am not alone in my thought process. I could not agree with you more regarding the post called “Rich is not a Career” I am proud to say that when you ask my 10 year son old what he wants to be, his reply is to care of animals which is his passion. Now how sweet is that!

  24. Angela on 14 Jan 2009 at 5:20 pm #

    Can the chuch say A-men? Yaaassss!

  25. CatheeNo Gravatar on 15 Jan 2009 at 9:58 am #


    What has happened to America? (Reality shows are on the insipid list too.) Why is it the average person can tell you the latest on Michael Jackson or Britany Spears, but can’t find Iraq, where Americans are dying, on a map? Has fame and wealth become the American god? What happened to honor, respect, integrity, hard work, and perseverance?

    I wish everyone would/could read your posts, you are so insightful. You inspire me, along with many of the posters, to know that there still is intelligence and critical thinking out there. I agree with all posted here so far, and my congratulations to Michelle and her son. May these voices stand out in this world.

  26. LaShawn on 15 Jan 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    excellent post.

  27. AnnieNo Gravatar on 15 Jan 2009 at 6:59 pm #

    First things first, I love the honest and descriptive way you express yourself on every issue you cover. Second, you are absolutely correct. The dreams and passions of people have shifted towards the wrong goal. Maybe if people DID find Jesus, then they would not have the empty desire of seeing themselves on the People Magazine.

  28. ms. complexityNo Gravatar on 17 Jan 2009 at 9:48 am #

    This was great. Thanks for posting this!

    ms. complexity’s last blog post..And the next American Idol is…

  29. SpinsterNo Gravatar on 17 Jan 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    I agreed with the “Rich Is Not A Career” post and I agree with this post just as much.

  30. DCL on 17 Jan 2009 at 7:06 pm #

    I remember watching a movie called Idiocracy and saying “I would not be surprised if America turned out this way.” I think I may have spoken too soon.

    I know many or my peers who are trying to reach for their 15 seconds of fame by being rappers, models, internet stars, you name it. They are living proof that getting to Hollywood is a waste of time. Sorry but I would rather stick to being a college student (and a broke one at that LOL) than fooling myself.

  31. MarianneNo Gravatar on 18 Jan 2009 at 1:30 am #

    I absolutely agree! It’s also sad when adults are all wrapped up in the stars. Some need to join the human race. It’s fun out here in real life.

  32. LoriNo Gravatar on 20 Jan 2009 at 9:54 am #

    Oh wow, you said it and said it well! (smile)
    Several years ago, my son and some of his elementary school-age friends where hanging out at our house when the topic of LeBron arose. One of the “older” boys, a third-grader told the others he wanted to be just like LeBron when he grew up. More specifically, he said he wanted to skip college and possibly even high school in order to play in the NBA. Sheesh!

    Typically, I keep my thoughts to myself when the kids are talking among themselves, but in that particular instance I couldn’t hold my tongue. Like you said–being rich & famous isn’t a career and in essence that’s what I told the kids that day. The thought that someone that young had already decided that dropping out of high school was a goal worthy of his pursuit truly saddens me.

  33. mandersonmappNo Gravatar on 23 Jan 2009 at 4:40 am #

    I blame the parents. Why aren’t these people instilling self-esteem, honor, etc to their kids. If they were preaching college, family values instead of these pipe dreams the country may have a chance. Its scary that these dilusional kids are going to be taking care of myself during my golden years. Lord help us.

  34. dasiaNo Gravatar on 24 Jan 2009 at 5:37 pm #

    It’s sad to say that it’s 2009 and nope we haven’t come far. Now and days everyone is so wrapped up in the entertainment world they forget that having an education is the ONLY way to succeed. No wonder why so many young stars have messed up lives. Parents need to start doing their jobs, and stop slacking off.

  35. NicoleNo Gravatar on 26 Jan 2009 at 5:36 pm #

    I auditioned for Idol a few years back, part of the problem is this process is a lot differnt than what is shown on tv, of course. Even the “bad” singers go through 4 groups of producers before getting to Simon, Paula and Randy (Karla). So there hopes are up, being called back over and over.

  36. CatheeNo Gravatar on 27 Jan 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Kinda off the track here, but although I am a believer in Jesus, it doesn’t mean that other paths cannot produce good people. I have two friends who are atheists, and know one wiccan/animist. They are all good, hard-working people, and they too, wonder what is going on with the hollow values of today’s world. The factors I see that are common among us are RESPECT, HONOR, AND DIGNITY and no attitude of entitlement. These are qualities that cross all religious, race, gender, political, cultural, and sexual orientation lines. (Yeah, we still have our discussions regarding our beliefs, etc, but we respect each other, and honor the dignity with which we each conduct our respective lives.)

  37. NoniBerryJuiceNo Gravatar on 08 Mar 2009 at 8:43 pm #

    Sadly, my sister and her ex-boyfriend KNOW this guy personally.

  38. J on 22 May 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Ok… I 50/50 agree and disagree. Why? Yes American Idol is overrated and they pose as talent scouts. When we all know they aren’t looking for talent they are looking for their next pretty thing they can package and use to make them money. I have to disagree on what was said about the people that fall into tears when they do not make it. Obviously the person that wrote this does not want to be a singer or does want to be a singer and has all the moral and financial support they need to become one or maybe singing isn’t a dream at all. I have to be the voice of the “Nobodies” as the writer expressed. If I had the courage like many of those people have, American Idol would probably be my only chance to live my dream. Not as a celebrity, but to do what I love the most in life. To make, live, and breathe music. The people the mattered the most to me never believed in me. (sorry mom and dad) but this is true. Even my sister told me once “I must not have wanted it that bad” who knows maybe she was right. Not everybody has the luxury of knowing the right people, nor do they have the funds for music lessons. I was one of the unfortunate. I kick myself everyday for not having the courage to rebel and runaway from home like Madonna did when she was young! Not only that, I grew up in NYC so I didn’t even have to run so far. I would definitely be one of those “Nobodies” that would have broken down if I didn’t get to go on the next round. So before you call those “Nobodies stupid or ignorant, misguided, whatever clever word you have up you sleeves. I would like to acknowledge their courage for even going into that Lions Den they call “American Idol”. I agree with blogger in many ways. But do not make these people feel even more helpless but putting them down for trying. When I see those people cry, it breaks my heart, because I know it exactly how it feels when somebody is telling you that aren’t good enough. I have been told this all my life and guess what, that saying “things like this only make you stronger” not true for everybody. I actually believe that dreams are dying in this country. Nobody believes in themselves anymore because of people ridiculing dreamers just like this!

  39. piano lessonsNo Gravatar on 12 Aug 2009 at 5:55 pm #

    I agree. It’s even worse in the UK. We have to deal with having Simon Cowell on the UK all the time!

    piano lessons’s last blog post..HOW TO PLAY PIANO: LESSON #3 PIANO LOUNGE: ANDREW FURMANCZYK

  40. spanish flyNo Gravatar on 29 Aug 2010 at 11:09 am #

    this is all due to the PR people and their less than ethical tactics.

    spanish fly’s last blog post..Spanish Fly Aphrodisiac: Alternatives to This Well-known Aphrodisiac for Women

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  42. Claire from Newbury Park LimoNo Gravatar on 26 Jul 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    What you wrote is true, I guess it is the same everywhere. Whether you live in the US, UK or Asia, people have an obsession with fame. I’m glad that I am following my own path of success with the help of many self improvement books. Love this post! =)

  43. MollyNo Gravatar on 01 Dec 2011 at 12:40 am #

    Its so so true. The people who show up for the auditions really make me uncomfortable and… you said it.. sad. Pinning all of their dreams on this one big change. I’ve actually known people who have tried out for the show… put on top of all the rest that for the most part it starts out as a lottery so those with real talent have to also have luck to even get through.
    Great post! Thanks.

    Molly’s last blog post..Flat Iron Reviews

  44. gossips upNo Gravatar on 27 Feb 2012 at 1:10 am #

    Totally with you, except where you shoehorned Obama at the end. Went through the guard rail there.

    gossips up’s last blog post..a movie ‘for the world to see’

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