Reality Bites

We watch a lot of reality talent shows in our house.  The X Factor, American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent…our Tivo is filled with people from small towns who have big dreams. 


Mostly, my nine year-old daughter has driven the initiative on this front; she loves to sing, and fully believes that she will be the next American Idol…as soon as she’s old enough to audition (and assuming the show is still on the air by then; a point I haven’t had the heart to make with her quite yet).  My daughter has a lovely voice.  She does this thing where she makes herself sound a little twangy, sort of like a countrified version of Adele, which gives her what a reality competition judge might call “interesting,” or “unique.”  She takes voice lessons where she learns to sing from her belly, to enunciate her words, to keep her chin down when she sings high notes and to lose the nasal-ness.  She performed in the school musical and also in the musicals at her camp.  Once a quarter, her school has an open talent show where students can perform in front of the whole student body, and she always sings, usually an Adele song.  The first grade girls treat her like a rock star.


I’ve always marveled at those people who go on Idol or any of these other shows, and are always shocked to be told that they’re just not very good.  They cry and get angry and swear that everyone in their school/church/family thinks that they’re amazing and that the judges are just idiots.  And I always wonder why nobody has ever sat these people down and been like, you know sweetie, you’re not totally tone deaf, which makes you good compared to most of the people in your school/church/family, but you’re not really that good.  But now that I have a daughter who loves to sing, and whose eyes get so big when she watches these shows that you can practically see the Hollywood sign reflected in them…well, you can see where I’m going with this.  And I get it now.  I get that nobody wants to be the mom who kills her kid’s self confidence and dashes all of her dreams.  I mean, if Randy Jackson and J. Lo can do the dirty work for you, why not just let them, even if it does mean having your kid be humiliated on national television?


A few weeks ago, my daughter was practicing the night before one of those talent shows at school.  She was planning to sing Set Fire to the Rain, by, obviously, Adele.  The twangy thing was making it so I couldn’t understand half of what she was saying, and she sounded particularly nasal and she couldn’t quite hit some of the highest notes.  I told her all of these things in the nicest way, but after three more tries, she still wasn’t enunciating enough or singing from her belly enough.  So I videotaped her singing the song and then let her watch it back, so she could hear it for herself.  Sort of like she was watching an Idol audition on TV.  She sat down with a huge smile on her face, but as the song went on the smile lessened, until it was over, and she actually frowned. 


"I’m so much better in my head," she announced.  "I stink."  I patted her on the hand.  "You don’t stink sweetie," I told her.  "You just keep on practicing."



That was a great way to handle it, I think! I agree with the other comment, it really is all about knowing how to overcome things. Even some of the folks on Idol and other shows have "natural talent" but don't always make it past the initial audition. It takes more than just talent to make it to the highest level in practically *any* field. Those that do know what to do with what they've got - they aren't just satisfied with having it.


Knowing that she can watch the video and be her own critic is really worthwhile. And if she can watch the video/listen to a recording and get instruction on how to fix the things she doesn't like it's even better. Then it becomes up to her to internalize those changes.

There's a saying that art is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I have a friend that picked up the fiddle in his 40s. He has a really good ear and so could listen to something and work to copy it, but it took a lot of work get the rest of his body to make all the movements it needed to get the sound he wanted. There are three elements that all need to come together - knowing what you want to sound like, practicing to train your body how to do it, and evaluation to understand how far you have to go.