catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 8 :: 2003.04.11 — 2003.04.24


Hooked on the Idol

In (relative) keeping with the theme of this issue, I?m going to make a confession: I enjoy watching American Idol.

Whether the reasons I?m going to give are sound or not can be taken up on the discussion board, but I am going to make some attempt to justify myself. What hooked me in the early shows was discovering the two levels of the competition?the contest for appearances and the contest for talent. The tension between these two qualifications for THE American Idol had me coming back week after week to see if America was really as shallow as I expected it to be.

While some typically beautiful people ended up in the final 15 contestants, I was pleasantly surprised to note that Americans also voted in a couple of curvy and voluptuous songstresses, a skinny white Southern boy, a teddy bear-like crooner, and a couple of outspoken punk rockers. I found myself invested in the success of this ragtag band of beautiful, unique, and fully human performers. And week after week, votes continue to fluctuate, no doubt because we love to be encouraged by the performers who are normal just like us and we love to be seduced by the people who are undeniably gorgeous and charismatic.

What?s also appealing about the show is the same quality that is appealing in fairy tales. Average people dare to find themselves the willing victims of some unexpected magic. Like Cinderella who only imagined herself the beauty of the ball, people who only sang at their grandma?s birthday party before find themselves suddenly transformed into internationally recognized talents. Every week, my stomach is in knots to see if she?s going to hit that high note right on or if his ?image? is going to work?it?s the same story over and over again, but it never loses its sense of wonder.

While I will keep watching to see who will win and how he or she will win, I?m not so addicted to the show that I can?t see how in some sense, the story American Idol tells distorts our perceptions of music. As I watch several musically talented friends of mine struggle to produce an album and break into the local music circuit, I also take in American Idol as a symptom of something many of us have lost, and that?s the ability to make participation in music a part of our every day lives.

It seems as though the accessibility of technology and the prominence of visual and audio media is pre-determining a path for individuals with musical talent that not every musician was meant to go down. The drive to have that piece of technology with my songs, my name, my talents on it somehow obscures the simple pleasures of playing and singing in community with others. The composition of the dream of success in this industry is too easily handed to us by shows like American Idol and we tend to accept the fairy tale ending wholesale. In addition, participation in music, especially for adults, has become something only for the gifted ones, those who actually have a shot at ?making it.? (I should mention that I owe much of this thought to a music study by Steve Elzinga and Steve Lansing and if I had it available I?d quote it directly.)

So what is the remedy to this situation? On one hand, I think it?s one of simple faith for those who hope to make a vocation out of music?faith that the doors will keep opening if this path is indeed intended and faith to accept what surprises may come along the way, including accepting a different vocation as more than just a ?day job.? But also I think we?as individuals who may or may not have nasal voices, a terrible sense of rhythm or an incurable case of tone-deafness?should learn to daily engage the gift of music in a way we can take ownership of. Can you discover a new genre of music that you really enjoy and start attending performances? Can you start taking lessons to pick up that instrument you?ve been meaning to learn? Can you invite friends over to play around a bon fire on makeshift drums? Can you resurrect the knowledge of how to play that clarinet from junior high band? Can you pop in a CD when you?re home alone and remember how to move to the music?

When we assume that the gift of participating in the making of music is only for those who are especially talented in that area, we miss out on a gift we all were given?to glorify God with noise and movement. Likewise, those who are musically talented are missing out on the full joy of making music when they assume the only use for their gifts is to record an album. One of the great gifts of belonging to a church is that there?s room for all to participate in music and I?d encourage us all to find ways to carry that participation over into our daily lives. Don?t let the Idols fool you?music is a gift we all possess and the magic of the experience is not always what we would expect.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus