Watching American Idol tonight was a distressing experience, apart from the reasons you might think. This will come as no surprise to people who’ve seen the show, but many of the contestants were just terrible, but had absolutely no idea they sucked. And they were not just kind of bad—they were embarrassing. They made you want to hide your head under the pillow like you’re about to witness Borat do something heinous to an unsuspecting bigot. Some of these terrible singers had family, friends, and coworkers so confident in their loved one’s abilities that they traveled great distances to the audition to lend their support.
Now with some of the borderline singers who I thought could have gone one way or the other, one of the judges (invariably Randy or Simon) would lead the pack, laying down a marker—“this is crappy” or “this is good stuff”—and the others would follow their lead. I’m almost certain in a couple of cases that if the leader had laid down the opposite marker, the others would have followed. So a good amount of this was subjective. You judge talent by how people around you judge it. Once a singer gets positive feedback, they grow more confident and sing better, gaining more praise and confidence, and so forth.
But for some, the positive feedback loop had gone awry. Someone should have introduced some negative feedback into the loop at some point to derail that particular misguided ambition into a more productive pursuit, like banking or driving a bus.
And it made me think . . . God help me, what if I’m like that, too? What if I’m not all that great at what I do for a living, or what I do for fun, and no one can muster up the nerve to tell me? Or what if, compared to my family and friends who don’t share my occupation or particular interests, I’m relatively good but really bad compared to others who do what I do? It stands to reason that there are any number of people who go about their daily lives, convinced that they are pretty good at what they do, when in reality they are mediocre at best. Or maybe most people don’t think of their work or hobbies in those terms. I don’t know, but staring into this Idol-induced existential abyss was fairly unnerving. Thank God there are not four bored and snarky (or drunk) middle-aged adjudicators waiting to validate or destroy my hopes and dreams based on a thirty-second sample of the best a capella legal analysis I can summon up. I don’t know if I could handle the verdict.