American IdolMy wife and I have enjoyed watching American Idol for years.  I missed the first season, but have been a big fan since then.  Now that we’re into the phase where America votes weekly on who remains, I thought it might be nice to reflect on some of the many lessons that can come from watching this show.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. People aren’t always as talented as they think they are.  The early episodes of every season are proof of this.  Some are just painful to hear.  William Hung, anyone?

2. Talent can be found in unexpected places.  I’m not talking geography here since people travel all over the country to these auditions.  I’m referring to the fact that a booming voice might come out of a soft-spoken, unkempt, homeless person nobody would ever suspect as a good singer.  File this one under “can’t judge a book by its cover.”

3. You need social skills in addition to talent.  The contestant who has a great voice but who can’t get along with others, also fails to connect with the voting public, and eventually loses.  It’s not just about you and your talent; it’s about living in the context of a community and relationships, and that’s a whole different ballgame.

4. Only the strong survive.  I feel for the singers who get matched up in group week with people they can’t relate to or with people who don’t want to do their fair share.  That week requires everyone to work hard – all night if needed, and those who slack off tend not to progress to the next round.

5. Never assume you’re safe.  How many singers through the years have been surprisingly eliminated early in the voting, most likely because people didn’t bother to vote for them since they considered them safe?  Assume nothing.

6. Your vote counts.  Or, more accurately this season, your 50 votes count.  If you don’t vote, don’t gripe about the results.  Do your duty and vote if you care about an outcome.

7. Not everyone who judges you is worthy of doing so.  While the four judges this year had sole authority to determine the top twenty, they may or may not have made the right calls.  They may not be representative of what America wants.  They may have hidden agendas and criteria we never hear about that impacts their decisions.  Do I personally really care about anything Nicki Minaj ever thinks or says?  No.  But she’s paid the big bucks to sit there looking dumb and sounding dumber, so whether she is worthy or not isn’t the point now.  Contestants will still be impacted by her comments for good or bad.

8. Give it your all.  When singers play it safe and just blend in with other so-so performances, that doesn’t cut it.  You need to give it your heart and soul and know that you left it all on the stage.  The final results may be in others’ hands, but you can at least know you did your best.  There is great satisfaction in that.

9. Always keep learning and improving.  Whatever your current skill level, there is room for improvement, so do what it takes to learn and grow and reach your goals.

10. Make friends along the way.  Nobody wants to be around others whom they fear would willingly stab them in the back to get ahead.  Don’t be such a person.  Be the one who takes the time to notice and befriend others as you go.  Praise the members of the band.

11. Climbing a ladder isn’t a lifestyle.  There is more to life than just trying to get somewhere else in the future.  It’s about experiencing the present, too.  You climb ladders for a short while so you can do something else at the end of that ladder.  Know when to step off the ladder and do other things.

12. It’s OK not to get the most votes.  If there are 10,000 people trying out and only one can win, does that mean 9,999 are losers?  No!  It just means that the system is set up to give a greater reward to one person.  Many contestants go on to very successful careers without winning the competition.  You get to define success in your life.  Don’t let others do that for you.

13. Fame and fortune comes at a cost.  Some have the personal character, wisdom and right people nearby to handle fame and fortune.  Some give in to its temptations and flame out early.  If you think you’ll be the one making all the calls about what happens with your life at the level of stardom these singers seek, you’re wrong.  There are trade-offs your dreams didn’t envision.

14. Enjoy the ride.  We know that some things can’t last forever.  That’s OK.  Be thankful that it happened as long as it did.

15. Give back.  You didn’t get where you are completely by yourself.  Parents, friends, teachers, even bitter enemies all worked to help shape you into the person you are, as did your own dogged determination.  Others are invested in you with their lives.  Give back to them.

I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious lessons that my fellow American Idol fans can think of.  What are they?  Tell me in a comment.

p.s. – If you haven’t figured it out by now, the lessons above don’t apply just to a singing competition.

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