Here’s the thing, I like American Idol. There, I said it. I like to watch American Idol and I got to say that this week’s episodes were pretty good, maybe even the best in three years. Not so much because of the, uhm, “talent” but because of the judges. I was a little disturbed at first when I heard that Steven Tyler was going to be a judge. I thought oh criminy, another rocker sold out to the man, to the masses. All of a sudden this unabashed, big-lipped, pulsating, gyrating, screaming, singing, amazing Aerosmith rocker was up there or perhaps down there, with Ozzy Osborne and Gene Simmons—old, worn-out rockers with nothing better to do than act like idiots on national television. But, I got to say, Steve did not suck. Thank you for not sucking and looking stupid, Steve. In fact I thought he was funny, a bit over the top at times, gracious, even caring. I thought Jennifer Lopez was fantastic and I always liked Randy. So here’s to what I am hoping will be a great season of American Idol. Hope does indeed spring eternal, because I will say I was prepared to stop watching this year and oh, I don’t know, read a book instead.

Now, what is it that I like about the show? I think it’s because I see so many parallels between the show and writing. Newbie, wannabe writers are so eager to put there stuff out there, before the judges (read: editors, agents) only to so often have their dreams destroyed, ripped to shreds, manhandled and dashed like waves against a craggy shore. But there is something indomitable about the human spirit that wants to create joy and goodness, beauty and art that even folks with no skills, no musical ability step out and give it there all in the hopes that they might have, “IT”. That elusive mixture of talent, skill, ability, knowledge, guts, ego, and self-loathing that mixes together in some other-worldly alchemy and produces art.

Secondly, I enjoy watching the judges handle the critique portion of the audition. I have learned a lot over the years. As someone who is often asked to read and critique a new author’s work I actually took lessons from the Idol judges. I learned with their help to be a little more gutsy in what I had to say. Sometimes you have to take the band-aid approach to a critique and just tell it like it is. Rip it off, let it sting for a bit and then hopefully the crtitiquee will move on with her life, or go back to the drawing board, or keep practicing. Over the years, in the judging, I have seen compassion and frustration and joy delivered to the hopefuls. I have also seen times when the talent was so terrible that the judges couldn’t contain their derision. Yeah, that happens in the writing world also. I know, I know those fifteen minutes of appointment angst can feel like your heart is being ripped out of your chest through your ear. It’s tough. But, hey, like Flossie always told me, when you tiptoe through the rose garden of life, be sure to wear long sleeves—thorns hurt.

But every so often a manuscript crosses my desk that shines, that shows potential and true talent. This brings me great joy. I love discovering real talent just as I believe the American Idol judges do. After all, talent should never be hidden under a bushel and as Steve sang:
“Dream On Dream On Dream On
Dream until your dreams come true
Dream On Dream On Dream On
Dream until your dream comes through
Dream On Dream On Dream On
Dream On Dream On
Dream On Dream On”

Hey, it worked for me.


Jamie said...

Excellent insights about editing! I agree that one has to tell the truth when writing is really awful, and I am, but I also try not to completely crush the person I'm editing.

Ramona Richards said...

I don't care for American Idol (probably due to too many times behind the audition table as I cast community theater musicals), but I LOVE this column. It is so hard to dole out the bandaids (and to be the recipient), but finding the one that shines is an unbelievable joy.

Pam Halter said...

I wish I could be Simon sometimes and say, burn this manuscript and never write again! But I can't.I suppose it's not really up to me to judge whether someone should or shouldn't be writing. I try to find something - anything - good I can say and go from there.

There are exceptions, though. Like the one manuscript I read through last week. Joyce, you know the one. HA!! I could find NOTHING good to say. I deliberated for three days on how to handle it. Finally, I decided I would treat it as though I were teaching a total newbie. I dont' know how they'll take it, but I feel better.