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25 Things Writers Can Learn By Watching American Idol

I know some writers prefer not to watch American Idol. Others may think that reality TV is mindless fluff for small minds. Some may find the show offensive and potentially harmful, especially to children.

And then there are those of us who watch it and find it to be a relaxing form of entertainment. At least I do. So I thought I’d share a few reflections on what I think writers can learn about success from watching American Idol.

Regardless of where you stand on the show, I think you’ll be surprised by how many ideas I got out of it that also apply to writers. And I’m just getting warmed up…

  1. Make the most of an incredible opportunity but don’t be a prima donna (viewers can spot one a mile away)
  2. Know yourself and be yourself – that’s why people watch – let your uniqueness shine through
  3. Figure out who your fans really are and dedicate yourself to them, they are going to be the ones who go the distance for you, tell others about you, and cheer you forward
  4. Take in and learn from the critiques, they come with the territory
  5. Push yourself to keep growing, nothing else inspires others more
  6. Fill the stage – be a star not a mouse
  7. Look into the camera, connect with  people (but don’t get all schmaltzy while doing it)
  8. Respond to criticism thoughtfully, action speaks louder than words
  9. Don’t just sing, feel the music, pull us in, take us with you
  10. Remember: this is a competition, don’t dink around: WIN
  11. Don’t let somebody else’s idea of who you are mess you completely up (see number 2)
  12. Give each performance everything you’ve got & leave everything on the stage, all of it
  13. Try not to be self-conscious, it’s just not compelling
  14. Watch the show back and see for yourself how well you did, learn from your mistakes
  15. Care about your friends but don’t caretake them (see number 10)
  16. Craft a compelling story about yourself but don’t get carried away, if you try to manipulate the audience they will abandon you
  17. Be gracious, friendly, and if at all possible, funny
  18. Never whine or make excuses, millions of people are watching
  19. Own your choices, all of them
  20. Speaking of, it’s never too late to make a comeback, even if you get voted off
  21. When necessary, calmly speak up for yourself, especially to Simon
  22. Be respectful of the judges because they know stuff, even Ellen
  23. Be respectful of the public because they are telling you how you are coming across
  24. Accept that being simultaneously loved and not liked at all means you are pretty darn successful
  25. Enjoy the ride!

What else? Did I miss any?

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Meryl K Evans March 18, 2010, 7:51 pm

    Great stuff. I'd change “Be a star” to “Be confident.” It's the same feeling, but “star” turns off some folks not looking for fame.

  • LydiaSharp March 18, 2010, 8:14 pm

    Wow! This post is full of awesomesauce (I imagined you sitting on your couch taking notes during the last episode). And bonus points for using the word schmaltzy. 😉

  • christinakatz March 18, 2010, 8:40 pm

    I respectfully disagree, Meryl. I know folks who work at the post office, who are very clearly not looking for fame, who are stars and act like it. They are stars at what they do. They stand out. They shine. They don't apologize for taking up space. Kind of like when Marianne Williamson says,

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

  • christinakatz March 18, 2010, 8:42 pm

    I actually jotted them down on a pink legal pad at Starbucks while Samantha was at dance class yesterday. However, I did watch the results show last night before transferring the thoughts here. So, in way, I guess I was taking notes. Even after the missing jazz shoe drama. And thanks. I'll take the awesomesauce. I hope you will keep passing it around. 😉

  • Meryl K Evans March 18, 2010, 8:56 pm

    Valid points, Christina. I guess I see “star” as something others see you as — not as something we evoke. I know many amazing people who are stars in my eyes — but they don't think of themselves as stars. Does that make sense?

  • Meryl K Evans March 18, 2010, 8:57 pm

    Love that “awesomesauce,” Lydia!

  • CTarleton March 18, 2010, 9:10 pm

    Yo – that was dope! thanks from a writer and Idol fan in Hawaii.

  • christinakatz March 19, 2010, 2:49 am

    Hey, thanks. First awesomesauce. Now dope. 🙂

  • Kelly March 19, 2010, 3:27 am

    #3 and 4 are such crucial advice for writers. Thanks!

  • kathleen_m March 19, 2010, 11:05 am

    I like your insight. How we carry ourselves shows. How we write is really an extension of who we are to begin with, right? We start there… with that wonderful uniqueness and potential and being teachable is utmost so that we learn how to relate to others, whether they are other authors, our audience, publishers, editors. Not only because being gracious always works, but we have to learn to be relevant. Some of us may have to tone it down a bit..others may have to take it up a notch. Good stuff! Thank-you.

  • sillypoet March 19, 2010, 11:07 am

    In the beginning, you might be a little off key, but as long as you improve each time, chances are you will still be in the running!

    If you think you're great, your family and friends think you're great, and the audience thinks you're great, then you're golden. If you think you're great, and no one else does (especially the audience), it's time to switch jobs. (in a writer's case, genres or topics. I found I am a very good humor wroter, but can't write a mystery to save my life!)

  • Maisie March 19, 2010, 2:58 pm

    I love this post! I don't usually watch American Idol, but have often marveled at how the contestants “work” their way to the top. This is such a great observation and one that truely connects to the lifestyle of a writer.
    This put a huge smile on my face! Thanks!

  • Julie Jordan Scott March 19, 2010, 6:21 pm

    Don't backtalk or even begin to think you know more than the experts, also known as the judges. The experts have the audience and the audience listens to the experts more than your childish rants. How many hit records have you produced?

  • christinakatz March 19, 2010, 7:35 pm

    Not completely. I think you are saying that someone who is shining knows it and is therefore efforting. And that's not what I'm saying because I don't see shining as efforting, I see it as natural self-expression.

    Also, I don't mean “star” in the celebrity sense as much as I mean “star” in the twinkle-twinkle, shine so brightly in the sky sense. My daughter singing joyfully in her musical program yesterday comes to mind. Nothing false about it. Just joyful self-expression.

    We might just have to agree to disagree on this one, dear!

  • christinakatz March 19, 2010, 7:35 pm

    Thanks, Kelly. 🙂

  • christinakatz March 19, 2010, 7:35 pm

    Thanks for your input, Kathy. Good stuff!

  • christinakatz March 19, 2010, 7:36 pm

    Good points, all. 🙂

  • christinakatz March 19, 2010, 7:36 pm

    Thank you, too. 🙂

  • christinakatz March 19, 2010, 7:37 pm

    Oh my, Julie, I think that falls in the smackdown category. But I hear you. It's always obvious when a contestant is defensive or childish.

  • Rebbie Macintyre March 21, 2010, 12:54 pm

    I'm printing this out! Great ideas, and I love number 25!

  • kat magendie March 21, 2010, 4:51 pm

    And remember, just because you are 'voted off' or maybe didn't even make it to the top 36 or whatever, doesn't have to mean it's 'the end' — sometimes good singers have bad days, or it just wasn't quite their time – keep trying – don't give up (but, be realistic – sometimes we have to re-think things…or take another route.)

  • layvette March 22, 2010, 3:38 pm

    Small typo in the title. 🙂 Not that it matters. Great post!