I have a confession to make: I really enjoy American Idol, or at least the audition phase of the competition. On a surface level (and, honestly, that’s the level that predominates when watching American Idol), I just think it’s funny to see people who are not talented, but think they are, find out that they’re not. There is an almost sinister pleasure in it, you know? There are times, I must admit, where I almost feel bad about laughing at another person making a fool of him or herself. And, while I am typically entertained by curmudgeony Simon Cowell’s cold and blunt comments, there are times where he really goes over the line.
But, if you’ll indulge me, I think there is a deeper truth on display here, if in a bit of a distorted way. We live in a culture where the concept of self-esteem runs amok. Now I do believe there is a healthy sense of self-esteem where we recognize that we are endowed with dignity and are the special creation of God. But the way self-esteem is taught and promoted in our culture almost makes one immune to criticism and blind to faults and flaws that require work. We do not learn our limits and have very bloated views of our abilities and overall selves. We can do no wrong. Now someone thus inculcated with an overblown esteem of self, someone who has been coddled and praised their whole lives lest they be offended or stilted, someone who simply cannot sing but thinks they can shows up at an American Idol audition, they are often in for a rude awakening.
They discover that, at a most fundamental level, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Allow me to repeat a comment that I will (were I to get a lot of readers) be criticized for: There is an objective sense of beauty – some things are beautiful and some things are not. Some music is beautiful and some is not. I’m not talking about style here. I may not enjoy bluegrass but I can appreciate the fact that it can sound nice; that some bluegrass is better than other bluegrass. Some people are talented and some are not.
I like the fact that American Idol seems to underscore the idea that there are objective standards of beauty. You wind up with a Kelly Clarkson, for example, who can actually sing, making albums instead of a bunch of Brittany Spears, who cannot. When people vote in American Idol they do so because they recognize some things as inherently more beautiful and talented than others. It is not a slight against William Hung that he cannot sing – because he’s probably got other abilities that Ruben Studdard does not.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on American Idol. I’m just glad that there are people out there with objective standards of beauty.