What? Our own Kelsey Browning  was on American Idol?? Okay, okay-so maybe she hasn’t performed on AI, but she has learned some lessons from it, lessons we all can share. Take the microphone, Kelsey – the stage is all yours!
For the four+ years I lived overseas, I watched very little TV. By the time we returned stateside, reality TV and public voting shows were all the rage. Not interested, I thought. Then I got sucked into American Idol, and I haven’t been able to resist a season yet. (Although last year Mariah Carey almost drove me away.)
Great, Kelsey, you’re thinking. But what do your plebeian TV-watching habits have to do with making me a better writer? Are you telling me I can learn something from these young (oh Lord, SO young!) singers?
In a word…yup.
Seven lessons I think you can learn from American Idol:
- Passion can outweigh technique. Week after week, Harry Connick Jr. tells CJ Harris to sing in tune, yet as of this writing (early April), CJ is sticking to the AI stage like a burr. Why? I argue it’s because American can clearly see—and therefore feel—how much the singing, the songs mean to CJ. It’s broadcasted over his face every time he performs.
- Taking a risk and busting out of your wheelhouse can either pay off big or can be a big, fat bust. Ben Briley sang “Bennie and the Jets” one week to showcase his range and repertoire. The result? He was sent home. I don’t think this means you shouldn’t take risks (in fact, I absolutely think you should). It simply means you have to go into those risks with your eyes wide open. Know why you’re taking a risk, know what you want to get out of it, and know how you’ll handle the situation if it doesn’t work out.
- Opinions are like butts, everyone has one (albeit some are bigger than others). Regardless of the high quality of a singer’s performance, Harry, Keith, and Jen always have something to say. And often, they don’t agree. So who should the singers listen to? It’s not always clear, but I think it’s the advice that hits you square in the gut as either being absolutely right or painfully accurate.
- What moves one person doesn’t move another. How often do you see Keith and Jennifer dancing behind their little judges’ desk, totally grooving to the performance, while Harry sits stoically and rubs his chin like a college professor? It takes a LOT to move Harry, but I always believe he has the singers’ best interests at heart. Writers, not every reader will groove to your stuff. It’s okay. You will find your right audience.
- Not connecting with your audience can put you in jeopardy. Sam Wolff is a cutie, but he’s shy. The tween girls go crazy for him, yet he just can’t seem to give himself over to his performance. That cost him America’s vote even though he—as Keith would say—has the most perfect tone in the universe. Granted, the judges saved him (and let’s not argue about whether or not the whole thing was a set-up), but Sam is holding back on stage, and it shows.
- Being humble can endear you to your audience. Neither CJ Harris nor Dexter Roberts are the best singers out of the finalists. Yet they’ve made it through weak performances and close-vote weeks. Why? I think it’s because America likes their humble appreciation for the judges’ feedback and just good ole Southern boy charm and manners. Good behavior can get you places, people.
- The last one standing isn’t always the most talented person. We don’t yet know the winner of season XIII, but I bet if you looked back over the season’s contestants and mined for pure talent, you’d find the most talented person isn’t the person who gets the confetti shower at the end. Is this fair? I don’t know, but it says to me that there’s more to this “talent” business than sheer talent. It takes a multi-faceted person—genuine, talented, persistent, flexible, open-minded—to be the last (wo)man standing.
Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking. That I’m just using this as an excuse to watch and chat up one of my favorite shows. But I’ve honestly learned a great deal about the writing business from watching the American Idols singers chase their dreams.
What do you think writers can learn from other types of artists (or reality TV 😉 )?
On Monday, Author Mindy Klasky  joins us.
Kelsey Browning  writes sass kickin’ love stories and cozy Southern mysteries. Originally from a Texas town smaller than the ones she writes about, Kelsey has also lived in the Middle East and Los Angeles, proving she’s either adventurous or downright nuts. These days, she hangs out in northeast Georgia with Tech Guy, Smarty Boy, Bad Dog and Pharaoh, a Canine Companions for Independence puppy. She’s currently at work on the next book in her Texas Nights  series and The Granny Series . Give her a shout at Kelsey@KelseyBrowning.com  or drop by www.KelseyBrowning.com . For info on her upcoming releases, subscribe to her Sass Kickin’ News .