As part of my interest (aka obsession) with BBC3 documentaries, I find time to schedule in a healthy dose of reality TV. C and I, always looking to take the road less travelled, opt to be fans of American Idol as opposed to being forced to watch (overt racist) Louis Walsh, on the X factor. But certainly in the opening rounds, these shows are all the same. We are treated to a parade of oddity, watching deluded young person followed by deluded old person all sounding truly dreadful. Suddenly, (cue the slow music) in walks a gal with a dream, (and a sob story) and we are blown away by how anyone could possibly hold so much talent against such adversity, squeezing tears from all the judges, a standing ovation, and that all important wink from Simon Cowell himself.
I’m more interested in the mentality of the deluded contestants. In my job, I have to turn a lot of people down. It appears to me, that ‘Book Idol’ would have just as long a queue in their sleeping bags outside the audition theatre as any other reality show I’ve seen. And what do all the ‘no-hopers’ have in common across all these shows? Generally it’s the incredulous look on their face when told no. But I’ve never been told I cant sing. All my family and friends are supporting me. I’ve been singing since I was a fetus. I’m going to get a million dollar record contract and then you’ll be sorry. It doesnt change in the world of publishing. I was told it’s unputdownable. I’ve never wanted to do anything but write. I’m going to make more money than JK Rowling and then you’ll be sorry.
Before I get hailed as Simone Cowell and booed off the literary stage, let me make myself clear. I do know that writing is far more subjective than singing. And I agree that none of the rejects from the Idol shows were ever multi platinum recording artists (well, not serious ones. Cheeky girls anyone?) wheras many authors have long tales of woe at being rejected countless times before becoming bestsellers. I am not talking about the ‘not quites’. Unfortunately, reality TV hardly shows the hopefuls who, whilst perfectly pleasant sounding and maybe even good singers, get sent home packing because the ‘x factor’ just isnt there. The same with books. What I might think is not quite good enough, could be someone elses page turner, and that is just the nature of the art. I am not talking about the literary equivalant of Same Difference, or Darius, or Jedward. I am talking about the gobby girl who comes onto the stage, tells everyone how incredible she is, shouts into the microphone, and then throws a fit when she’s told it was the worst audition Simon has ever heard. (How many of those can there be?)
I truly dont understand how people can continue to let their friends and family make utter fools of themselves, and in the case of writing, waste their time in such fruitless efforts. As a friend once said, “You might tell them they sound very nice, but you would never say ‘wow! you’re incredible-you could win the x factor!'” But that’s not what’s on my mind today. I’m wondering about the crazy self belief these people have. So many times, the camera follows the contestant out of the building to them affirming “I’m never gonna give up, singing is my life.” With writing, I’ve lost count of the number of repeat submissions I’ve recieved telling me they’ve hugely improved what had less va va voom than R’s push along tractor. Unsurprisingly, they haven’t.
These people have a huge amount of self belief. It may be unfounded, but it’s pretty darn impressive. And yet, in our lives as parents, all we need is a glance from another mother, and many of us are immediately drenched with an outpouring of mother’s guilt. What am I doing wrong? Am I a good enough mum? Do I spend enough time with my baby? In our less than superstardom career aspirations, it’s the same story. Should I even bother applying for this job? Is my CV awful? Is it worth asking for a raise?
I’m left confused. Perhaps when we’re dealing with creativity, it is so hard to get ahead that we need buckets of confidence even when we ARE good enough. How much more true when we aren’t. Maybe there is so much worrying and insecurity about everyday life, we try to pick themselves up by inventing an impossible dream to believe in.
We all have worries that we’re secretly not good enough. We all look at the guy across the office, or the mother pushing the pram in front, or the friend juggling her life with ease, and wonder if and how we measure up. And we all put on a brave face and get on with life. But I would never apply for The Mum Factor. Or Reading Idol. Even though I’m pretty confident I’m good at both those things.I’m not sure I would even put my name down for Sleep Academy. (and we all know I could sleep for England.) So of course, it’s even more obvious that I’m not going to be signing up for ‘So you think you can dance’ or any kind of sporting challenge.
So I will continue to be shocked by the sheer volume of tone-deaf people who travel miles to be laughed off a stage. Shocked, and amused, but still slightly in awe of their self-belief.