It is a painful truth that I cannot sing with glorious abandon like I want to. I am reminded of this because it is American Idol season again and I must once again live vicariously through those on this earth that can. Something about being able to open your mouth and let loose feelings, with perfect nuance, and with force and quiet and surprise and growl, drives me crazy with envy. It is the ability to express myself so clearly that I want. So….this brings me to post again, a longer never before posted version of my American Idol piece about our true gifts and the gifts of our children. This is an essay I wrote for the love of singing and for the love of children.
I love American Idol, not for the usual reasons, whatever they are, but because the show reminds me every time I see it, that we are not each born with an obvious voice. You know, a way of expressing just who we are. Being able to sing beautifully is a dream, but what about when a voice is manifest instead as a gifted doctor, lawyer or Indian chief? That idea inspires me to help the children in my life figure out who they are and what that voice is. I am inspired for myself, for Pete’s sake. After watching the show for years now, I actually go out and try things in real life because I see someone younger taking an even bigger risk on television. Now I am not talking about singing for me. I am very sure I am not a singer.
And let’s face it, I will not go into all the specifics here, but suffice it to say I have changed my mind about who I think I am multiple times already. I have watched contestants over and over again stand in front of judges and offer up who they think they are (they always think they are a singer), and then wait for a verdict. So really, watching these young people consider who they might be with what looks like wild abandon on national television is inspiring. It gives me courage to do the same in my own life, in my own way. I, too, want to sing my song, share my own beautiful voice, and I want my children to sing their own beautiful songs, but American Idol-caliber singers we are not. Apparently our beautiful songs are something else.
What keeps me coming back for more is that so many people who try out for the show are truly unclear about their own beautiful song, too. Even Kelly Clarkson was not so sure. When she won at the end of the first season she was asked what she would do with the money. On the spot she said that the friend who had convinced her to try out was going to get a new Corvette! It seems that Kelly, at first, had not dreamed she could win, but her friend had known better. Sometimes we must take ourselves somewhere else to get a reading on how we stack up. The show is a kind of reality check on “who am I?” You know, just in case I am a singer, like Kelly Clarkson, and didn’t realize it.
The real point of all this is that when I see children on American Idol publicly confirm that they, like me, are not sure who they are, I wish that I might inspire their parents to guide them. Terrible singers show up whacking out some horrible rendition of a song for judges, who cringe and dismiss the crestfallen hopeful, but it is because these kids come with the dream that they might be a singer, that this show can be instructive. Helping our children know who they are before they get in the miles-long American Idol tryout line is a gift.
It would be nice if we could all just look inside ourselves and know what our strengths are, but we need others to help us. And not knowing exactly who we are as parents does not prevent us from helping our children. Parents can help children know themselves by responding on a day-to-day basis to the exceptional things they do, to help them learn what they are good at and what they are not good at. We can let them show us how they feel, and then accept it. Let them be who they are. I am not talking about taking everything a child says as gospel, but instead I am talking about being the adult and watching and discerning what a child’s spirit is really about. By allowing our children to express themselves freely with the expectation that our responses will be loving and truthful, and designed to help them get to know themselves, they have the opportunity to become whoever they are, and know it, and not become someone confused about their abilities. The kids on American Idol who audition with screeches and screams have no one in their lives helping them see who they really are, and of what they are actually capable, whether it is singing or something else.
As parents we have a fantastic opportunity to help our children figure this out. So be that person for your child. Be the one who knows him well. Watch and learn and then help him see where his strengths lie. However crazy it might be, whenever I see American Idol I dream that I can arrive somewhere someday, presenting myself without pretense, and then just like the chubby and modest fifteen-year old boy I saw on the show once, surprisingly turn out to have the voice of an angel. Whenever I hear Kelly Clarkson on the radio, I have that dream again, that I and all other children on earth may too someday be as lucky as she and find our perfect song to sing.