‘I Am the Next American Idol’

A lesson from America’s most popular television show

The words above are commonly spoken into the camera of Fox’s most-watched reality show by conceited auditioners. The young hopefuls may lack social skills, fashion sense and, most audibly, the ability to carry a tune in a wicker basket, but one thing they do not lack is confidence and self-assurance.

And so it goes, that when the three music industry professionals proffer their sometimes brutally honest and usually untactful critiques, the young Americans—overdosed on their own self-esteem—yell, curse, weep, and/or force the producers to stamp an American Idol logo over the top of their hands to censor the final obscene gesture before they storm out of view.

In some cases, they passionately proclaim to America via the camera that they will still be famous—threatening that Randy, Simon and even the usually positive Paula will have to eat crow.

In other cases, these musical misfits flow straight into the arms of friends and family. While some of these support groups merely offer appropriate, unconditional consolation, in too many cases we see them fanning the flames of self-fanaticism. They continue to shower unwarranted praise on the appalling auditioner and assure him or her that the music experts in that room must not know what they’re talking about.

Now, this all makes for riveting television. The premier of American Idol’s sixth season on January 16 garnered about 37.3 million viewers—nearly the population of Poland. Its first two nights were the Fox network’s two biggest nights of prime-time entertainment in its two-decade history.

Sure the producers, when they cull through the initial tens of thousands of auditioners, let the more eccentric ones through for sheer entertainment value. Let’s face it, conflict sells, whether between judges and contestants or judges and judges, and so does human embarrassment.

In some cases, surely these young people purposefully sound terrible and act awkward in order to get their moment on national television. Still, the show illustrates an unpleasant truth: that narcissism is alive and well in America.

Our self-worship has been fueled by the educational philosophy that a young person’s self-esteem is more important than his measurable achievement in any area, and that empty praise will actually increase his achievement. Like the late-night comedy character, we are becoming a nation of Stuart Smalleys, looking into the mirror each day and saying, “I’m good enough, smart enough and … people like me.”

Try taking that thinking into any professional field. How many cds would you buy from an artist who sang poorly but felt he was good enough and smart enough? Would you let an architect build your house if you knew he got his degree simply because his teachers were too worried about labeling him a failure? Would you board a plane with a pilot who had supreme confidence in his ability to fly, yet whose only qualification was a love of documentaries about aviation? Obviously, self-esteem cannot remedy a lack of musical talent or training, bequeath an ability to design buildings that don’t fall down, or keep a plane in the air. In the end, delusions of self-worth collide with reality.

As much as we like reality shows, we are rearing a generation to ignore reality. Our educators, our friends, and even our family, are afraid of it. Lying is okay, they say, if it spares someone hurt feelings. This goes far beyond the biblical admonition to speak the truth “in love” and to exercise tact in dealing with our fellowman. It is filling someone’s head with deceptions in order to skirt necessary correction.

If we can take a lesson from those few self-confident incompetents on this reality show, perhaps it is to remember the elegant wisdom in the Bible’s warning to each of us “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). We love to love ourselves far too much. We are, in fact, our own idols.

God knows where pride leads. He shows us throughout His Proverbs: It leads to foolishness (Proverbs 14:3), shame (Proverbs 11:2), and, most importantly, destruction (Proverbs 18:12). True as this is individually, it is also true on a national level. When a nation becomes inflated with pride, full of people who exalt self-esteem while loathing the slightest criticism, these scriptures indicate where we can expect that arrogance to lead to.

The Trumpet magazine commonly warns about the curses plaguing this land, and those to come—as well as why those curses are happening. God is sending His criticism rather bluntly these days. We can curse Him back, make all the obscene gestures we want, but the constructive criticism will keep coming—and intensifying—until we heed God’s correction.

Would a good dose of national humility not save us from national destruction?

Healthy self-respect is necessary, of course; but improving our character is paramount. And that requires criticism, evaluations, correction and chastening, as Hebrews 12 points out. This passage says God gives us that kind of treatment because He loves us. He does it in love and mercy; He knows that withholding it would only harm us. It is what will make us achieve spiritually. Would to God that we can take that correction when it comes.