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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

American Idol: What We Can All Learn From It

I have to admit, I am hooked on American Idol. But not for the obvious reasons. Although I love music, I watch the show for the study in human behavior. And I believe no matter what career path you’ve chosen, you can learn a lot to prepare you for success by watching these contestants.

The season starts off with a whole lot of people who think they have talent but clearly do not. It’s interesting to watch people who aspire to be famous singers but who haven’t done the ground work—like learning notes. Others have an incredible presence and the moment they open their mouths, you sit up and listen, in awe of their talents.

By the time the American Idol contestants get to Hollywood, you’re looking at the best that auditioned. Those first two weeks are filled with assembling teams, learning songs, and establishing a music routine that will be performed in front of millions of viewers. For most, it’s the largest auditorium they’ve performed in; for all, it’s clearly the largest television audience.

Some of them fall apart. They are obviously not ready for the pressure, the intense work, the teamwork, the details… You can see it in their eyes when they step onto that stage, falter with their lines, freeze in front of the cameras, the blood draining from their faces.

Others are ruthless, climbing over other contestants—like the ones who booted out one of their team members and refused entry to another because they thought they weren’t good enough. That’s the way those performers would be in real life, too. You can argue the merits of their actions or decry the cut-throat manner in which they operate, but in the end it simply revealed their personalities.

Still others revel in the whole experience. The tougher it gets, the more critiques they stand up to, the stronger they get. They are confident in who they are and what they want to be. They know whatever happens, they will walk away with this experience under their belts and they’ll be stronger, more competitive, and a better performer than the day they walked in.

Those are the ones who win.

As you watch this season of American Idol, you will see some contestants bloom under the schedule, the intensity, the criticism, even the insanity of it all. And though there will be only one declared winner, there will be more than one in reality, just as others who reached the finals have gone on to lucrative careers.

It’s a door that’s opened.

If you’re climbing the ladder of any profession, are you really ready for it? Are you really prepared? Do you have the right attitude? Have you been honest about your personal strengths and weaknesses? Can you blossom under the intensity of fame or fortune?

Because maybe, in the final analysis, being a winner is like riding a roller coaster: we’re all on the same ride. What matters is how we handle it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

When Things are Not as They Seem...

A few years ago, one of my neighbors announced that she knew exactly what time I got up every day.

It seems that a group of ladies walk around the neighborhood at the crack of dawn and they noticed a light came on in my house each morning at precisely 5:30. Realizing that I was still sound asleep at that time of day, I was rather intrigued.

It turns out that I have the Sun-Rise Lamp, a nifty device that wakes you up with light instead of or in addition to, sound. And one of my house guests had set the clock while they were visiting, and unbeknownst to me, it was still coming on each morning at 5:30 and turning off automatically at 7:00 am while I was in another part of the house entirely.

But my neighbor was so convinced that she knew what time "the famous author" woke up each day that she spread the word rather quickly.

There was a time when no one knew who I was and what time I woke up interested absolutely nobody. I wonder if I might look back on that time as "the good ole days" ...

Once my books became successful, it appears that people will grasp at anything they think they know about me as an opportunity to tell others how intimate we are. When my vehicles are in the driveway, they "know" I am home, even if a friend has taken me to the airport and I'm out of the state. When my vehicles are gone, they "know" I am out of town. When I might, in fact, be curled up on the sofa watching TV.

This whole concept of people thinking they know what's going on inside my house or my life so intrigued me that I wrote this into my suspense/thriller, Exit 22. One of the main characters, Brenda Carnegie (who was up to a whole lot of things the neighborhood would have been buzzing about, had they known) had a series of timers in her home that made it look as if it was lived in even when it wasn't. Lights came on and off at all times of the day or night. And a neighbor who walked her dog each night was absolutely convinced she knew exactly which rooms Brenda was in or moving through, based on those lights...

Back in the 1970's I had a professor who always had a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. It was never lit but always dangling. He talked with it popping up and down with the movement of his lips. Several months into the course, he asked the students if he smoked. We all laughed. Of course he smoked. He was never seen without a cigarette in his mouth.

But the fact was, he didn't smoke. Never had. Never even lit one. He didn't own a lighter. Didn't carry matches. Each morning, he put a new cigarette in his mouth because he liked the way it felt there. And he walked around with it all day and discarded it when it got ragged or rained upon.

Look around you. Are things really what you think they are?

Or are things not as they seem to be, after all?