Overcoming the “Reality TV” Stigma

It was crazy to think that I had a song, my own song, on the airwaves.  Would people even recognize that it was me?  How could they possibly like a song that was recorded so fast, and by such a rookie?  I was scared that I wouldn’t be taken seriously outside the world of Idol. (page 167-8)

I find it fascinating that David would have those concerns fresh off of American Idol and with the debut release of his hit single “Crush.”  To be sure, Idol gave him the Arch Angels, who have armed him with his sky-rocket success when that song debuted so high on the Hot 100 charts.  Beyond us, the “rabid fanbase” from Idol, the rest was label and management work and a very catchy song.  Still, it’s quite interesting, to me, that David doesn’t take any of this for granted.  More than that, he also realizes he’s got his work cut out for him to be “taken seriously outside the world of Idol.” I’m just wondering how hard (or not) this will be.  After all, David is astute enough to realize that it is, like much of “reality TV,” a real stigma.  Both a blessing and a curse.

Consider: this morning, I’m reading an interview in Salon.com with “king of bad taste” John Waters, who had this to say about Reality TV:

I don’t like [reality TV] because it’s real bad taste. It makes the viewer feel superior to the people in it. It’s naked pathology, and it doesn’t work. And I think no matter how big the shows are, do people ask them for autographs? … Most reality shows on TV now, you’re laughing at them.

And just like that, Waters hit the nail on the head. To some extent, Idol alumni don’t fit neatly into this paradigm, but often they are only appreciated by Idol viewers, and let’s be real: people who admit to watching American Idol (myself included because I’m not pretentious) are usually dismissed as having the ultimate “bad taste,” even some folks calling the over-the-top adoration of certain Idols as “Idoltards.”  Granted, when a Melinda Doolittle can’t win her season, or the most recent winner, Lee Dewyze, can’t sing in tune, this just lends credence to the caricature of Idol contestants and the “fans” who worship them.

And let’s not forget how incredibly hard first Idol winner Kelly Clarkson worked to shed her Idol image, even titling that breakout sophomore album, Breakaway, in a way that signaled exactly what she was doing.  Not to mention runaway successful alumni like Daughtry and Carrie Underwood are appreciated by audiences who didn’t realize they were on American Idol (then again, they had the backing of Simon Fuller, who was careful to support them in such a way that they weren’t instantly looked at as Idol alumni).

There is a genuine paradox of celebrity culture that “reality TV” has complicated.  On the one hand, “celebrities” are people we look up to (although paparazzi are there to show them in their worst possible light), while “reality TV” serves the opposite spectacle: it offers “real people” we could look down on.  People who make fun of shows like American Idol and the contestants who participate on it, they do so because they can’t possibly imagine anything good coming from a show that gives equal attention to non-talented and pathetic attention-seekers like William Hung and General Larry Platt.  It is what it is.  We, as a culture, love the spectacle of people we think we’re superior to.

Such an ideology also explains why, when David Archuleta simply blew everyone away with his heartfelt and magical rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and then took longer to reach that level of magic again, he was quickly turned into a punchline.  His beauty, sweetness, and phenomenal talent prevented the “average” viewer from feeling superior to him, so insecure people living in a culture that encourages mockery and cruelty did what they do best: they started nitpicking, got annoyed at his heavy breathing caused by his vocal paralysis (Vote for the Worst nicknamed him “Gaspy”), decided he was “fake” because no one is really that sweet, and labeled him “creepily dad-dominated” (I’ll never get over the fact that some media critic uttered such words and expected to be taken seriously after that).

After such a stigma, placed on top of the stigma of just simply being on American Idol, I think David is the bravest person out there.  I love his self-awareness and his realization that, despite this stigma of appearing on a reality TV show (which is really hard to shake because “reality TV” does create people whom audiences want to look down on), he can still overcome it by being true to himself and being determined to make really good music.

Having read Chords of Strength, I am convinced that David has the true conviction needed to really excel and become one of the great ones.  We all have to start somewhere, and David’s acknowledgment that Idol is but a small window of opportunity that can be smashed open indicates that he will rise above it all.  Slowly but surely.

Posted on June 7, 2010, in American Idol, Chords of Strength. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. 1st interview and book signing in hometown Utah today.
    I think the theme wardrode for this book tour is striped shirt lol

    http://www.fox13now.com/videobeta/

  2. hell0g0rge0us

    So, some dude by the name of “Jay H” decides to leave this little comment in response to my review two posts back:

    No doubt, David Archuleta’s a natural-born talent when it comes to singing… but an autobiography at age 19. Really? And the book is all smiles and sunshine. Really?

    It may be a well-written book because of a talented ghost writer. But is there, truly, enough substance for an autobiography? And does the reviewer truly believe Archuleta’s life has been ‘puppy dogs and ice cream’ — nothing bad, negative, upsetting… other than his potentially career-ending vocal paralysis? … I’m sure it’s a one-star book that’ll collect dust on Archuleta fan’s bookshelves ’til they turn 20 and think: “Why the heck did I buy THIS?” But now that I’ve dumped on it, I’ll have to browse through it. I may be surprised at what I find… or, then again, I may not be surprised.

    Not sure where I suggested David’s life was “puppy dogs and ice cream,” only that I had to read between the lines since he portrays himself as a “happy kid” with an overall “positive outlook.” What’s wrong with that per se?

    Well, there’s nothing wrong with it except that we live in a culture constantly looking for “dirt” and peeking into other people’s lives to get a glimmer of some less-than-thrilling episodes to make us feel better about ourselves.

    And this, this!, is why I wrote this piece about David having to overcome the “Reality TV” stigma.

    And I’m just loving the “collecting dust on Archuleta fans’ bookshelves until they turn 20.” You just made me feel so very young again! 😉

    BTW, is it just me, or are people really upping the ante on the woman-hating lately? I see VFTW has a “Frauen Alert” for the male contestants headlining the AI tour this summer. They just love to make fun of male contestants on Idol (because of the assumption that “naive” little girls and “crazy cougars” voted them through). Poor David. He’ll never get the respect because so many “tween girls” and “older women” (read: not the 18-25 yr old “hot babes” set) love him.

    • I feel really young too when people refer to David’s fans as teens or tweens lol

      I read this at IDF about the ghost writer :

      ”Archuleta’s editor at Penguin, Ray Garcia, said that “Chords of Strength” tells Archuleta’s story in Archuleta’s words. “David is the author of ‘Chords of Strength,'” Garcia said. “While he worked with a writer to shape the book, every word and expression came from David.”
      As Garcia put it, “Chords of Strength” is not merely an authorized biography, something written by an outsider with Archuleta’s cooperation. “This is the very personal story of a boy with insecurities, like anyone, who faced them all and made his wildest dreams come true,” Garcia said. “This is a book that no one else could write.”

      ”While many of Archuleta’s fans are teens and young adults, Garcia said that he doesn’t think what Archuleta has written will only appeal to young readers. ” ‘Chords of Strength’ is a book about facing your fears and emerging stronger than ever,” Garcia said. He thinks it’s a universal message that will attract interest from readers of all ages.”

      Link : http://heraldextra.com/entertainment/artic…68d1578542.html flowers.gif

      I don’t know why people still talk about his dad, he is not his manager anymore and it’s been two years since AI and all the rumors so maybe people need to turn the page, David and his fans surely did.

      Oh, and I don’t know why some critics feel the need to write their opinions about the book before reading it.

  3. God Bless the Broken Road by David today in Utah 🙂

  4. I don’t know why people still talk about his dad, he is not his manager anymore and it’s been two years since AI and all the rumors so maybe people need to turn the page, David and his fans surely did.

    Oh, and I don’t know why some critics feel the need to write their opinions about the book before reading it.

    Exactly.

  5. HG,

    I am a regular lurker here and want to say first that I really enjoy and appreciate your blog. Secondly, I just had to come out of hiding briefly to comment on this piece, which was particularly insightful for me. Like, Aha!

    Reality shows do indeed allow regular folks to feel superior to those who become famous on these shows; and the ensuing mockery from viewers and reviewers seems to be a necessary part of the entertainment. Add to the mix all the gossip outlets that compete with each other’s nastiness via titillating news and you get amped up mockery that is cruel and bullying at best. There is a perception that these “instant celebrities” deserve it.

    I have been following (and adoring) David Archuleta since his American Idol audition and I often wondered how he would step away from the shadow of AI. You mentioned David’s bravery, self-awareness, and his determination to stay true to who he is. Along with “the voice,” those are the very traits that make me believe that while David may not completely avoid the stigma, he is destined to rise above it. .

    You might be interested in two reviews about David and Chords of Strength, both from the same writer who went from a skeptical and somewhat snarky perception to something much more open-minded after actually reading the book.

    http://www.linescratchers.com/?p=730

    http://www.linescratchers.com/?p=815

  6. hell0g0rge0us

    Archugeezer, thanks for your comments and links, and welcome to my blog! 🙂

    I hope you will post more often.

    See there? Once people actually give David a chance, they are pleasantly surprised. Damn the Idol stigma!

    Thank God for Arch Angels; we so believe in the “good news” that is David that we take people at their word, completely ignore cynicism and actually “gift” complete strangers David’s books and albums. And it’s working! People’s minds and hearts are changing!

    There is still hope for this world. 😛

  7. Great post HG! I enjoyed reading the John Water’s article; he always offers interesting insight on human behavior. Also, I’d been wondering what you thought of Gen. Larry Platt and now i know.

    You know, if a person had never seen American Idol and had only read about it in David’s book, they’d walk away believing it’s a classy, great family show with the most talented individuals in the U.S. To me, the producers and judges give the show the “bad taste”.

    Re. D’s memoir, there are no rules that say you have to be a certain age or have certain life experiences to write and share your story. I’m of the belief that everyone of all ages has a story to tell. Also, with four young siblings, I would have been disappointed had D written a “tell all”. David is 19 – a grown man; if written the wrong way, discussion of some of his other hardships might have come off as whiny and self-serving.

  8. Great writing as usual, HG. My favourite extract is when you say:

    “His beauty, sweetness, and phenomenal talent prevented the “average” viewer from feeling superior to him, so insecure people living in a culture that encourages mockery and cruelty did what they do best: they started nitpicking, got annoyed at his heavy breathing caused by his vocal paralysis…”

    I’ve always felt that Idol had never seen or will ever see anything nearly as beautiful as David performing on that stage. It was otherwordly, casting a spell on so many of us, but also alienating those of hardened hearts.

    Yes, reality shows are like tasting a sweet drink that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

  9. hell0g0rge0us

    I’ve always felt that Idol had never seen or will ever see anything nearly as beautiful as David performing on that stage. It was otherwordly, casting a spell on so many of us, but also alienating those of hardened hearts.

    Truer words never spoken, Valbraz.

    Desertrat, Larry Platt was a joke and the worst example of “black coon minstrelsy” I’ve seen on TV in a long time!

    And I’ll tell you something else about those awful “auditions”: if David can reveal in his book the whole process of auditioning on AI in which he basically went through a bunch of different screenings before he even got to sing before Simon, Paula, and Randy, then that means TPTB also “screen” for the “bad auditions” too!

    So, people like William Hung and Larry Platt are deliberately put through before the three stooges purely so that TV audiences can make a mockery of them. These folks are looking for the attention, yes, but does the show have to promote such “bad taste,” as John Waters describes?

    Pitiful!

    BTW, please note that I’ve added a page called “Drool, Gush, and Update,” where any new pics, videos, and updated tour/interview information can be posted so that the main page can be devoted to other types of conversations like the one we’re having here. 🙂

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