American Idyll

It’s that time of year again… Idol is back on, and as far as I can tell, better than ever.

I can’t help it – I’m a fan. I love watching people pursue their dreams. I love the idea of talent being discovered. I love seeing people step up, be brave, lay it all on the line and belt it out.

During these early auditions, I feel such a sense of anticipation every time someone new steps on the stage. Can they sing? Will they blow me away? Oh, please, please, let them be awesome.

There are so many similarities between what I do in the book world, and what American Idol does in the music world. So I’m hooked. I can’t resist. It’s an addiction.

How is American Idol like the writing life?

Tell us your thoughts… and I hope you all have a good weekend.

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. Michael K. Reynolds on January 28, 2011 at 1:42 AM

    >Wouldn't you know I wrote a whole Blog on this subject. After polishing the last piece of brass and hitting the "Publish" button I decided to get caught up on my Blog reading, which I was about one week in arrears. Imagine my "enthusiasm" when I saw you were days ahead of me! Oh well. For a very well developed answer to this question, you can visit my site.

  3. Vickie Motter on January 23, 2011 at 7:47 PM

    >I was thinking the same thing while watching J Lo struggle with the "No" word during her first two days as judge. Reminded me of my first few months as an intern. You want to say YES to everyone, but it simply cannot work that way. But once you find one good YES it makes all the no's worth it.

  4. Debby Mayne on January 23, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    >I LOVE "American Idol"! Even the early shows with the really bad singers. Maybe that's because it makes me feel better about my own singing voice, LOL. I agree that it's similar to what we do as writers–particularly the part where we put everything on the line, waiting for an answer from an editor, praying for a few crumbs of hope. I can totally relate to the ones who jump and shriek with joy!

  5. crt on January 22, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    >I guess I'm one of the few on here that actually laughs at the people that are no good. In my defense though, it's usually the judge's reactions to them. Sometimes they set themselves up to be laughed at by making bold claims, like that Japanise guy who said he'd been immediating Micheal Jackson before he was born.

    If they eliminated the poor singers in the screening process, they also would've eliminated the drama of each audition. Why should they do that? They are offering a chance for someone to fulfill their dream, and like anything worth achieving it isn't always easy.

    I think the new judges are quite a bit easier on the contestants. Except of course for that paint chip comment.
    I do alot of traveling on Thursdays and it was brought up by a lot of DJ's almost all of them made jokes about Steven Taylor's face.

    Okay, right about how it's like the writing life. Well I guess a person shouldn't get a head of themselves (or full), and realize that there is always room for improvement. No matter how many people like your writing, your always going to be judged.

  6. Tracey Beers on January 21, 2011 at 9:51 PM

    >Can they write? Will they blow me away? Oh, please, please, let them be awesome.

    We crave words that feed our soul. We want to be blown away. Oh, please, please let it be awesome. Let it rock our world and inspire us to not only great words ourselves, but faith that great words still exist.

  7. Tamika: on January 21, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    >Love American Idol! This is season is sure to be fresh, the new judges are a nice addition. I always wanted the gift of song, but I know better than to embarrass the family- as mama would say!

    Writing and singing are such BIG stage gifts. They have the power to reach masses. I believe that is why Jesus choose storytelling.

    I'm holding my breath for a reality show for aspiring writers:)

  8. twittertales on January 21, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    >I love "So you think you can dance" for exactly that reason. With "dance" I get the added bonus that (a) Here is a profession that is harder to break into than writing (which makes me grateful), and (b) No-one is a good dancer unless they've done at least four years of hard work – which is very encouraging to see played out so obviously, since it shows in an undeniable way that each year makes a palpable difference.

    Louise Curtis

  9. Beth on January 21, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    >Every time an author sends out a manuscript it's like going on stage and hoping to be the one they pick. I wonder how all those singers and dancers would take it if they were rejected over and over through the course of a year like a writer is.

    Here's a question for you to answer someday, Rachelle: One of the pet peeves of many agents and editors is that they dislike it when an author queries but doesn't use the agent's or editor's name in the greeting.

    If you are a writer and have researched but have been unable to find out which editor you are sending a manuscript to, plus their submissions page on the web doesn't give you the info, is it still horrible to use Dear Editor or Dear Submissions Editor?

    Have a good weekend. : )

  10. Alice on January 21, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    >I love Idol. I was thinking when I was watching it the hopes and dreams of a writer and that dang golden ticket. Our golden ticket could be finishing a manuscript, landing an agent or getting published. It means acceptance. It also means more work, determination, and doubts if we are good enough. And after all that, we are still at the mercy of the public. After all, they are the ones that put us on top if they like us.

  11. Durango Writer on January 21, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    >I use the Idol comparison from time to time. When I get really down in the dumps, I ask my husband if I'm like one of those American Idol contestants who's convinced they're spectacular because their [mother, church choir, singing coach] told them so. But dreams are dreams… I know even when those kids are rejected by the panel, many keep on singing. So, I keep on writing (and querying).

  12. Anonymous on January 21, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    >Can't watch the show myself…too many people without enough talent put out there just so Simon or whoever can rip them apart. This is done on purpose just so we can watch them be demoralized on national (if not international) TV. There are screening auditions done and those people could and should be eliminated then, before they make it on TV. Can't find anything edifying about that. I have watched the finals once, but that's about it. Writers feel the same way, we put our stuff up in front of the gatekeepers and hope to God that they accept our work or, at the very least, don't tear us and our dreams apart.

  13. PatriciaW on January 21, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    >I was thinking about this as I watched. AI is a little different but there are definitely parallels. As writers, we want our chance for publication. We put something together and we put it out there. Some are naturally talented and have worked on their craft. It's obvious, and everyone agrees they're reading.

    Others have worked, but aren't quite there yet. They still have some work to do. Whether to take a chance on them is up to the agents and editors. Will they, and the American audience, give them time to develop?

    Others think it's a great idea. Surely they can do this too. But they're not ready and/or have no real talent. They're devastated when they are rejected, and don't quite seem to understand why, unwilling to hear the constructive feedback offered.

    Finally, there's the group for which it's all a lark. If they get accepted, great. If they don't, well, on to the next thing. They had fun trying. No harm, no foul, right? even though they may have taken up a conference appointment, critique slot or limited contest entry that could have been benefited another.

  14. Laura Pauling on January 21, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    >The show is so inspiring. It's helped me to understand the difference between great writing and superfantastic writing. It's taught me just how bold and risky you have to be with your ideas and presentation while staying within reason. Though it is quite the time suck. I usually wait until Hollywood or later!

  15. BW on January 21, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    >I don't watch "American Idol" but I do watch "America's Got Talent" which encompass all ages and all talents (not just singing). Like you, I hope they have talent, I ask will they blow me away, and I hope they will they will be awesome. One of the most awesome winners a few years ago was the ventriliquist Terry Fator. He was over 40 when he won. He was able to enthrall both children and adults with his talents.

    "American Idol" deals with only young people (under 30 I think). "America's Got Talent" deals with all ages and this where the writing life is more realistic. Most authors are older when they are publish. Probally because young people just don't have that much life experience yet in order to capture an audience.

  16. Margot on January 21, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    >I'm that starry-eyed 16-yr-old kid who gets up there, where he always knew he'd be, and has never even considered the possibility he might fail.

  17. Erica Vetsch on January 21, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    >The similarity that speaks the most to me is seeing the throngs of people waiting in line to be heard.

    When you're singing into your hairbrush in front of your bathroom mirror, you're the only one there, and you sound pretty good.

    When you stand in line with 10K hopefuls, ready to go head-to-head in front of professional critics, your voice has to be better than just pretty good.

    It would be an intersting comparison. How many singers are out there trying to break in vs. how many writers?

  18. Katharine on January 21, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    >I always imagined that at my first ever writing conference, I step into the room with the potential agent and say something stupid like, "I WANT TO BE THE NEXT AMERICAN IDOL!"

    Then, I realize this isn't the best career move.

    I've also wished that my critique partners were as honest with me as Simon was, yet as gentle as Paula, so that I can be awesome when I do meet that agent for the first time.

    I haven't watched this season at all. And it's really Steven Tyler's fault. I've always thought he looked too much like a howler monkey and it totally creeps me out.

  19. Jaime on January 21, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    >I miss Simon! Of course, I also love brutal, thick sarcasm laced with blunt truth. I even like that on my writing. My crit partner is wicked and I get so excited to be torn to shreds because it makes it better in the long run.

    HOWEVER!! The one similarity to Idol that I'm afraid of would be the dillusional singers who warble like a blackbird in a Gospel choir. The kind of singer you have to press "mute" just to survive. Then the heartbreak, the tears … sigh … I hope my writing doesn't want to make someone boycott readign altogether. Sigh.

  20. Susan on January 21, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    >I would like to add a couple of additional comments.

    I have noticed a nicer more respectful trend when the judges inform the participants that they will not be going forward.

    I feel all people need to be respected and treated kindly during this process to a certain degree.

    I imagine, that a judge, can easily be compared to a literary agent.

    An agent who receives a horrendous query must feel the same way an AI judge feels when he/she hears a singer who can't begin to carry a tune but has no clue.

    I'm amazed when I see a singer act shocked when the judges feel compelled to tell them it would be best to find another goal in life.

  21. Susan on January 21, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    >Yes, I love AI. My entire family loves AI. We looked forward to the start of each new season.

    I think Robyn stated some interesting facts as it pertains to the similarities in writing.

    It doesn't bother me watching people fail at attempting to fulfill their dreams because at least they have dreams and the guts to put themselves out there.

    As someone once stated: It's not the fact that you've failed; it's the tragedy that you didn't try at all.

    Actually, I don't think anyone ever said it exactly that way but y'all know what I mean.

    Last night the show was based in New Orleans. That's where most of my family was originally based. Of course we enjoyed last night's show for that reason.

    To me, it's an accomplishment to try out for a show of that nature. That alone is an experience one would never forget. My son tried out when the show came to Florida a few years ago. He and my daughter had so much fun sharing that experience together. She went with him for support.

    Yes, this is similar to writing a book. If all you do is talk about writing a book and never go through in completing the process, then you're not really giving it your all.

    No matter whether it's pretty or ugly, these people should be respected for at least trying to fulfill a dream. My daughter and I were talking about the show this morning. We talked about how inspirational the young mother with the special needs child was when she spoke and sang last night.

    She, like many, connected with millions as she sang and spoke from her heart. There wasn't a dry eye in our home.

    That's what the show is all about.

    It's an awesome show.

    I think this show inspires many people to go forth and fulfill their own particular goals or dreams.

  22. Rachelle on January 21, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    >Mary Ann Benedetto: I don't think it's ANY different with writing. Just like singing, there's a certain amount of natural talent, then there's the hard work to nurture that talent, then there's the degree of confidence in presenting that talent. It all goes into the mix.

    If a singer isn't born with inherent pitch and tone, it's no different from a writer who lacks natural storytelling ability or the feel for a good sentence. Both are handicapped in such a way that may make it impossible for them to succeed… but you never know. Both can also rise above it.

  23. Rachelle on January 21, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    >For everyone who can't watch the early auditions, or cringes while watching them… I hear what you're saying, and yes, sometimes it's truly painful watching those who think they have talent but they really don't.

    But for me, this is the part I can't resist watching, because I see the hope and the dreams in those people's eyes… I see how badly they want it… and it reminds me that when queries come through from people who truly aren't talented writers or at least are nowhere near being ready to publish… they are people with hopes and dreams, too.

    Some of them will never have what it takes. Some of them will bounce back, work hard, and achieve their dreams. I may not know this from that very first audition or query. So in my mind, everyone has a shot.

    For some, that excruciating rejection may be just the reality check they need to give it up and find something they were truly meant to do. For others, it may be the wake-up call to work harder, get better, stop assuming their natural-born "talent" will carry the day, and come back more prepared next time.

    One of the things I love most is when someone who completely doesn't have "the look" turns out to be a great singer. When we hear their voice, we look past the exterior and see them shine.

    Joy Nicholas, I disagree with the notion that in order to advance, people need to have "the look." When I think about the top 5 contenders from the last few years, with singers as divergent as Crystal Bowersox, Adam Lambert, Lee DeWyze, etc., I see people with their own vibe, their own look and sensibility. Sure, sometimes America votes for a certain pop-ish vibe, but not always.

    And in the case of publishing, the truth is that it's very much like AI in that the "voters" (consumers) will always choose "more of the same" in greater numbers than they'll choose "something new" — that is, until enough people have bought the "something new" to give it credibility.

  24. Mary Anne Benedetto on January 21, 2011 at 9:30 AM

    >I'm all for having courage and stepping out of our comfort zones, but challenged writers can be taught to more eloquently express their words. Now vocalists….hmmmm. I believe you were either born with inherent pitch and tone or you simply don't have the pipes. There is either a poise and star quality…or not. Some degree of confidence also goes a long way in exuding that star potential.

  25. Ariel Swan on January 21, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    >I also was thinking about writers -myself included – while I flicked past AI a few times.

    I also "kept thinking- how many writers out there are like those people auditioning who believe wholeheartedly in their talent when they are truly terrible?" … and – I was hoping I am not one of them. But as my cousin just told me to do – as as seems fitting here – I need to have faith.

  26. Brian Miller on January 21, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    >i think on some level many people think they can write, many can to a certain degree and few will make it to stardom…and a few are just hilarious to watch…lol.

  27. Jason on January 21, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    >I thought it would be awful PS (Post Simon), but I've actually enjoyed watching. I think the new judges have good chemistry.

    The thing that scares me is when someone is terrible, but didn't know it…I'm thinking, "hey don't you have friends. Someone should have told you that you suck"…then I think about my writing and wonder if I suck, but just don't know it yet…sobering to say the least.

  28. Joy Nicholas on January 21, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    >I'm sure there are similarities, but I, for one, hope that the publishing world isn't exactly like AI. I've watched just one season all the way through, and that was only so I could have something to talk about with my sisters-in-law. But I've watched parts of other seasons, and it seems like the people with true originality and talent aren't necessarily the winners. Maybe they advance pretty far into the competition, but they have to have a certain look or "pop"-y feel to them to win; they need to fit into a specific box. If that is also true for writing/ publishing — which it may be — what hope is there for those of us who have never felt like we fit in perfectly to a neat little box? Or those who hope we can move past the whole high-school-popularity-contest mentality and get to the real meat of life and, in this case, writing?

    Maybe you're right, though, and it goes back to what you said about re-defining success as a writer. Even if you don't have an award-winning best-seller (or win AI), success is about your definition of it.

  29. Catherine West on January 21, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    >And she's back in the game…
    I admit to not having the stomach for the first round auditions. I just hate seeing people make complete and utter fools of themselves on national television. It really makes me sad that nobody has ever taken them aside and said, "Uh, dude. You can't sing. Really. No, I'm serious."
    Of course there is always the hope that one of those people will step into the room and blow the judges away, which does happen. Having a laugh at somebody else's expense seems to be the norm these days, just watch You Tube.
    Then again, maybe I'm just being entirely too cynical for a Friday morning.
    How is this like writing? It's all about pursuing the dream. But again, if you don't got, you don't got it.
    I'm glad your favorite show is back on. Are the new people going to be as butt-headed as Simon or is everyone nice now? I miss Simon.

  30. Sherrinda on January 21, 2011 at 6:49 AM

    >I'm loving this season with all the young ones belting out great auditions. Sometimes, people just "have it", no matter how young or how inexperienced.

    I think the same is true for writing. Some have a unique way of putting words on paper, giving us something new, something profound, something delightful.

    Of course, there are those who think they are the next Celine Dion and can't sing a melody that anyone could recognize! I always wonder if that is me in the writing world! I suppose time will tell.

  31. Katie Ganshert on January 21, 2011 at 6:12 AM

    >Okay, seriously! I have to start watching this show. I watched it the first couple seasons and then didn't. But it seems like EVERY body and their mother is raving about this season. That it's extra good and inspiring this year. Must check it out.

    As far as how AI is like writing – wow, there are lots of similarities. Probably the biggest one being that making it far is tough and takes a lot of hard work, thick skin, and persistence.

  32. Rosemary Gemmell on January 21, 2011 at 4:11 AM

    >I watch the X Factor here in the UK (same thing really) and enjoy watching people discovering that they DO have talent. Then to see it being brought out fully each week, and the artist being nurtured and encouraged to fulfil their whole potential. That's an awsome opportunity for any type of artist, including writers.

    But I do cringe at the poor people who are so self-deluded that they seem oblivious to any lack of talent whatsoever. Then again, perhaps they just want their few minutes of fame.

    On our programme, they bring back a handful of the most awful singers at the end show and get them all on stage performing together. All in the name of entertainment and I guess they are happy to be on TV for a few minutes. But I'm glad there isn't an equivalent for wannabe writers (I don't think there is!).

  33. Shawna Williams on January 21, 2011 at 3:20 AM

    >"I kept thinking- how many writers out there are like those people auditioning who believe wholeheartedly in their talent when they are truly terrible?"

    I've thought this^^^
    And also, "Lord, please don't let me be one of those."

    I feel for them because it's heartbreaking to be so passionate about something you'll never be good at. God can use you no matter, but we want to be good at the things we love.

  34. Carol J. Garvin on January 21, 2011 at 3:14 AM

    >I rarely watch the early AI programs each season, because it's too painful to watch people be so embarrassingly bad and not appear to know it. Later in the season — when it gets to the top 20 contestants — that's when I start enjoying the competition.

    I can almost picture you scanning a query and doing the "yes" or "no" elimination process in a similar manner, flipping the rejects off the desk into the garbage can in search of the one true talent. (Yes, I know it's all digital now, but the image persists)

  35. SariBelle on January 21, 2011 at 2:10 AM

    >This might just be my inner cynic coming through, but I actually find AI really awkward to watch. The first few episodes are so full of people thinking they can sing when they really (really, really) can't.

    There is a name for this. It's called the Dunning Kruger Effect. And AI's exploiting it and making money out of it. Which I guess is what most reality TV shows do. Which I guess is why I don't watch any reality TV.

  36. Robyn Bavati on January 21, 2011 at 12:51 AM

    >Idol is actually indicative of what all artists go through, whether they be writers, dancers, singers, actors… We all have the potential to be creative, so we can identify with the hopefuls who are brave enough to give it a go. Also, we all want things. That's why we can identify with someone's longing to be a star, or with the desires of the characters we read about in books. When people achieve their dreams, it's inspiring.

  37. Aimee L Salter on January 21, 2011 at 12:43 AM

    >My agent once said writers who were just getting a grasp on the craft reminded her of one of those American Idol contestants. You know the ones: They listen to the judges, take the advice – and work so hard to get it right that everything comes out robotic.

  38. Christine Macdonald on January 21, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    >"I love seeing people step up, be brave, lay it all on the line and belt it out."

    How wonderful to read your post on the night I arrive in New York for the Writer's Digest Conference.

    I feel the same way about Idol. Thanks for building the bridge between it – and writing.

    Dreaming big.

  39. Transparent Mama on January 21, 2011 at 12:19 AM

    >I was thinking the same thing last night while watching idol. I wish I had my own personal Simon (who I did miss last night, but thought J.Lo was fab.) to tell me the brutal truth.

    I kept thinking- how many writers out there are like those people auditioning who believe wholeheartedly in their talent when they are truly terrible?

  40. T. Anne on January 21, 2011 at 12:15 AM

    >First, why is JLo so beautiful? Really, it’s not fair.

    AI brings tears to my eyes, the angst is so palpable. Dreams are a powerful force that can move mountains if you believe in them long enough. I think the similarities between the show and writing are they both take practice, passion, and talent to get you where you want to go. Writers have to find the opportunities and make them work. If they don’t work the first time, try again. And when you get knocked down real good, get up anyway.

  41. Nicole on January 21, 2011 at 12:10 AM

    >I definitely see similarities. For example, people think being rich and famous is as easy as auditioning for a show. How hard could it be to become the next J. K. Rowling, after all?

  42. Florence on January 21, 2011 at 12:07 AM

    >Who would have guessed you are a fan of the "Idol?"

    I believe there are two strong similarities between what we as aspiring writers represent and what the people who audition for Idol represent.

    The optimistic dream that everyone can sing a song, and we all have at least one story to tell.

    The drive to suceed even in the face of critisism or failure.

    They've got heart and I think that's what is at the core of most aspiring writers.