My dream had always been to be on “American Idol” and become a successful singer and actor. I used to line up water jugs in the garage to make an outline for a stage while my neighborhood friends and I took turns being judges and contestants. Doodling exceeded the boundaries of shapes and flowers and became five pieces of paper with twenty faces hand drawn on each side, each having a number and playing a contestant in my own fantasy “American Idol” competition on paper. One school night out of the entire year would always be dedicated to staying up late just to see which Idol hopeful would take the crown followed by celebration.
It wasn’t until I experienced being a semi-finalist on the show and achieving my childhood goal that I realized many things were as what they seemed yet, simultaneously, not.
1. The Great: Pursuing My Dreams
My memories of auditioning still warm my heart. Before I made the first move, I had been treated in Miami Children’s Hospital for anorexia; I was about twenty pounds underweight and on the verge of collapsing. About three weeks following my discharge, my family and I took a flight to New Orleans where we all were embracing the energy of this amazing experience. My older sister at the time had a fractured foot so she signed up to audition just to help get me to the front of the line, and that is something I am forever grateful for. Being the stereotypical Jewish mother she is, my mom would constantly give me honey packets she stole from the breakfast buffets at the hotel to ensure my throat is nice and smooth. Late nights became endless nights with my Dad as he would stay up the extra hour to help me pick out the best song I could sing while my siblings were my backbone of support.
2. The Good: Exposing My Traumas
Once final taping had commenced, I had producers come to my house in Florida and follow me around school to build a story that could capture America. When they asked me about myself, the first thing that came to my mind was to share about my abusive upbringing in an environment of pariahs as classmates. This was good, but also neutral because looking back, I know I could have shared something much less sugar-coated that would get an even deeper message across. All the degrading names that I had been called were translated into family-friendly insults like “dork” and “geek”; the deeper truth would have been too much for anyone to digest. I did not triumph and overcome my past because I was and still am to this date insecure about many things. However, even the slightest bit of a sugar-coated story had inspired many people so that, to me, is good enough.
3. The Bad: Devious Contestants
As the process progressed and Hollywood week came around, I got to know almost all of my fellow contestants on intimate levels. I recall becoming infatuated with a guy whose name I won’t mention, and he quickly became the predator preying on my weakness for him. Ultimately, he was all I thought about and the only one I wanted to impress and gain approval from. As soon as that became obvious, he played with my head and I nearly psyched myself out of my own dream at the hands of manipulation. It was my Dad who actually snapped me out of it with a dosage of his brutal honesty, and thankfully, I moved forward.
Yet, it was not even that one isolated incident in which my naivety overpowered my intelligence. Another fellow contestant and a friend at the time had asked me why I am gay, and then after told me I don’t have to be gay, and what she was implying was a popular sentiment in our group. Barring her ignorance, the biggest turn off had been seeing fellow contestants forget where they had come from. All of a sudden, the waitress who messed up an order for dinner had become the servant for the same contestant who had been in her shoes not even half a year before being on the show.
4. The Ugly: A Rude Awakening
Although the subtitle will make my point seem like the ugly is a bad thing, there is beauty to it as well. My rude awakening was realizing that being on a television show was not enough to help me achieve my ultimate goal of becoming an artist and an actor. As a child, you want to be a part of a legendary singing competition with the ultimate goal of becoming a successful artist. After having been on Idol, making it to the top 24, and then, once again, coming back down to Earth, I had realized that it was a beautiful yet bitter facade. The beauty was and is in the experience that I had been beyond blessed with. Bitterness lays in the fact that what I perceived as a child was a distorted version of reality just as the tooth fairy is a myth and Santa does not exist. These beliefs help you stay motivated for the end game, and that motivation will take you further than anything in life.
Cover Image Credit: Brett Loewenstern
Originally published at www.theodysseyonline.com on December 31, 2017.