Why I Still Watch “American Idol”

Yes, I know American Idol is passe. The audience numbers are way down. The show hasn’t produced a true superstar for years now. It has become utterly predictable. Every year, contestants make the same mistakes (singing ballads week after week, refusing expert advice on song choices), engage in the same inane banter with the host, and hear the same phrases of criticism or acclaim from the judges.

But I still watch Idol faithfully every Wednesday and Thursday night—for reasons that have little to do with the show itself.

My three kids love American Idol. It’s relatively wholesome; there’s not much “adult” stuff I need to explain to the bewildered under-10 set. All of my kids love to sing. My youngest also has a passion for performance; he is prone to dancing around our front yard, singing to himself in his self-made dramas. They love to choose their favorite singers and look forward each week to seeing what their favorites will wear and sing, what they looked like as babies, what their families are like, and what the judges think of their performances.

So we all, me and the kids, pile into my bed on Idol nights to watch together. And that is why I love the show. Because it gives me an hour of intimate time with my kids, in which none of us have any agenda other than watching our show. I don’t have to bug them about teeth brushing and homework and piano practice. They don’t whine that they are hungry or bored. Unlike at the dinner table, they are not in a rush to be excused.

Now, let’s be clear: The hour (sometimes two, though the little ones usually conk out after one) that we spend watching Idol is not some idyllic respite from normal family tensions. Our queen-sized bed is not really big enough for all four of us, so there is inevitable fussing that, “Mom! She’s squishing me!” I have to remind them often, not always sweetly, that I have a no-question rule during Idol. I refuse to explain weird commercials or engage in protracted discussions of what I really think about so-and-so’s outfit.

Nevertheless, I love this time with my kids. I usually have the little ones on either side of me, and revel in having a head on my shoulder, a hand on my arm, gentle breath in my ears. Leah isn’t right next to me, but I love hearing her giggle at some funny comment, sing along to a song she knows, or critique a contestant’s breath control.

Much of the time, I admit, I look forward to time without my kids. I’m anxious to get them off to school so I can write. I’m anxious to get them into bed so I can talk to Daniel, finish a chore, or crawl into my own bed to read. I’ve certainly never been one for inviting kids to sleep in our bed, and am happy to send them off to their own rooms when Idol is over.

But for this limited time, a couple of hours on a couple of weekday evenings, I can’t get enough of having them right there, with me more completely than they are at any other time during the week. Just us, mom and kids, without all of the responsibilities, pressures, anxieties, quirks, and hurts that complicate the rest of our family life.

That’s why I still watch American Idol. And I hope it stays around for a few more years, before all of my kids get too big to lay with me in my bed, or decide they no longer want to.

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.