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.

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.

  • http://www.travismamone.net Travis Mamone

    I still watch Idol so I can make fun of the bad performances!

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Well yes. There’s that too…

  • http://theradicaljourney.com/2012/03/19/why-worry-about-women/ Tim

    Ellen, this reminds me of watching TV with my daughter when she was in High School. She would watch shows like American Idol, and Project Runway and So You Think You Can Dance, and I would watch with her. I figured it was time we could spend together, with opportunities to observe and talk as we went along.

    There were bonuses to this. I learned that Tim Gunn (whom I’d never heard of before) is a great guy. Simon Cowell really does know what he’s talking about. Dance is powerful, sometimes more powerful than some of the world’s finest art (and my wife and I still watch SYTYCD every season). But the biggest bonus, of course, was that I also learned a lot about my daughter, what she values, what she thinks about society and culture.

    The time spent with her watching design contestants feverishly stitch together a costume out of scrap leather and old tin cans was time very well spent.


    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Exactly Tim.

      And while my kids and I used to talk about how Simon needed to learn some manners, we also agreed that he was usually absolutely right. While I don’t watch “Idol” with the intent of finding “teachable moments” (I hate that phrase), I occasionally find some. Like talking about how to be critical without being mean. And that no one can be good at everything they try; the key is to try, to accept criticism and use it to either improve or help you figure out that maybe *this* thing is not *your* thing, and that everyone has a passion or talent they can pursue, even if it’s not becoming a pop singer.