The Case for Simon Cowell

The Case for Simon Cowell April 21, 2008

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a week-long series of articles by various writers about American Idol.

“That sounded like a cat being set on fire and run through a car wash for extinguishing. It was the most awful sound I have ever had the displeasure of hearing.”

Those words, while a bit exaggerated, are all too often the types of expressions that come from the mouth of American Idol judge Simon Cowell. Known as the “bad-boy” of the panel of judges for the pop-music competition show, Cowell is not afraid to tell it “like it is.” His honesty, while being a bit harsh and over the top itself, is a breath of fresh air in a culture of political correctness.

One need only contrast two of the judges to see how vastly different Cowell is from the reigning culture. Paula Abdul consistently offers feedback to the singers which is meaningless, often indiscernible, and half the time in contradiction to claims she has made previously. The motive behind Abdul’s asinine comments is politeness. She is wary of offending singers, or making them feel bad. Conversely, Simon Cowell doesn’t hesitate to announce that a performer sounded like cheesy karaoke from hell, even as the audience roars with “boo” from behind him. And it is this forthright honesty and grip on quality standards that makes me appreciate American Idol.

We live in a culture that is constantly asserting three major ideas: (1) People Have A Right Not To Be Offended; (2) Truth is Subjective; and (3) There Are No Standards For Good Art. In our culture it is often asserted that people have no right to say anything that another person might disagree with. Whole law suits are acted out on the basis of this right to never be offended. We hear this type of idea expressed often in the early editions of AI, where spurned idol wannabes recite their offendedness to the camera. Usually it goes something like, “Who does Simon think he is, saying that about me! I know I can sing and he’s just a jerk!” In response to this ideology, however, AI offers up a dose of reality to what are often some of the worst singers in the history of existence. Those who have been told all their life that they are really great singers receive a wake up call: “You really are that bad!”

Postmodernism, as a movement, developed the already rising idea of subjective truth , which says that no one has a right to say what is right or wrong,  true or false, etc. The fact that the three judges of AI can evaluate a person as either good or bad flies in the face of this philosophy. They suggest that there is indeed such a thing as good singing and that certain people’s performances don’t fit within those standards. Those who would contend that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (which may to some degree be true) are forced here to wrestle with the notion that there are some artistic expressions that simply aren’t that good by any reasonable standards. Being a Pop-Vocalist requires certain hallmarks, and has a certain standard. All those auditioning for AI, and striving to be The American Idol must abide by those standards, and Simon Cowell will do his best to see that they do.

Of course, American Idol isn’t a Christian television program (no matter how many times they sing “Shout to the Lord”), but it does reflect some principles that Christians can and should appreciate: Honesty, objectivity, and reality. Of course the derision and humiliation of individuals on the show can be perceived as a negative by Christians, and I suppose some believers will want to accuse Simon Cowell of being the anti-Christ. But I am actually inclined to disagree. If Simon Cowell is helping people to stop taking themselves so seriously then maybe the culture will start taking God more seriously. I won’t hold my breath. But in the meantime I think I’ll enjoy the occasional episode of American Idol and remind myself that some people really do sound like screeching chalk when they sing, even when its not politically correct to tell them so.

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  • me

    paulas comments arent meaningless. positive feedback is great. she is the only judge who bothers to learn the contestants names. therefore, her comments are the only comments i take seriously. i do not take cowells comments seriously, when the guy does not even bother to learn the kids names. he doesnt care one bit about the contestants, therefore, why would he care about how they are doing on the show? whereas Paula clearly wants the contestants to be the best they can be. also, paula has the best track record. she has been right about every winner. she was the only one who believed in Kelly clarkson, for example. simon has been pimbing a lot of contestants who failed totally after the show. for example, tamyra, melinda, christina etc etc. he said no to taylor, kelly and almost no to jordin.

  • Dana

    Simon cowell is overrated as a talent scout. The guy has been wrong more than he has been right, when you look at what contestants he has been backing etc. Thank god for Paula and Randy. At least Paula cares about how the contestants do on the show. Simon only cares about making money for himself. he was no interest in finding the best talent on Idol, since he doesnt make money off the contestants once the show is over. Paula and randy worked hard to get great talent this year on Idol. whereas Simon wanted clowns a la Sanjaya on the show (a guy named Kyle), that would make ratings but without talent. luckily paula and randy overruled simon.

  • David Dunham

    Let’s be honest about American Idol as a talent contest and admit that the nation votes on the people that they like and think are the most good looking. I hardly think that constitutes the epitome of “talent.”

    Furthermore I am not sure how learning a person’s name means much for the quality of their vocals.

  • Grace

    Simon is completely over rated. He has less manners than my toddler. As a teacher, I can guarantee you that Simon’s “critiques” are crap. He give the contestants nothing useful. He only serves to destroy confidence and to manipulate the vote.

    Paula on the other hand, personifies grace and class. She tells them what to work on and treats them with the dignity all people deserve.

    Simon needs to read Ephesians 4:22-5:4.

  • He may or not be overrated, but I doubt anyone deriding him here is all the more qualified. I am no expert, so speaking to such is of little benefit at this point. I will say this. He offers genuine praise and criticism to those who have even a smidgen of talent. Repeatedly he has bolstered the confidence of wannabe idols [how weird is that to say] by suggesting improvements and continued training, and he has even encouraged people to return “in a year or two.” The sharp tongued comments you are hinging your argument on [dealing with his incompetence or lack of compassion] relate to a false sense of confidence those people possess – one that they never should’ve had. They are horrible. They make a mockery [I know, it helps ratings] of genuine ability and the hard work many people have done to refine their gifts. Apples to oranges, I am not going to encourage a 4’3″ midget in a wheelchair to pursue his dreams of being an NBA all star, no matter how confident he is in that endeavor. Will I scold him for being a midget? No. That’s the apples to oranges part. He has no influence over his lot in life. But, his attitude and reaction to the criticism is fair game. If he curses me out and tells me “I have no clue what I am talking about,” then we have a different scenario. He needs to “hear it straight.” Any who… I agree with the gist of the blog. People live with a false sense of confidence and reality is a tough pill to swallow for an overly sensitive culture. He is a breath of fresh air in that regard. Is the delivery always the best? Nope. But, it is nice to see a prominent celebrity speak his mind and not worry about political correctness backlash. Yea Blunt Brits!

  • How can I upload a photo?

  • Richard Clark

    Just added a link to the left of the submit button. Word.

  • Libby

    Simon’s comments are not only ridiculous they are often unnecessarily cruel. There is absolutely no value in insulting people. It’s not constructive, it’s not the truth. It’s one man catering to human’s most disgusting and base traits to win over fans. Of course people who think nasty thoughts about others are going to like Simon. It justifies and gives permission to your own bad behavior.

  • You’ve made a heck of causal connection there, Libby. You assume [accuse actually] because a person thinks honesty is good that that person applauds derisive speech [not unlike your own e.g. nasty, base, disgusting] in all cases? The mode of delivery of truthful statements does not invalidate the accuracy of propositions.

    “If you do not believe and trust Christ, you are going to hell.”

    “My goodness, you moron, if you do not believe and trust Christ, you are going to hell with all the other morons. Idiot!”

    The difference might be the attitude towards the people in question. In either case, the truth is conveyed. People who do not believe and trust Christ are going to hell.

    Whether I say “Listen man, you really can’t sing. You should learn how to or give this false dream up” or “Dude, you suck” the truth is the same. And therein lies the appreciation. Is he overreacting to the “you can’t fail” philosophy of life? Perhaps. Is he wrong for telling people they have no talent and should stop? Nope. It might be the slap of reality they need to wake up and get on with their lives in some other way. Does it mean I am going to go around insulting people because he does? No.

    Now, explain to me how my bad behavior [whatever it is, as you have no examples] is justified by another man’s brutal honesty that he never claimed is meant to build anyone up. Where is the correlation between my “nasty, disgusting thoughts” and his behavior.

  • David Dunham

    Where is Rich Clark in this discussion?

  • Alan Noble

    School work, I suspect.

  • Paul

    Is it not for our own sins that we are punished? Is it not from our own wicked hearts that sin has occurred? Who can blame someone else for their own wickedness?

    “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” -Deuteronomy 30:19

    So then man is punished because of their own sin, not because of Simon. Perhaps Simon has stated rude remarks, but the truth hurts. In truth we are all sinners, ugly and worth that of urinated rags. God tells us that plain and simple, and it is only God who is worth any praise, only Christ who should be lifted high or exalted. Sometimes building some one up or encouraging them is through a harsh reality.

  • Since I haven’t been a fan of American Idol since it was hosted by Ed McMahon and had a spokesmodel category, I can’t really comment too much here. I’ve never seen an episode—though I’ve seen a couple clips of Simon chastising the hopefuls.

    The question’s come up about the ethics involved in dashing dreams. From what I understand, Simon is a jerk about it (which is not so commendable), but everyone should feel privileged to have their unfounded dreams dashed. Too much of too many’s lives are taken up by efforts to attain things for which an individual is uniquely unqualified.

    How many people think that they are genuinely funny but just aren’t? Yet they persist throughout their lives boring those around them with jokes and stories that they simply do not have the skill to convey in any entertaining sense. Or others who go by the description of “writer,” spending their hours conveying their thoughts to a world that doesn’t have the heart to tell them they simply are poor communicators. Both such individuals and the world around would benefit deeply from a good dashing of some dreams.

    Still, criticism offered in humility and charity is always received better…

    @David – I will quibble with one thing in your article (as it wouldn’t be a comment from me if I didn’t!). In American Idol, the contestants aren’t trying to create art of any kind. They are just trying to do Good Pop Music. With that in mind, I think that the general belief that There Are No Standards For Good Art plays less a realistic part in the reaction against Simon.

    Maybe the contestants believe that there are likewise no standards for Good Pop Music? Or maybe they mistakenly imagine that pop music has anything to do with art, forgetting that with all the commercialization of pop music (and the bare fact that they are competing for a contract*), what they are participating in is far closer to artifice than it is to art.

    *note: is that true? are they competing for some sort of record deal?

    @Libby – You seem to be participating in the very thing you judge Simon for when you declare that people who think nasty thoughts about others are going to like Simon. That’s not a very kind way to think of people.

    @Grace – Cool name, love the irony. Just a question: how much dignity do people deserve? Does referring to someone’s opinions as “crap” fall in line with dignity deserved by all humans? I don’t really see the difference between Simon’s judgments of contestants* and your judgment of Simon.

    *note: it may help to keep in mind that these are people who are willingly competing—and competition demands failure. Not just not-winning, but failure.

  • Me:

    Well, the contestants names are written on a little piece of paper that the judges read. I still don’t see the importance of learning a person’s background or knowing a name to offer criticism. How much should they value “getting to know” them, when the very reason they are there is to screen talent – regardless of the ambiguity of that term. And, do you really think Paula remembers their names or stays in touch with any of these people? Why criticize someone that foregos the pleasantries and gets down to business – especially considering Paula more than compensates for the lack of fluff elsewhere. I am just not sure how reading a strangers name out loud [off the sheet given to the judges] makes a person more or less credible.

  • David Dunham

    Well said friend!