Whenever I see a cocky musical sensation laugh hysterically at the performance or audition of a desperate wanna-be pop singer on “American Idol” or any of its tacky knockoffs, I want to take the mic cord and wrap it around the celeb’s body like 235 times because I know what it feels like to be that girl going after a dream that seems to get farther away with each piece of painful feedback.
“Success is 99 percent perspiration and one percent talent,” my business-savvy father told me back when I was unloading Thin Mints as a Brownie Girl Scout. “The only thing that separates the winners from the losers is perseverance.”
Dr. Seuss was rejected 43 times before his first story was published; a skinny 5’11” Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity basketball team; Colonel Sanders drove from restaurant to restaurant with his pressure cooker and famous recipe of 11 herbs and spices before he made history with KFC; and didn’t some opinioned jerk tell Katie Couric in her early days that she didn’t have a face for TV?
I sure as heck wasn’t born with the ability to write.
My eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Kracus, read aloud my essay as an example of how NOT to write. My SAT scores were so low (especially verbal) that I lied about them for 18 years. Any aptitude test I took suggested I pursue a career in math or science. The profile of a writer fit me about as well as Dolly Parton’s bra: an intellectual permanently glued to a book, ready to discuss any classic, from Plato to Hemingway. (God showed mercy on me the day CliffsNotes went to press.)
Oh yes, and my “American Idol” moment, when I asked a professor in grad school to write a letter of recommendation for me. (I was applying for a job as an editor of a Catholic magazine.)
This man of the cloth (a priest), much like a cocky judge, took me outside in the hall to drop the bomb.
“I’m sorry,” he said, squinting his small brown eyes that shot daggers through my heart. “I can’t do that. It just that you…you don’t use words correctly.”
Had I been on a televised set, I may have responded like some weepy contestants.
“No way. Please no, please!”
But that’s not because I’m mentally ill (well not totally). It’s because I had a dream — to become a writer — and I wanted it badly.
Viewers shouldn’t mock the contestants for pursing their dreams on TV. That takes guts. They should fault the judges for their lack of tact and constructive criticism.
“You need to work on your craft, Therese,” a very wise writing mentor told me when he took me under his wing. “And this is how you do it….”
He instructed me to read books on style, take classes, and analyze the technique of writers I respected.
He didn’t sit back in his chair and make fun of me like the arrogant professor I had, like a former boss of mine did, or like a self-absorbed judge does. That’s not helpful at all.
Thinking more like my father, my mentor — a seasoned writer and an established publisher — read my essays, took a good look at my character, and came up with a plan. I’d have to apply the 99.5 percent of tenacity in my personality to compensate for the 0.5 percent of skill (and talent) provided in my DNA.
I don’t know. Maybe all dreamers are mentally ill to some extent… because dreams aren’t grounded in reality or logic. If they were, I’d be a math professor or an engineer for NASA (remember, my math and science scores were higher than English), not blogging in the middle of the night about “American Idol’s” poor suckers who just got the punch (the “forget about it” talk) that almost made me drop the pen (and my dream) back in grad school, when I had a few more neurotransmitters to spare.
I’m rooting for the underdogs. Because talent doesn’t determine who lives out their dreams. Believe me, I know.