Remembering my favorite seasons of American Idol.

Since Trump got elected, I feel as if a magnet has been taken over the country’s hard drive.  I barely recognize America as my country anymore, and feel almost like I live in an occupied country.   Politics has taken over my mind.   Things I used to care about — like movies, entertainment television, novels, and other “frivolous” pastimes — hardly seem to matter anymore.

But all this obsessing over current events and the political situation all gets a little too much sometimes, and it helps to remember simpler times — like my interest in the singing competition reality show American Idol that lasted from 2006 through about 2009 or 2010 (after that year the show–and my interest in it–went south).    My interest was renewed somewhat in 2014, because one of the contestants, Caleb Johnson, was from my city and went on to win.

I wasn’t that interested in American Idol during its early years (it began airing in 2002 as a summer replacement show), though perhaps I should have been, since two of its most famous winners, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, went on to become major stars who are still making hit records today.   No contestant since has matched their level of success, though several have done well for themselves and have careers in the music industry.

I assumed American Idol was too cheesy to capture my interest (and I won’t deny it could get pretty cheesy), but because my kids were in their early teens and used to watch it, by default I began to watch it too.   The first year I did was in 2006.   It was season 5, the year Chris Daughtry made the Top 4 (and everyone was sure would win).    I watched reluctantly at first, but soon Daughtry, a hard rocker with a post-grunge style very much in vogue at the time,  became my favorite contestant so naturally I had to tune in every week.   I was devastated when he got a shock boot in 4th place.    I didn’t expect that at all. No one did.

In my opinion,  Daughtry’s cover of Fuel’s “Hemorrhage” was one of the best performances ever on this show.

Chris Daughtry’s shocking elimination in 4th place.

Daughtry’s shocking elimination was mitigated somewhat by the fact he became quite successful, with a string of mainstream pop-rock hits over the next few years.

Daughtry’s hit “Home” was used as the elimination song in season 7 every time someone went home (the song played over a film of the contestants’ “journey” on the show.)

The next year I didn’t really have a favorite contestant and didn’t get into it quite as much. A 16 year old named Jordin Sparks won that year.   I would have preferred third placer Melinda Doolittle, a former gospel singer, but that wasn’t to be.   Doolittle’s style probably was a little too old fashioned but she outsang everyone else that season.

2008 (season 7) had its first bona fide rocker win — David Cook, whose style was similar to Chris Daughtry’s.  No one thought Cook would win, but he knew how to play the game, and seemed to top himself every week.  He never had any bad performances. He could cover just about any genre, and make it his own by rearranging the song or by using someone else’s rearrangement that suited him.   2008 was the first year the contestants were allowed to use musical instruments, and David Cook was the first of a long line of white guitar playing male rockers who would keep winning for the next several years (some say this led to the show’s demise).   I was over the moon when he won, because I’d been rooting for him since the auditions and at that time, no one took him very seriously or thought he had any chance at all.

 

Cook’s own rearrangement of the Mariah Carey song “Always Be My Baby”

A performance of his own song, “Anodyne,” which was not on the show, but he performed at many of his concerts on tour.   I’m including it because I love the song, even though the quality here isn’t that good.

The next year, 2009, was the year Adam Lambert, a gay glam rocker, almost won.   Like David Cook, he never had a bad performance, and was creative and innovative, with impressive, unforgettable performances, usually with elaborate stage sets and lighting.   He had a voice that could hit unbelievably high registers, much like Chris Bellamy from The Muse (who was one of his mentors).  Season 8 was a very talented year (some say the most talented year) — all of the Top 4 were great, so it was hard to pick a favorite.   An inexperienced but talented singer named Danny Gokey had a soulful, raw gospel-tinged voice, and most people thought either he or Lambert would win, but neither did.  Gokey finished third.  On finale night, a quiet, unassuming folk-rocker named Kris Allen, who had been building momentum during the last episodes of the season, took the title.   Adam Lambert fans were devastated and shocked.   I wasn’t all that happy with the outcome, as I would have preferred either Lambert or Gokey, but I could see why Allen would take the title. He was very likable and talented in his low-keyed way.

My favorite Adam Lambert performance — a slowed down arrangement of Tears for Fears’ Mad World.

I think season 8 was the last really good season of American Idol.   I watched halfheartedly for the next couple of years, and finally stopped watching at all — and so had my kids, who were entering their 20s and had other interests.

In 2014 though, my daughter mentioned that a boy she had known through her friend in high school (they did not attend the same high school) had made it through the auditions.  His name was Caleb Johnson.   He was a hard rocker with a style reminiscent of the classic rock of the 1970s.     Of course I tuned in to check him out, and saw that he was very good and had a style I enjoyed.   His range was huge.   I didn’t expect he’d go that far though, but every week he kept making it through the rounds, until he made the  Top 3 and a big “homecoming” (a tradition where the Top 3 contestants emerge from the “Idol bubble” and return to their hometowns to be greeted with parades and fanfare) was held here, which I attended.  That was a lot of fun.    I still didn’t think he’d win, but he did.    Unfortunately his album didn’t do very well, but as far as I know, he still makes a living making music and performing at various charity events.

Caleb Johnson’s cover of Aerosmith’s Dream On.

American Idol’s final season was last year, but I didn’t watch any part of it except the finale, because of the tributes to the original judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson, and many of the former contestants.   I don’t even remember who won.    The show has a good legacy, and was cancelled at the right time, after a 15 year run.  It’s peak years seem like the distant past, even though it really wasn’t all that long ago.

 

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“What would You Do?” is both addictive and gives me hope for humanity.

I never heard of the ABC TV show “What Would You Do” until last night, when I stumbled upon it on Youtube (I do a lot of random Youtube browsing–there’s gold there). I don’t know if it’s still being aired or not (I don’t have TV), but I started watching one episode and that led to the next, and the next, and the next. I’ve probably watched 30 of them now.

It features actors playing out unusual situations in public places (almost all are filmed at locations in the greater New York metro area), often involving some form of abuse, discrimination, or bullying. The camera follows what happens when bystanders get involved, and they do get involved more often than you’d think, often standing up to the bully or abuser, and defending the underdog or victim. At that point, the host comes out and congratulates them on their charitable or kind actions.  It’s like “Candid Camera” with a conscience.

Here is one episode involving a thin, glamorous (but obviously narcissistic) mother, berating her young daughter for being too fat and not allowing her to eat normal foods, and the kind strangers who come to the girl’s defense.

Here’s another one with a much more abusive mother, who makes the one in the first video look like Mother of the Year. I will warn you that this video could be very triggering. Many of the people walking by are outraged by the verbal abuse.

“The Duggars: Abuse and Conservative Religion”

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Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar; Josh Duggar (inset)

The article I’m going to post is about half a year old, and was written following the sexual abuse scandal involving Josh Duggar (the Duggar’s oldest son) of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting.   I haven’t watched all the episodes, but I firmly believe that sexual abuse as well as malignant narcissism is a huge problem in the Duggar family.   Josh is probably not the first abuser.  His parents, Michelle and Jim Bob, are both very controlling and both use their ultra-conservative religion to control and shame, and isolate their kids from learning anything on their own.   The fame and fortune from their reality show no doubt provides a ton of narcissistic supply to both Michelle and Jim Bob.  I see many of their kids as scapegoats and flying monkeys.   Josh seemed like he was a Golden Child.

I’m posting this article now because it’s still relevant. Sexual abuse is not going away anytime soon and has been with us probably as long as human beings have been around.  What do you think of the Duggars?  Do you think Jim Bob and Michelle genuinely love their children, or are their children just props in the narrative of moral and religious “perfection” they’re selling to the world?  Will any of them ever dare to break free of the prison of their huge, dysfunctional family and its narcissistic rulers?

The Duggars: Abuse and Conservative Religion

Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea who the Duggar family was. To my surprise, it appears that many people in North America have been following this conservative Christian family. Further, the Duggar’s seem to be very influenctial among various Evangelical Christian lobbying groups. It seems that they have become a sensation because of their reality TV show, 19 Kids and Counting. Even as I read some things about the family in the news in recent weeks, it seemed to me that the Duggar’s were faux celebrities much like the Kardashian’s and Paris Hilton: they never really did anything but yet they seem to be famous.

I received an email from one of my colleagues, a psychologist in another part of the country, who asked what I thought of the Duggar’s and the current sexual abuse scandal. It was her question that prompted me to learn more about the family. While I have clearly never met the Duggar’s nor have I watched their TV show, what I found in the press seemed to fit the pattern of domestic abuse.

Read the rest of Lou’s article here.

End of an era.

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The mother of all singing competition reality shows, American Idol, started its 15th–and last–season tonight.  I won’t be watching it though.  I don’t have TV and have little interest in watching it anymore anyway, but for a few short years, during the height of its popularity, I really got into it.

I began watching in season 5, because my daughter, who was about 13 at the time, was into it. That was an especially good year (maybe one of the best) for talent.  I thought rocker Chris Daughtry was going to win (and he was my favorite that year), but he was shockingly eliminated in 4th place.   It didn’t matter though, because for a few years, he and his band, Daughtry, became pretty successful and had hit after hit on the radio.

There was always plenty of drama too, and the original three judges, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, had great chemistry onscreen without eclipsing the contestants, the way later judges tended to do.

I soon found myself addicted to this silly show, and for about four years, watched it regularly every Wednesday and Thursday.  I had my favorite contestants and actually voted for them.

But once Paula left (after season 8), it was all downhill after that.  Paula was the “good cop” to Simon Cowell’s “bad cop”  and was always nice to contestants, even when they were terrible or had no talent.  Simon was acerbic and sarcastic, but always entertaining and seemed to motivate the contestants to do better.  Most of them seemed to care more about winning Simon’s praise than anyone else’s. As mean as Simon could sometimes be, he was always honest, and when he liked someone, he let them know.

The year after Paula left, Simon followed.  The show never recovered.  There were a few years of revolving judges, and a few bad ones.  The show lost ratings every year and never produced another star or even anyone coming close to being a star (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are probably the most famous alumni), but it still managed to hang on.

I think there are several reasons why American Idol lost ratings in recent years.

  •  the loss of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul
  •  too much emphasis on judge antics and filler instead of the contestants
  • the success of “cooler” and more contemporary singing competition shows like The Voice. 
  • the record industry in general not doing as well because of the economy
  •  network television being less popular today
  •  the novelty just wore off

It’s a little sad to see this show that was  once the #1 water-cooler topic and always at the top of the ratings, and one that my kids and I enjoyed so much,  become a shadow of what it once was.  It’s been dying a slow, painful death for a while now, so I’m glad to see it finally being put out of its misery, but it does seem like the end of an era.   I may tune in for the finale this season, just because.

The grandiose, deluded narcissist.

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The website Sociopath World, a blog by and for sociopaths (and psychopaths), is full of intriguing articles and blog posts about sociopathy and related disorders, such as Narcissism.

Naturally, I clicked on the section on Narcissism and among many entries about remorseless criminals, sadistic murderers, and narcissistic psychopaths, I found this hilarious but sad little gem about Mary Roach, a long forgotten American Idol auditionee, a young woman who shows every trait of narcissism you can imagine and is pitifully deluded about her singing ability. If there was ever a poster child for NPD, Mary was it.

The 9 Psychiatrically Recognized Traits of NPD:

–Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
–Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
–Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
–Requires excessive admiration
–Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
–Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
–Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
–Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
–Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

It’s only necessary to have five of these traits to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder; Mary appears to have more than five, if not all of them.

I decided to post about poor forgotten Mary Roach rather than another depressing article about a murderer, cult leader, or abusive parent, in part because the subject matter is lighter and even funny in its sad way, but to show just how deluded and out of touch with reality “normal” everyday non-criminal narcissists can be.

Given that reality shows are swarming with narcissists, Mary wasn’t that unusual on a show like this, but even in an environment where narcissistic traits are probably beneficial if not actually necessary, Mary’s particular brand of narcissism stands out for its complete disconnect from any semblance of reality.

I’m also posting the original write up from Sociopath World because it’s so spot on. (Some of the dialogue in the video is most likely scripted, but I have no doubt Mary is very high on the narcissist spectrum).

Famous narcissist? Mary Roach
A friend sent me this. Obviously it’s hilarious, but it’s also a really good example of what if feels like watching a narcissist at work (to all of your narcissist readers that this blog apparently attracts?). There’s something so blatantly ridiculous about the way they act and how disconnected they are from reality.

Mary is absolutely immune to criticism and when confronted with the truth about her singing, she immediately assumes that her critic has a personal issue with her that is driving the criticism as opposed to merely stating the obvious truth. One of the more obvious narcissist qualities is that when the judges start playing with her, she doesn’t fight it or immediately defend herself but plays along. She wants it to seem like she is in on any joke that they might be having and even if the joke is at her expense she would rather have the attention (even negative) than cede the spotlight. When they give her the goodbye, she keeps the conversation going, although it means rehashing their worst criticism of her. She also feels compelled to turn the tables and judge them for their appearances, as being smaller, thinner, prettier, and “hot.” She doesn’t need to criticize them necessarily — it is enough that they seem interested in her assessment of them. Of course they did not ask her for her opinions on them, but she manages to misunderstand a direct question and act as if she has some unique vision that warrants sharing.

It’s so funny to watch this because I know someone who acts exactly this way, even down to the little awkward mannerisms, especially the shrug at 4:50. The world is just not ready enough to appreciate their talents, but ain’t no thing. These people can’t be kept down for long by haters.

Are reality show participants all a bunch of narcissists?

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I recently saw a study that indicated that among all types of entertainers, reality show stars have the highest levels of narcissism (comedians were second, which surprised me).

narcissistchart
Click on chart to enlarge.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, contributor of this study and a celebrity psychologist who has even hosted his own reality shows (“Celebrity Rehab” among others) had this to say about reality show contestants. It’s easy to see why the study is probably correct. Many if not most reality shows feature people who have no real talent or special ability, other than airing their dirty laundry and personal issues on national television, or just acting like jerks and getting rich and famous for it.

VH1, once a respectable music video alternative to MTV, has become Reality Show Central, and their reality shows tend to be the dumbest of them all, with the most most offensive and unpleasant “stars” you could ever imagine. The premises of these shows are also questionable, even if at times humorous. I remember a show called “Tool Academy,” where young men (and sometimes women) who acted like total tools were sent to be on the show by their wives and girlfriends. The show was run in the typical “Ten Little Indians” format of most game-type reality shows, with one person (who displayed the most “toolish” behavior) eliminated each week, until the winner–the guy whose behavior had improved the most–was announced as the winner.

Another VH1 show, “Flavor of Love,” featured the narcissistic rapper, Flavor Flav, an aging, unattractive, yet inexplicably desireable has-been as the “prize.” Some prize. Flavor Flav was insufferable, annoying, vain and conceited but every week a group of girls would engage in ugly catfights over his attentions, with one girl eliminated each week (for reasons that were completely arbitrary and based on Flav’s personal opinion formed on “alone time” with that girl.)

One of the contestants from “Flavor of Love” became a reality star in her own right–a highly (and probably malignantly) narcissistic girl named Tiffany “New York” Pollard. “New York” possessed every tool in the narcissist’s bag of tricks–gaslighting, triangulating, tantrum throwing, blame shifting, abusive behavior, lack of empathy, and whiny, wheedling self-centeredness–and she got most of Flav’s attention (although she did not win). She was also hilarious, and that was probably some of her appeal. Not surprisingly, New York got her own reality show, predictably called “I Love New York,” in which men would compete for HER as the prize.

Production Stills from the Flavor of Love spinoff,"I Love New York"
Tiffany “New York” Pollard

A similar show in the same vein (and made by the same producers) was a short lived reality show called “Megan Wants a Millionaire” in which a girl named Megan, a materialistic and shallow nobody, got to choose her dream rich guy, who would become the winner after everyone else was eliminated. The show made news when one of its contestants–an arrogant, sleazy and malignantly narcissistic piece of human scum named Ryan Jenkins (who was one of Megan’s favorites and probably would have won) brutally murdered and then dismembered his girlfriend, Jasmine Fiore, in a hotel in Canada, and then stuffed her body into a suitcase. Immediately following the murder, the show was cancelled, so there never was a winner. Megan may have been wound up with Jenkins killing HER if he didn’t win. I remember getting uncomfortable feelings watching Jenkins–and wondered what Megan saw in him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but Jenkins gave me a bad case of the heebie jeebies.

There are many shows of this ilk, and they’re everywhere. MTV started the reality show trend back in the 1990s with “The Real World,” which showed a group of “normal” (but hand picked through an audition process) twentysomethings living together in a house. The most narcissistic housemate would almost always become the most famous, even if they had a lot of haters. Now MTV’s offerings are more likely to be game-show based or documentary-like, such as the hit “Teen Mom.” While the show has its merits (showing how these young girls cope with raising a child without a husband or decent job), it also rewards questionable behavior, such as getting pregnant before one is ready to handle the responsibilities of a child. I have actually heard of girls who deliberately get pregnant just to be able to audition to be on the show. The girls on “Teen Mom” become instant stars, and because the girls are getting paid handsomely to be on the show, the actual “reality” of this reality show (like most others) is questionable. Most real teen moms struggle with poverty or near-poverty, but these girls only pretend to be impoverished for the sake of the show.

There are other non-contest shows like TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” featuring the supersized Duggars; the defunct and controversial “Jon and Kate Plus 8”; and of course, the enormously popular “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” which has made megastars of its namesakes. Jon and Kate, now divorced, obviously both have NPD, especially Kate, who used her many children as a ticket to stardom. Kate has parlayed the success of “Jon and Kate” into a career as a reality star and has also appeared on the show “Dancing With the Stars,” among other shows. I feel sorry for her kids, with such a fame-whoring, self centered, attention seeking excuse for a mother.

I haven’t watched The Kardashians, so I don’t know if the sisters are narcissists, but I fail to see how a show about a family with daughters whose only claim to fame is the fact their father (Bruce Jenner) used to be a famous track and field athlete and is now a motivational speaker, ever got so popular. Yet people want to be just like Kim, Khloe and Kourtney, and their very average countenances regularly grace almost every entertainment and women’s magazine.

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Then there is Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club,” which is exactly what its name promises. Although the premise of the show (like “Tool Academy”) is the improvement of the girls’ selfish, combative, narcissistic behaviors, with the winner showing the most improved personality and etiquette, people don’t really watch the show for the bad-to-good transformation (which is most likely fake and scripted anyway)–they watch it to see the catfights and the girls’ bad behavior–it’s nothing more than digital rubbernecking. Of course, to get on the show, a girl has to act like a complete bitch, so in effect, the bad behavior is glorified.

Michelle Duggar of the TLC hit “19 Kids and Counting” gives me mega N vibes. While putting on this mask of being an angelic, meek, deferent, soft spoken, ultra religious Mother of the Year, I highly suspect this act is fake as hell and Michelle is actually a media savvy, manipulative operator behind the scenes, much like Kate Gosselin. Having babies seems to give Michelle a narcissistic rush, but once each child becomes a toddler, she pans them off to an older sibling (always a girl) who is to be their “buddy” and basically raise that child herself, so Michelle can focus on having the next baby. Evidently once she had her 19th child she finally became too old to birth any more children. Her last pregnancy ended in miscarriage and she has not become pregnant since.

Another of TLC’s offerings (which I think has been cancelled) was a show called “Toddlers and Tiaras,” a documentary-style behind the scenes look at child beauty queens and their parents, who shamelessly exploit their young children and push them into these pageants. Almost without exception, the parents are narcissists who try to turn their child into a showpiece, whether the child wants to participate or not. The children’s own wishes and interests are not respected and in some cases, the parents’ (usually the mother’s) behavior borders on abuse. When all the makeup, fake tans, fake teeth, and creepy sexualization of the child is finally done, the kid looks more like a doll than a human being, and it’s chilling to see. Only a narcissist would understand the appeal of making a child look like that.

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Believe it or not, this is a child, not a doll.

Talent contest shows seem to have more legitimacy since some of the contestants actually have a talent, such as singing, cooking or dancing (and usually, the most talented are the ones that make it farthest and go on to win). Still, I think narcissism is a motivator for many of the participants, and NPD is highly represented among both the contestants and the judges.

Mean, abusive, tantrum throwing judges like Gordon Ramsey of “Hell’s Kitchen” is a good example of a highly narcissistic judge who is probably malignant as well. The contestants’ terror of Ramsey’s narcissistic rages is one of the show’s attractions. Simon Cowell, a savvy business tycoon who made his fortune with his empire of singing reality shows like “American Idol.” “America’s Got Talent,” and “The X-Factor,” is probably still most famous for his mean, sarcastic, and abusive commentary to the fledgling singers on the once popular show, “American Idol.” People would tune in just to see what he would say to some poor hapless auditoner. While Cowell gives generously to charity, that doesn’t mean he’s not a narcissist.

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Simon Cowell

I read a horrifying story once about Cowell and I don’t doubt it’s probably true (unfortunately I can’t locate the link right now). Some years back, Cowell developed an attraction to a contestant named Nikki McKibbin. At first Cowell was nice to her (he was always nice to contestants he liked), but one day he told her (not on the show itself) he thought her eyes were so pretty he wanted to remove them and keep them in a jar by his bed. Ms. McKibbin was understandably so spooked she decided to stop speaking to Cowell and started treated him coldly offset. Cowell, suffering narcissistic injury, got back at her by henceforth being extremely critical of every one of her performances, where before he had been nothing but complimentary. Nikki must have been popular in spite of Cowell’s campaign against her, because she went all the way to 3rd place.

This year’s “American Idol” winner, a rock singer named Caleb Johnson, is from my town (Asheville, NC) and while there is no argument he’s extremely talented (and an unusual winner for being a hard rocker on a show that features pop singers), he displayed enough narcissistic traits during his appearance on the show it would not surprise me if he has NPD–but of course that could have been due to the scripting too (I don’t think these reality shows are really based much on actual reality).

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Caleb Johnson

There was an incident where during an interview which occurred offset, Caleb called his fans “retarded.” This could have just been the ignorant gaffe of a young guy who didn’t quite know how to handle overnight fame and having to deal with the media, so I’m not going to judge his behavior too harshly. I have no proof he has NPD.

In summary, narcissism does seem to be highly represented among reality show participants (and is definitely glorified on these shows), especially the shows that reward and showcase bad, immoral, or abusive behavior.