Tag: Stories

Evolution of Story on American Idol

FromAmateur HourToAmerican IdolAn Evolution of Story

As a reader and a writer, I have become a student of the importance of story in our lives and the impact it has on what we believe, how we learn, what we understand and what we accept as valid. This has made me more attuned to my own responses to the messages around me and how those messages are now being created or transformed by story. It is useful information for me as a writer and as a consumer of information.

A Case in Point

In the summer of 1964, a group from my hometown appeared on television’s “Ted Mack Amateur Hour”. For those of you who don’t know, Ted Mack’s program introduced performers to a national audience through radio and then television from 1934 until 1970, with 3 ½ million auditioning and 25,000 acts performing. Such notables as Ann-Margret, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Maria Callas, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, The Gentrys, Penny Marshall, Beverly Sills, Jim Stafford, and Gladys Knight appeared on “The Original Amateur Hour” and countless others competed for the public’s votes, with the winner each week invited back to compete with new contestants.

I was particularly interested in the program in 1964, when my brother performed with a group of folk singers from Kennett, Missouri.  The Minstrels had won an audition through the Delta Fair talent show, one of many they entered while in high school. The format for Ted Mack’s show was similar to those talent shows: each act was introduced very briefly before they performed and all were brought back individually for a couple of seconds at the end, with a phone number for viewers to cast their votes.

That The Minstrels were invited back for a second time was a confirmation of their talent; Kennett and the surrounding small towns could not have supplied enough votes for them to win. When it was over, they all returned to Kennett and proceeded with their lives. I imagine they recall those days as times when they enjoyed their music and each other and gave little thought to being propelled into stardom.

Fast Forward to Today

I have recently been drawn to the television on Sunday and Monday nights, after promising myself that I would not become an “American Idol” watcher during their come-back season. I had watched the series during some of the earlier seasons, but had decided that I didn’t really have time to get involved.

But one night, I sat down to watch “for just a few minutes” and I was drawn in.  By the end of the show, I was hooked – I knew that I would be watching the entire season. But it wasn’t the talent, although I quickly chose some possible winners and winced at some who obviously wouldn’t be “going to Hollywood.”

It was the stories the contestants told about themselves that caught my attention and, in many cases, my sympathy or empathy. I found myself giving extra points to those who had gone through heartbreaking struggles or self-doubt.  (I couldn’t help noticing that I was giving those extra points to almost everybody.)

Last weekend, I found myself almost weeping when a couple of the contestants were eliminated.  I liked them so much and had become so engaged with their lives that they were almost a personal loss to me.  That’s when I realized that the creators of “American Idol” were using our connection to story to bring us back week after week. Yes, we appreciate the talent and assume that it will somehow get its due when the votes are counted. But those personal stories are influencing us just the same – just as the fact that my votes went to The Minstrels because they came from my hometown back in 1964.

I realized that the creators of “American Idol” were using our connection to story to bring us back week after week.

The difference lies in something very subtle – the voters’ ability and consent to be affected by story. We are learning that it is a human trait that we all possess in varying degrees and it applies to virtually every aspect of our lives today. A program like “American Idol” can be fairly benign in its intentions and I can continue to enjoy it as entertainment and hope for the best for my favorite performers, just as I can read novels for the same reasons.

What we must remember is that the power of story can also be used in negative ways also, but that’s a subject for another post.

In the meantime, I tuned in to “American Idol” last night and was fairly subdued until it appeared that my favorite contestant might be eliminated.  Then, at the last minute, she made it through and I almost fell off my chair with relief. It was almost like reading Cinderella for the first time – she would “go to the ball” and (maybe) get a chance at the glass slipper.

Such is the power of story, and the reason I’ll tune in for “the next chapter” next week.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my “Marginalia” newsletter (click here). You’ll receive it by email and see what I’ve been reading, other bookish news and information, and progress reports on my own writing.



Your Story — Your Legacy


Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

1. Your story is being created.  It may not be written down, but it is being told, except maybe not the way you would want or by whom you would want.  It could be everything that you remember, but perhaps not the way you would remember it.  If you grew up in a family with siblings, you know what I mean.  “My side of the story” was often in conflict with my brothers’ and sister’s, and sometimes still is.  That is because we have different perspectives on events that we shared, the household we grew up in, the people we knew and the people we loved.

2. Your story is your own. You are the narrator, the protagonist, the hero. There are those who would disagree with your story, but that’s because it’s not their own.

3. Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

4. Your story is probably incomplete or inaccurate if you depend upon the objects you leave behind to tell it for you. I have photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, journals, poetry, report cards, greeting cards, household and personal items, yearbooks, scrapbooks – that witness my life and the lives of people who were and are important to me.  They can contribute to, but not tell my story.

5. Because I have all of the above, I have a good starting place for my own stories – my own personal collection of “story prompts”. You probably have your own, waiting for you.

6. If you choose to do nothing, your story may turn into a challenge (or a burden) for someone else to figure out. The day may come when people who don’t know about how Aunt Agnes taught you to cook from your great-grandmother’s book of recipes will toss that very cookbook into the trash along with the unlabeled photos of family members nobody recognizes.

7. If you get started, you’ll be ahead of where you are now. You’ll have more labeled family pics, plus you might have photos of meaningful items you possess, with notations of why they are important to you. You might have a new binder filled with written pieces by family members (or yourself). And you might have a plan (and/or instructions) for where your story legacy should be passed on.

8. You might decide it’s time to write a story – your own story – one page at a time. You can tell the world (or just your family, or just yourself) what you experienced and what you learned. It might turn out to be your greatest legacy.