Why can’t we just send them home? You know who I’m talking about- that handful of contestants who are a tier below the rest. They don’t sing as well. They don’t have the stage presence. We know they shouldn’t still be there several weeks into the competition, but, gosh, they just look so cute and fragile there on the stage, we just can’t stand to see them get sent packing.

While better contestants are dropping around them like flies, they just stand with that same guilty look on their faces that says, “It shoulda been me.” Their names are infamous: Sanjaya, Kristy Lee, Kevin Covais (a.k.a. Chicken Little), Anthony Fedorov, and the queen of all welcome-overstayers, Diana DeGarmo, who actually made it to the final show versus Fantasia because everyone in her hometown voted a bizillion times. That was just wrong.
Where does this inability to send these sad souls home come from, especially at the expense of abundantly more talented contestants? After turning this question over in my brain for seven seasons, I’ve narrowed it down to one solitary problem: Americans hate feedback. We hate to give it. We hate to receive it. We hate to tell the people we manage that they need to take shorter bathroom breaks. We hate it when the teacher marks up our term papers in bloody red ink. America’s a free country, dang it, and we want to be free from the awkwardness of telling others they need to change.
This, of course, presents us with a problem: people need feedback to improve. If you never tell them what they’re doing wrong, they’ll never get better- kind of like how Paula tells the sucky contestants that she loves them because they just come out and they’re them. It’s no big surprise when they come out the next week and everyone but Paula says, “Oh, wait… no, it wasn’t just bad reception. They really are crappy.”
Don’t be a Paula. Have the guts to give feedback. Check out the five tips below to help you become a better feedbacker:
1. Keep it private.
Remember: feedback = awkward. The awkwardness and defensiveness go way up when other people are around, and your chances of getting positive results drop through the floor. When you have to give feedback, find a private room, corner, closet, etc., to keep them off the defensive.
2. Start with praise.
Find something they do well and mean it. This may seem like pumping them up for a big punch in the stomach, but it’s not. It lets them know you’re their friend and you value the good they have done. Like the first step, this keeps them from becoming defensive and gets positive vibes flowing.
3. Keep criticism concise.
Nothing makes people feel like when they were sixteen and they wrecked their dad’s station wagon like a lecture. Don’t lecture. Bring up specific behaviors and make it short. Don’t attack fuzzy personality flaws. This gives them something tangible to improve on, instead of something they really can’t measure or see. Good example: “The paperwork on your desk is kind of disorganized.” Bad example: “You’re sloppy and void of any sense of personal responsibility.”
4. Add more praise and encouragement.
Remind them you’re their friend. You didn’t give them feedback because you hate them. You gave it because you want to see them succeed. Tell you appreciate them and think they’re the bomb. Stop short of kissing them and doing cheerleading routine for them.
5. Arrange to help them improve.
Follow up. If training is needed, set up a time to get together for training. Help them set goals for improvement. Warning: don’t be overbearing here. Some things don’t require more follow up than a simple ‘How’s it going.’ If they need to work on wearing ties to work, please do not give them a training session on putting on ties.
And, by Hera, if Kristy Lee survives another week, I’ll be forced to rant and rave here in my corner of cyberspace. Don’t make me do that. Come to your senses, America…

3 comments on “American Idol and the Fear of Feedback

  • This article is very straight-forward and to the point. Both on the American Idol popularity scale and the way we give and take feedback. I think that a majority of us tune in to watch just to hear what Simon has to say so we can either boo or cheer with him. I especially liked the pointers on how to give and accept feedback. If we feel like the other person is doing it just to make themselves feel “bigger” it is much harder to take and we probably won’t listen. But if the other person’s motives are for the overall good, and we don’t feel like they are attacking us personally, but truly have our best interest at heart, it is much easier to swallow and follow.

  • Michael Johns leaving today is HORRIBLE! I kept on thinking what could have gone wrong…and took note that I was not able to watch American Idol on Tuesday at 8pm because Bright House ( our cable was down ). After waiting for 5 minutes, I called Bright House and actually got the cable working again as they had to reset my cable ports…at that point, I saw the ending of the 3rd performance. NOW, could others have the same cable issue …and thus not seen Michael’s performance…causing him to have such low votes ???

    Oh well, he is really really good and guess I have to wait for his album. Just hoped to see him more on Idol :-(…

  • You commented that we watch in order to see if we want to boo or cheer Simon Cowell. I have yet to see any reason to cheer him. He is rude, condescending and downright destructive in his comments to some people. Some are less than talented, but I was raised to say things in a constructive manner. His problem is that he even tries to destroy very talented people too. I just do not understand what he is getting out of being the way he is.

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